Labour’s Siobhain McDonagh David Cameron over his lobbying for Greensill Capital – and the MP took no prisoners.
The former minister was before the Commons Treasury committee to answer questions about his extensive lobbying on behalf of the failed finance firm he himself had a “significant” stake in.
The four-month campaign asking for government support of the firm, conducted at the height of the Covid pandemic, included no less than 56 texts to serving Tory ministers.
Labour MP Angela Eagle remarked the ex-PM’s WhatsApp efforts were “more like stalking than lobbying” but it was McDonagh who turned up the heat.
The Mitcham and Morden MP reminded Cameron of his own promised crackdown on lobbying, when he said the industry smacked of “cronyism” and had “tainted our politics for far too long”.
She said to him: “Do you understand the irony of having used them given many of us believe that the quote depicts your own behaviour with Greensill?”
Cameron, who signed off a number of his texts to former colleagues with the words “love DC”, said his government had brought in “two important changes” via the lobbying act, which forced multi-client lobbyists to register clients and ministers to report all meetings.
But McDonagh was quick to cut him off, saying: “I’m ever so sorry but this is a meeting to ask you questions, rather than allow you to talk for the next two hours.
“You had the enormous privilege of being the prime minister of our great country. You’re one of only five people post-war to have been re-elected to lead our government.
“Do you not feel you have demeaned yourself and your position by ‘WhatsApping’ your way around Whitehall on the back of a fraudulent enterprise based on selling bonds of high-risk debt to unsuspecting investors?”
Cameron attempted to defend his actions in taking a paid post with Greensill, a company in which he also had shares, saying “made a choice to work for a
business which I hoped would be a UK fintech success story” to “help them grow and expand”.
He added: “What I did at the time of economic crisis was put to the govt what I genuinely believed to be a good idea for how to get money into the hands of small businesses and get their bills paid early.
“I have said that looking back and now looking forward that ex prime ministers are in a very important and different position so a single letter or email would have been more appropriate.”
McDonagh challenged Cameron over his defence of Lex Greensill, who she said the former PM was “painting as a reincarnation of the late Mother Theresa”.
She criticised Earnd, the wage advance app used by NHS nurses, which has since gone into administration.
She said: “Turning now to Greensill’s proposals for our NHS, an app called Earnd to pay docs and nurses daily or weekly in advance, do you accept that your lobbying of the NHS wasn’t for its health but for the health of Greensill’s balance sheet.”
Cameron said he didn’t “accept that or a second” and claimed Earnd could combat “the evils of payday lending”.
“The idea that staff could draw down their salary as they earned it rather than wait until the end of the month. I think that could go some way toward ending payday lending,” he said.
But McDonagh pointed out that Greensill was promoting the app in some parts of the NHS in order to create a “critical mass” and further “cross-selling opportunities”
“Is nothing sacred?,” McDonagh asked, shaking her head.
She added: “And of course it left Greensill free to sell to corporate entities to generate revenues and to provide cross-selling opportunities to the wider group. Not my words, Greensill’s words,” she put to the PM, before cutting him off and asking the committee chairman Mel Stride to move on.
Cameron attempted to defend the “cosy” use of “love DC” in the texts, saying: “Anyone I know even at all well, I tend to sign off text messages with ‘love DC’ – I don’t know why, I just do.
“My children tell me that you don’t need to sign off text messages at all and it’s very old fashioned and odd to do so.”
Eagle, meanwhile, said: “I read your 56 messages and they’re more like stalking than lobbying – looking back are you at least a little bit embarrassed about the way you behaved?”
Cameron replied: “The government was introducing plans to try and help businesses, we thought we had a good idea.
“I was keen to get it in front of government, but as I’ve said, there are lessons to learn, and lessons for me to learn, and in future the single formal email or formal letter would be appropriate.”
He added: “I think it’s easy to forget now just what sort of time of economic shock it was.”
To which Eagle curtly responded: “Many of us don’t forget there were thousands of people dying at the time and the country was in a serious situation.”
Cameron was also due to appear before the Commons’ public accounts committee to answer questions about his links to Greensill.
Boris Johnson has asked lawyer Nigel Boardman to conduct a review of government procurement activity during the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.