DAN HODGES lays bare Sunak's ruthless ambition and Johnson's broken finances 

As allies of an ‘embarrassed’ Cameron offer our columnist the ex-PM’s defence, how the Greensill scandal lays bare Sunak’s ruthless ambition, Johnson’s broken finances – and the fact that the Tory who tried to scupper Brexit is already a relic of history. 

David Cameron has let himself down. And he knows it. ‘He was adviser for a company that went bust in a very public way. And he’s told me he recognises that’s embarrassing,’ says a sympathetic Cabinet Minister who spoke to the former Prime Minister last week.

‘But he does think all the other stuff is way over the top. This idea he was getting No 10 business cards printed out for all these dodgy people. His attitude is that he had a lot of responsibilities as PM and dealing with the Downing Street stationery wasn’t one of them.’

David Cameron has let himself down. And he knows it. ¿He was adviser for a company that went bust in a very public way. And he¿s told me he recognises that¿s embarrassing,¿ says a sympathetic Cabinet Minister

David Cameron has let himself down. And he knows it. ‘He was adviser for a company that went bust in a very public way. And he’s told me he recognises that’s embarrassing,’ says a sympathetic Cabinet Minister

Maybe it should have been. That way, he might have avoided last week’s revelations that further tarnished his legacy, dragged the Government into yet another lobbying storm, and exposed the political and personality clashes behind the scenes of Boris Johnson’s Government.

Westminster scandals can be notoriously opaque. But the allegations underpinning the Greensill saga appear refreshingly simple.

In 2012, Australian entrepreneur Lex Greensill was invited into Downing Street by David Cameron as a ‘senior adviser’. He began flourishing business cards and touting his influence.

Then, when Cameron left office, Greensill returned the favour. He appointed him as consultant to his company Greensill Capital – and told Cameron he stood to make as much as £60 million from the arrangement. But Greensill began to run into trouble. Backers started to withdraw funding.

So the former Prime Minister picked up the phone and started texting Rishi Sunak, asking if Greensill could have a piece of the Treasury’s multi-billion-pound Covid rescue package. Sunak politely declined.

But the damage had already been done. To Cameron’s reputation. To an administration tainted by a fresh whiff of ‘Tory sleaze’. And to those companies such as Liberty Steel, which were relying on Greensill’s investment and were now facing thousands of job losses.

Yet nothing in Westminster is ever as straight forward as that. And to properly get to the heart of the Greensill affair, you need to understand how it has become inextricably intertwined with a 40-year Etonian psychodrama, the surging ambition of a high-flying Chancellor and the ongoing battle to set a strategic course for the nation.

Thus far, Cameron has done nothing to challenge the narrative of his many critics: that a combination of greed and entitlement drove him to try to squeeze money out of the pockets of the taxpayer and funnel it into his own.

But now – through his allies – he’s finally broken cover.

Their first line of defence is excessively legalistic. The sympathetic Cabinet Minister told me ‘the whole lobbying thing has been dealt with’ – a reference to the fact the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists cleared Cameron of any wrongdoing.

But they did so on the technicality that he’d been exempt from their rules because he was formerly a Greensill employee.

The Minister also pointed out that reports Cameron was being investigated by the Committee on Standards in Public Life were false.

Which was again factually correct, but only because the committee does not investigate individual cases – but had indicated it would be prepared to look at the Greensill saga as part of a wider lobbying investigation.

Similarly, on criticism that he ventured on a slightly surreal camping trip to the desert to lobby Mohammed bin Salman – just months after the Saudi Crown Prince had allegedly ordered the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi – the friend says: ‘Government Ministers met with the Saudi leadership before David went.’

More convincing is the Cameron camp’s argument that Lex Greensill was not the fly-by-night chancer that he’s been painted, but the leader of a successful, multi-billion-pound global company, backed by a raft of hard-headed investors.

‘David thought he was signing on for an exciting UK-based finance and technology firm. OK, it didn’t work out as he’d expected. But others who thought Greensill was worth backing were the likes of SoftBank, Credit Suisse and the private equity giant General Atlantic,’ they explained.

Perhaps the most compelling defence is the claim Cameron was simply doing what just about every former Prime Minister has done. Which is to instinctively snatch – remunerated or not – for the levers of No 10 influence even after their period of office is over.

‘Half of the work David’s been doing has been pro-bono,’ says his ministerial ally.

‘National Citizen Service, Alzheimer’s Research, global poverty campaigning. And he thought with Greensill he was pushing for reforms in government that would make a real difference.’

The ¿smoking gun texts¿ which Cameron sent to Rishi Sunak were to the Chancellor¿s private phone

The ‘smoking gun texts’ which Cameron sent to Rishi Sunak were to the Chancellor’s private phone

Boris and Cameron have always conducted their rivalry with a quintessentially British public school ruthlessness. Both recognise there¿s only ever been space for one National Head Boy at a time

Boris and Cameron have always conducted their rivalry with a quintessentially British public school ruthlessness. Both recognise there’s only ever been space for one National Head Boy at a time

This justification has more credibility because it’s supported not just by Cameron’s allies but his critics, too.

