Monday, July 18, 2005

Blair government and a licence to steal?,,2088-1697230,00.html

Simon Jenkins in the Sunday Times, 17 July 2005, writes about the suit for “misfeasance” (dishonest abuse of power) brought by 50,000 Railtrack shareholders against Tony Blair’s government.

According to Jenkins the evidence in the High Court portrays 'squirming ministers, bullying officials, money beyond dreams of avarice, chicanery and lies.'

Former Blair minister Stephen Byers has admitted that he lied on the central issue: whether or not there was a Treasury conspiracy, Project Ariel, to renationalise the old British Rail infrastructure company, Railtrack.

"The conspiracy involved denying 250,000 shareholders, despised as “grannies”, compensation of some £4 billion.'

Jenkins writes:

'The case reveals a remarkable change that has taken place in Whitehall under Blair... a macho culture of feuding ministers, political aides, press advisers and fee-rich “parastatal” bankers and accountants. Accountability is nowhere. Parliament is nowhere.'

Gordon Brown, at the Treasury, seems to have wanted renationalisation 'on the cheap'. His aide, Shriti Vadera, on secondment from UBS Warburg, took charge.

“Can we engineer the solution through insolvency,” she e-mails Byers in July, “and therefore avoid compensation under the Human Rights Act.”

How Vadera and Brown are escaping a court appearance 'is a mystery', writes Jenkins.

Vadera was architect of London’s Tube privatisation.

According to Jenkins:

'She emerges from the welter of documents as typical of Brown’s Treasury, a bossy, assertive and apparently unsupervised denizen of that lush Blairite no man’s land between Whitehall, consultancy and banking.

'Her own bank, Warburgs, earned £45m floating Railtrack and held 3m of its shares. Unlike 250,000 other shareholders it offloaded them before insolvency.

'It then reappeared as adviser on Railtrack’s replacement, Network Rail. For an undisclosed sum it even handled the new body’s £9 billion bond issue the following year.

'Another Warburg employee seconded to the Treasury in 2001, Robert Jennings, was this year intriguingly awarded a CBE for “services to the transport industry”.'

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