Friday, 27 February 2015

Rifkind: good riddance

This critical piece is published today on openDemocracy

Rifkind: good riddance
Malcolm Rifkind has faced public rage this week. He deserves every decibel of it.
Malcolm Rifkind/Wikipedia
Let me declare an interest. I don’t like Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the pompous and sneering politician who has thankfully fallen sword after the excellent sting operation by Channel Four Dispatches, exposing his avaricious and arrogant attitude to being an elected Member of Parliament.
Last year Sir Malcolm co-chaired a press launch at the House of Commons of the Trident Commission. I asked from the floor how he and his fellow co-chair on the Commission, Lib Dem grandee Sir Menzies Campbell, as international lawyers, could support renewing Trident? Its procurement from the United States was in breach of the UK’s legal obligations under both Article 1 (prohibiting the transfer of nuclear explosive devices to any recipient whatsoever, directly or indirectly) and Article 6 (requiring all member states, including nuclear weapons states, and to enter into negotiations to halt the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament in good faith and at an early date, ie from 1968) of the 189-member state Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. Sir Malcolm looked at me as if he had stepped in something nasty and smelly on the pavement, ignored my question, and let Ming Campbell attempt an answer.
That is the measure of Sir Malcolm: pompously arrogant and loquacious, until struck dumb by somebody knowledgeable prepared to challenge him on his own area of supposed expertise!
In December 2008, he became a leading spokesman of the Global Zero movement, which includes over 300 eminent leaders and over 400,000 citizens from around the world working toward the elimination of all nuclear weapons by multilateral negotiation. In backing Trident’s renewal, he seemed to be directly contradicting this organisation.
Amongst the jaw dropping comments he made to the Channel Four undercover reporters, was the claim that he did not receive a salary – even though he is paid over £67,000 a year to be an MP. Trying to extricate himself from the hole he had dug for himself, he actually made this worse by letting slip he considered a salary of £67,000 was insufficient for a man of his background; he was entitled to much more, he opined.
On his own constituency web site he states: “Members of Parliament are elected to the House of Commons to represent the interests and concerns of all the people who live in their constituency, whether they voted for them at the General Election or not. They are only able to deal with issues raised by people who live in their constituency, called constituents.”
Apparently this "only dealing with issues raised by constituents" rule did not apply to meeting with lobbyists offering money to him to ask questions of ministers, officials or serving ambassadors, for a fat fee of £5,000-to £8,000 a day, as he told the undercover reporters. That would be about a third of the annual income for a day’s work for many of the constituents in the north of his constituency. Many erroneously think his entire Kensington seat in west London is super affluent; maybe Sir Malcolm did too, and never ventured too far north to see the real poverty there.
That restraint, however, has not stopped him from as an MP venturing into very valuable, well-remunerated consultancies and directorships, earning £69,610 last year according to his latest entry in the Register of Members financial interests, published by Parliament on 2 February. As he told the undercover reporters, he had plenty of free time to undertake extra-parliamentary fee earning, as well as walking and reading.
Also, if you look at his record as an MP, it's hard to find evidence of him paying much attention to its role, which includes keeping the government of the day to account. He boasted to the undercover reporters, "there is an awful lot of which is not secret which if you ask the right questions you'll get an answer." But either he was insufficiently curious or all knowing, as since the formation of the coalition government nearly five years ago he asked just one written question to government on behalf of his constituents.
But Sir Malcolm knows how to be active when he wants to be. Here is an extract from the Independent nine years ago:
“Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, undertook to lobby the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, in an attempt to land a lucrative oil contract in Iraq for BHP Billiton, according to evidence given to a public inquiry in Australia.

“In the most blatant evidence to so far emerge about Western businesses jockeying for a slice of Iraq's oil wealth, the Anglo-Australian group BHP Billiton drew up a plan for getting access to the huge Iraqi Halfayah oilfield just weeks after outbreak of war in 2003.
"BHP Billiton held a secret meeting in May 2003 in London with Sir Malcolm - who has worked as a consultant to the company since 1997 - and Alexander Downer, the Australian foreign minister, to discuss how best to convince the Americans that BHP Billiton should be handed the Halfayah field in southern Iraq.
“The evidence came to light as part of a Royal Commission inquiry started late last year in Australia to examine any involvement of the country's businesses in breaching the sanctions that were in place against Iraq before the war. According to the minutes of the meeting, Shell, the oil giant, and Tigris Petroleum, a joint venture set up by BHP Billiton and some of its former executives, were also interested in "securing the Halfayah field investment".

“The minutes, which were taken by Australian government officials and labelled "Confidential", note: "Sir Malcolm emphasised that it was critical to register the BHP Billiton/British Dutch [Shell]/Tigris interest early with the US administration... It was a good claim and required lobbying - including from the Australian government - in Washington."

The document said that BHP Billiton had briefed the office of Australia's Prime Minister adding, "it has only just started lobbying in the UK but intended to approach Downing Street and the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry]".

"The minutes said "Sir Malcolm would be seeking an appointment with Vice-President Cheney when the opportunity arose". And Mr Downer, who is still Foreign Minister, "agreed he would raise the matter both in Washington and in Baghdad with Paul Bremer [the US administrator of Iraq]".
Last year Sir Malcolm was appointed Chairman of the World Economic Forum's Nuclear Security Council. Just last month, he was appointed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as a member of their Eminent Persons Panel on European Security. Let’s hope he has been un-appointed from both.
Laughably, five years ago he was considered an eminent enough MP to chair the Standards and Privileges Committee of the House of Commons until the dissolution of the House of Commons in April 2010. To think he was considered fit to chair Parliament’s “Intelligence” Committee too.
There is an excellent book, published 24 years ago, written by Mark Hollingsworth, called MPs for Hire. He dubs the type of behaviour exhibited by Sir Malcolm as “pork-barrel politics”. Veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn told the BBC this week that some MPs have got their body so far into the trough, all you can see is the soles of their Gucci shoes. Bye, bye Sir Malcolm.
Now he is gone for good, unless the Tories dare nominate him for a peerage. Surely they wouldn’t, would they?

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