What were you doing in the autumn of 2020, as the UK prepared to head back into Covid lockdown?
You may have been taking a lone walk through a park, as part of your daily Government-sanctioned exercise.
You might have been heading to do a shift as a key worker in our hospitals, supermarkets or schools.
Perhaps you were catching a glimpse through a window of an elderly family member at a care home.
Or maybe you were one of three million volunteers in mutual aid groups, offering support to people in your local community.
While we were all struggling, Baroness Michelle Mone, a Conservative peer in the House of Lords, was allegedly pocketing £29 million that originated from the profits of a PPE business, and planning her honeymoon at a luxury resort in the Maldives.
Lady Mone and her husband, Isle of Man-based financier Douglas Barrowman, have no medical expertise. But following their lobbying, the company PPE Medpro secured a place in a ‘VIP lane’ that the Government used during the pandemic for companies who had political connections.
Medpro secured contracts to produce PPE, worth more than £200million, despite some of that equipment never being used.
Mone and her husband then, it is claimed, benefited from a chunk of the company’s profit for themselves and Mone’s children.
These extraordinary claims don’t simply need looking into – they warrant a thoroughly comprehensive and forensic investigation, and an immediate withdrawal of the Conservative whip from Baroness Mone while it’s ongoing.
And if they continue to go unanswered, they will send Rishi Sunak’s claim that his Government will have ‘integrity, professionalism, accountability at every level’ up in flames along with £4billion of unusable PPE.
Mone hasn’t been found guilty of anything yet.
But the need to get to the bottom of the accusations against her is underlined by what we already know about the actions of some of her Conservative colleagues.
Let me run through just a few examples.
Former Health Secretary, current wannabe celebrity Matt Hancock was found to have technically broken the ministerial code by failing to declare a 20% stake in a company that won an NHS contract in 2019 – which was run by his very own sister and brother-in-law.
Not only did Rishi Sunak welcome Williamson back into the fold with open arms, but as the shocking evidence of bullying stacked up, he stood squarely by his side
The Health Minister for much of the pandemic, Lord Bethell, met with the company Randox on five occasions (despite only declaring one), after extensive lobbying by then-MP Owen Paterson.
Paterson had a second job as a paid consultant for Randox, earning £100,000 a year.
A company run by one person who had previously worked with Michael Gove, and another with Dominic Cummings, was given a £840,000 contract, without an open tender process, to test the effectiveness of the Government’s Covid information campaigns.
As the public stood outside their homes every night and clapped for the NHS, it seems some Government cronies sneaked inside, ransacked the place and crept out the back with their pockets full.
With the Covid inquiry continuing to take evidence, the Government will undoubtedly argue that this ‘VIP lane’ was necessary because Covid-19 was an unprecedented event, and the need for PPE was urgent.
The pandemic certainly was unprecedented and urgent – but that should never be an excuse for crucial standards and ethics to be ignored.
Evidently some processes had to be sped up – but no unprecedented and urgent crisis benefits from a procurement policy that appears to favour contracts for chums, often providing unusable equipment.
And for those chums to benefit financially from a health crisis that killed hundreds of thousands and upended our entire economy and society, adds a bucketload of salt to the wound of every NHS worker currently despairing over unfair pay and a health system stretched to breaking point.
Some may say that activity like this is a consequence of having a uniquely cavalier Prime Minister in Boris Johnson – and that he certainly was.
But to suggest that Sunak offers a sea change would be utterly misleading – on the contrary, he’s brought more of the same.
Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick overruled the Planning Inspectorate to approve a new housing development, proposed by a Tory party donor. Where’s Jenrick now? Back in Sunak’s ministerial team as Immigration Minister.
Suella Braverman was forced to resign as Home Secretary in October after she sent an official document from her personal email to a fellow MP, in a serious breach of ministerial rules. Just six days later, she was back in the same role.
Dominic Raab is facing three formal complaints of bullying, yet he remains in post as Deputy Prime Minister – an embarrassing distraction at best, an insult to alleged victims at worst.
And need I mention Sir Gavin Williamson, who had already been sacked from Government by two previous Prime Ministers?
Not only did Rishi Sunak welcome Williamson back into the fold with open arms, but as the shocking evidence of bullying stacked up, he stood squarely by his side, before Williamson bowed to the inevitable and resigned.
Five months after Lord Geidt vacated the role, this Government still has no ethics advisor, no clear timetable for recruiting a new one, and no offer of new powers to lend the role any credibility – so no wonder he’s struggling to fill it.
That’s because integrity, professionalism and accountability are being proven to be simply words for this government, not actions.
And the only way they can be restored is through a general election – now.
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
Share your views in the comments below.