‘I think he messed up badly,’ says another Cabinet Minister. ‘As soon as this smiling Australian said, “You can make £60 million out of this,” the alarm bells should have been ringing.

‘But you have to understand what it’s like for a former PM. The Americans stuff their ex-President’s mouths with gold and tell them to go away. We think that’s all terribly un-British, so our guys keep hanging around. Once they’ve been Prime Minister, it’s like they’ve had a taste of the royal jelly. They can’t live without it.’

Many people have speculated that David Cameron’s time out of office has been characterised by boredom. Memes abound on social media of him pottering around in his fashionable £25,000 shepherd’s hut.

But the reality is he’s been growing increasingly frustrated. Not just at his enforced early retirement, but at the way he and his administration have been so casually written out of history. First by Theresa May, then – most gallingly – by Boris himself.

Look, for example, at one of the great mysteries of Greensillgate. Namely, how did the story ever surface at all?

The ‘smoking gun texts’ which Cameron sent to Rishi Sunak were to the Chancellor’s private phone. They weren’t subject to Freedom of Information or any other form of official scrutiny.

It’s a pretty safe bet Cameron didn’t brief the story about him unsuccessfully influencing senior Ministers himself. Which means there’s only one other possible source – Sunak.

Cameron has told friends he’s not pointing the finger. ‘Rishi has always thanked David and George [Osborne] for leaving the economy and public finances in good shape,’ says his ministerial ally. ‘David says he thinks the leaker was just some gobby SPAD [special adviser].’

Which represents an almost touchingly naive reading of events.

Whatever route those texts took to the public domain, ultimately they were ushered there by the Chancellor himself.

Sunak’s team insist that once approached by journalists about the text messages, they were morally obliged to confirm their existence. Which is an honourable stance. They also point out that Sunak refused to allow Cameron’s intervention to sway the Treasury in Greensill’s favour. Which is equally honourable – and does the Chancellor’s already glowing reputation no harm at all.

But what is slightly less honourable is that in the days immediately following the emergence of the texts, Sunak went to ground.

There was no public explanation of events. There was certainly no attempt to defend his former Prime Minister. And when Sunak finally did surface, his comments were carefully calibrated to nudge, if not quite throw, David Cameron under a bus.

‘I think it’s important that, whoever people are, whether they’re prime ministers or anyone else, that they follow the rules and the guidelines that we have in place for lobbying,’ he said pointedly. ‘I think whoever you are, it’s important processes are followed properly.’

Ministers I spoke to who are close to Cameron and Sunak agree there is no great enmity between the two men. ‘They don’t really know each other at all,’ one Cameroonian veteran told me.

An ally of Sunak’s claimed the Chancellor had simply taken Cameron’s messages ‘out of courtesy’ and left senior civil servants to deal with Greensill’s application for funding.

But one of Sunak’s ministerial critics has a different take. ‘With Rishi, it’s only about building his own personal brand now. He doesn’t think about pushing a wider Government agenda. He’s happy to dump muck on anyone – including the PM – if he thinks it will help him.’

As Boris is only too well aware. Which is why he’s been doing everything he can to stay as far away from the toxic sludge of Greensill as possible.

Again, there is an almost touching naivety among Cameron’s allies about the extent to which Boris has attempted to defend his fellow Bullingdon alumni. ‘If you look at what [Business Secretary] Kwasi Kwarteng was saying when he was asked about it, he came out and clearly said, “David Cameron has done nothing wrong,” ’ says one friend of Dave. ‘And he wouldn’t have been that unequivocal if he didn’t think No 10 backed that line.’

No 10 don’t back that line. ‘None of this overlaps with the PM,’ a Downing Street source told me. ‘All this pre-dates Boris’s time in office. The approach was made but it was rejected.

‘As for all that stuff that happened during the Cameron era, that’s a matter for them.’

There are a number of reasons why Boris has decided to cut his fellow Old Etonian loose.

Partly it’s because Boris and Cameron have always conducted their rivalry with a quintessentially British public school ruthlessness. Both recognise there’s only ever been space for one National Head Boy at a time.

In his illuminating biography of Johnson, Tom Bower says that when Cameron convincingly won the Tory leadership in 2005, Boris ‘was shocked to his foundations that the man whom he claimed to have outshone at Eton and Oxford could have leapt over him’.

Now Boris has been handed the opportunity to leap back, he’s not going to risk a damaging fall by defending Cameron.

As one ministerial friend of the PM said: ‘You have to understand how Boris sees personal scandals like this.

‘He could be caught having sex with a Kardashian in the middle of Downing Street and the Red Wall would rise up in acclamation.

