Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sorry Iain, but you're wrong about Miliband

Sadly my friend Iain Dale is wrong to declare that Ed Miliband is innocent. Let me clarify however. It's true to say that there is, as yet, no evidence, that his position in charge of Energy policy has been compromised by his relationship with his girlfriend who also happens to be a lawyer representing the German nuclear energy firm E.on that happens to want business in the UK.

However, to say that to question the potential conflict of interest is based on a school of thought that all "politicians are on the make or easy to influence in a malign way" is not right either. There is clearly a conflict of interest between Ed Miliband's position and power over nuclear policy and his personal life.

That's a matter of fact, it is reality, it is unquestionable. It does not mean that a decision he may or may not take has been influenced by her, it just means that it could be influenced by her and as such he should formally remove himself from being involved in that decision.

Having said this, the whole nuclear power policy and conflicts of interests in Government is not new news. What's more, given that we are so often told, like on the recent announcement about Cabinet minutes and Freedom of Information, that Cabinet take "collective responsibility" for decisions, there are wider issues with nulcear policy now surely?

After all, we now have four members of the Cabinet (one attending) compromised by conflicts of personal interest on the subject of nuclear policy, including the Prime Minister. The Energy Secretary alone would be bad enough, but we also know that Gordon Brown's own brother Andrew is head of corporate communications at French energy giant EDF with special strategic interest on nuclear. EDF, like E.on, would love to provide us with nuclear plants.

Then we have Yvette Cooper and Ed Balls. Cooper, (Housing minister, also with responsibility for planning, sustainable development and climate change) and Balls, (Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families) have a personal conflict of interest on nuclear energy too.

Cooper's father is the former Chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, and is now a non-executive director of the Government quango known as the Nuclear Decommissiong Authority - a quango that needs nuclear power plants to be built in order to give them something to decommission and justify their funding (off-balance sheet natch!).

Let's not try to gloss over things here Iain and say that we should place blind trust that these personal relationships - not business relationships - are not and should not be of a concern unless one is uber-cynical. It doesn't matter whether they're influenced or not by these conflicts. The fact is, it doesn't look right, and it forms part of a vicious circle that perpetuates the school of thought you have argued against.

If one takes the starting assumption that all politicians are corrupt, and then one sees a situation that makes the nose twitch because there is the perception of a possible smell, then the starting assumption is affirmed and we go back to the beginning.

One of the most profound and absolutely correct things Blair ever said was his observation that politicians needed to be seen as "whiter than white". Yes, it didn't happen that way for him, but it didn't make his words any less true then than now. All of them are innocent until proven guilty - unlike so many of us proles these days - but in their roles of State they shouldn't be allowing themselves to be seen to be guilty by personal association, otherwise questions will always be asked.

Think of this counterfactual, if the Tories were in power and Ken Clarke was put in charge of reviewing the smoking ban with a remit to potentially reform it, would his links to British American Tobacco not be seen and questioned, quite rightly, as a conflict of interest? I say that as a smoker and a supporter of Forest too.

The bottom line is that members of the very highest offices in Government do have serious conflicts of interests in relation to nuclear power at a time when nuclear power expansion is on the agenda once more. Whatever ones opinion on nuclear power, for or against, it cannot surely be right to have a situtation where so many within the Brownite clique are so heavily linked by close personal relationships to the nuclear industry.... can it?


Events dear boy, events said...

Very well put. You raise some good points. Although I doubt the Miliband story has much traction, the main thrust of what you say certainly does need addressing.

Anonymous said...

I entirely agree with you and I think Dale is barking up the wrong tree.These are deeply contentious issues and,more than most,there must be the perception of openess and fairness in the decision making.Indeed,for the sake of the nuclear power industry,it would not wish to be dogged by rumours of cronyism and backroom deals when looking for outside investment because the greens will certainly use all the ammunition available,whether or not justified.

Anonymous said...

Ed Miliband has a girlfriend? German you say. A former East German weightlifter probably.

Anonymous said...

What about the Two Eyed Son of The Manse???

Houdini said...

Couldn't agree more Dizzy. Was going to say much the same over at Dales but don't post there anymore.

His argument I found the worst he has made in a long time. The price of being a public servant is that your private life can intrude on it and vice versa, and tough, get out of the kitchen otherwise.

I suspect Dale is pontificating in readiness for his becoming an MP; that is his style, he is a poodle to the Tory party while whining he isn't.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Conservative, but I completely disagree. Ken Clarke has links himself to BAT, having worked for them in the past. How far do you take this personal relationships stuff - can an MP who is in a relationship with a teacher not be involved in education? Can an MP with an uncle who is a union leader not be involved in minimum wage discussions? Does your argument also apply to the private sector. If a partner at BCG is married to a consultant at Bain, does that mean they must excuse themself from BCG's strategy decisions? Madness.

Plato said...

This goat thinks you're both right.

Dizzy, I agree completely with your analysis of this web of vested interests on the nuclear front.

Iain, Rosa Prince is an embarrassment and most pleased to learn that this paper-thin story has been spiked. I had barely noticed her byline before her move to the Tgraph but now *roll-eyes* whenever I see one of her 'stories'.

Not a sheep said...

You are right and I say that as someone who sees nuclear power as an important part of the UK's energy generation future.

Anonymous said...

"it cannot surely be right to have a situtation where so many within the Brownite clique are so heavily linked by close personal relationships to the nuclear industry.... can it?"

What solution are you suggesting?

That Ed Miliband chucks his girlfriend?

That Gordon Brown makes his brother get a job completely unrelated to any possible facet of government decision making?

That Yvette Cooper kills her father?

(By the way Cooper hasn't been Housing Minister for over a year and I'm not sure what nuclear power has to do the DCSF unless they're introducing Maths and Nuclear Fission Specialist Science Colleges).

Mitch said...

Ed Miliband has a girlfriend? your kidding right?,real not inflatable?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the debate. There is a clear potential conflict of interest. Full stop.

golden_balls said...

the problem with the story in the telegraph is the allegation that he kept his gfs links to the nuclear industry a secret.

whether or not the telegraph knew of her links that doesn't mean he kept her a "secret". on that point ian dale is right.

but the points you and others have made about links between partners and industry i think is relavant and should be investigated.

Anonymous said...

*Sigh*. The point is, that as a Chartered Accountant, this option is not available to me. Nor is it available to any professional person.

I cannot say, "There is a possibility of conflict of interest here, but I will not allow it to happen, therefore there is no conflict of interest". HMRC do not allow this either. They will treat you and your family as one person based on the fact that you are influenced by your spouse or parents.

So, for the umpteenth time, we have a situation where MPs and Ministers are not subject to the same laws as the people who appoint them.

This cannot be right and, in the end, the ruling elite will become the monarchy which they profess to despise.

Anonymous said...

While you're at it, you should compile a list of government ministers with friends and relatives who have ANTI-nuclear connections, members of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and so on.

For surely there is also a conflict of interest between their positions and power over nuclear policy and their personal lives. No?

In any case, both groups should of course immediately stand down from office. Result!