‘His view is, “I’ve had to put up with much worse and I came out OK. You can put up with it as well.” ’

But another Minister says there’s a more pragmatic reason. ‘Everyone knows about Boris’s money problems. And he’s counting on the fact that he’s currently sitting on a lot of unearned wealth. You think he wants people going around saying former prime ministers can’t speak to anyone and earn a lot of money lobbying when they leave government?’

Boris doesn’t want that – at all. He knows he will have a lot of expensive wallpaper to buy when he leaves No 10. Which is why he doesn’t intend to be within a mile of any cash-for-access controversies.

But there is a more fundamental reason David Cameron has been left to twist in the wind. Which is that he and his political philosophy are now expendable.

Expendable to Rishi Sunak. Expendable to Boris Johnson. Expendable to a Government and a party that have decided the Cameron years were all just a bit of a woke embarrassment.

Boris’s strategy is to pick up the Union Jack and charge with it headlong into Labour’s heartlands. Cameron’s was to hug hoodies and huskies. Cameron sought to massage and modernise the Tory brand in an attempt to expand its appeal. Boris opted to drive a JCB digger through the Red Wall.

David Cameron fought with his last political breath to keep Britain in the EU. Boris sided with the legions of Brexiteers and crushed it out of him.

That’s what really lies at the heart of the Greensill affair. Not greed, or entitlement – though both are present. But a much more basic struggle for political relevance.

David Cameron was sitting in his posh shed, watching the political project he’d devoted his life to being dismantled before his eyes.

Then the ‘smiling Australian’ appeared. He had big contacts and bigger plans. And claimed he wanted an expert guide to lead him through the Westminster jungle.

Of course David Cameron picked up the phone. What else was he going to do that day?

Boris Johnson is under pressure to name ALL ministers lobbied by David Cameron as its revealed ex-PM also asked Old Etonian friend at Treasury for Covid cash for Greensill 


Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure to reveal the full list of Ministers lobbied by David Cameron when he was seeking Government help for the finance firm he was involved with.

Jesse Norman was yesterday named as the second Treasury Minister approached by the former Prime Minister in a failed bid to get access to Covid loans to help Greensill Capital.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has already admitted that Mr Cameron had directly contacted him to ask for the loans.

But sources now suspect that Mr Cameron lobbied other Ministers on behalf of controversial businessman pal Lex Greensill’s financial services firm.

And last night, Labour and the Liberal Democrats insisted it was now high time that the Government revealed the full list.

Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: ‘Every passing day brings new reports that Greensill Capital had the run of Whitehall, putting public money and jobs at risk.

‘The Conservatives must come clean about how many Ministers have been lobbied by David Cameron on behalf of Lex Greensill.’

Lib Dem frontbencher Alistair Carmichael also called for ‘full disclosure’ by invoking Mr Cameron’s own previous mantra that ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’. He added: ‘Boris Johnson will only restore his Government’s tarnished reputation by making full disclosure.’

The row erupted when it emerged that Mr Cameron had last year lobbied Whitehall to boost Greensill Capital’s access to the coronavirus loan schemes, just months before the firm collapsed.

Mr Greensill had worked for him as an unpaid adviser in Downing Street and Mr Cameron joined his firm in 2018.

But when the finance firm collapsed, the former Prime Minister stood to lose share options which apparently would have netted him over $60 million.

Mr Cameron, who resigned as Prime Minister in 2016, has already been cleared of breaking lobbying rules, but his behaviour has sparked concerns about a so-called ‘chumocracy’ and under-powered lobbying rules for former Ministers.

According to The Times, Mr Norman, the Financial Secretary, was approached by Mr Cameron even though he was not responsible for the Covid support schemes set up to help businesses in the pandemic.

Insiders pointed out that Mr Norman had been close to his fellow Old Etonian, and his book ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ was hailed as ‘the guidebook to Cameronism’.

Last week, Mr Sunak said that it was ‘right’ for the Treasury to ‘engage with stakeholders’ but that ‘ultimately the decision was taken not to take the [Cameron-Greensill] proposal forward’.

He insisted all the proper processes were followed. Government sources last night insisted that Mr Norman had similarly followed the rules.

Greensill’s collapse has put the future of Liberty Steel, which had Greensill as its main financial backer, in doubt.

Sanjeev Gupta, the boss of Liberty Steel, is understood to have drafted in a ‘barrage’ of lawyers to defend his empire as lenders threaten to engulf him.

The Treasury did not confirm Mr Norman has been lobbied but said last night: ‘Senior officials and Ministers routinely meet with a range of private sector stakeholders and the Government received many representations from the entire spectrum of British business during the pandemic.

‘The company was directed to the appropriate officials and, following a consultation process involving several firms in the same sector, their request was denied.’

Both Mr Cameron and Mr Norman were approached for comment.

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