When Rishi Sunak launched the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme last year he was unable to resist the temptation to slap his own personal branding all over it. You may have seen it.
There are several small stars involved, the curling “Rishi Sunak” signature, and normally a photo or two of the boy wonder himself, face fixed in the obsequious grin of a public school head boy, which is exactly what he is, and eyes angled towards some sunny horizon or other like an Adelaide-based artisanal winemaker inspecting his fields.
Trouble is, if you slap your signature on something, you will look a bit stupid, a few months later, when you decide that the thermonuclear fallout from it is somebody else’s problem.
When, for example, the former prime minister David Cameron has personally sent you text messages, trying to chisel a path for his banker pal, Lex Greensill, to access a hundred million or so’s worth of these loans, keeping his business going long enough that it would ensure that Cameron didn’t miss out on the $60m share payout, which he keeps boasting about to his mates. When that happens, and you try and claim it’s somebody else’s problem, well, you will look a bit daft.
Still, Sunak is at least no stranger to looking daft. He has what appears to amount to an entire department at the Treasury devoted to making very daft videos of him. Like the one from March this year, where he spent a full six minutes reminiscing about what a challenging – but ultimately great – year 2020 had been for him personally. Where he reminisced about where he’d been, and what he’d been doing, when “the call came in” from Boris Johnson to ask him if he wanted to be chancellor.
He managed to answer that one, thank goodness, and say yes. But he’s a bit more busy now. When the call came in this morning, from the speaker of the House of Commons office, to ask him whether he’d be coming to answer an urgent question about Cameron and the now-defunct Greensill Capital, the answer was a bit more circumspect.
The answer, specifically, was to send a junior minister from a different department instead. His name is Paul Scully. He is officially the small business minister, so perhaps this really was a question for him, as there are no smaller businesses to be found than Greensill Capital, which is not so much small as non-existent, having accidentally gone bankrupt, despite having unlimited access to the very high quality advice of its adviser – Cameron.
It’s a complicated saga, all this, but at its heart there is a banker called Greensill who thought he was a lot cleverer than he was and accidentally destroyed his company, and a former prime minister called Cameron, who thought he was a lot cleverer than he was, and – well, I think you can see where this is going.
The first question Scully had to answer was about what on earth he was doing there. He would quickly explain that the Covid business loan interruption scheme is very much his department’s problem, and that Sunak’s signature having been all over it was irrelevant. And when Cameron had personally texted Sunak about it, well, that presumably was Scully’s fault. The former PM should have texted Scully.
(It’s easy to laugh, and there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t. But this shambolic defence has a lot more going for it than you might imagine. If Greensill’s hotshot adviser Cameron had actually managed to text the right person in the government he used to run, who knows, maybe the bank would have got the money. But he didn’t. So here we are.)
The important thing Scully came to say is that neither Cameron nor Sunak nor anyone involved had done anything wrong. There is also going to be an inquiry, just to prove that no one’s done anything wrong. And until that inquiry is concluded, it wouldn’t be right to answer any more questions on the matter.
Well, kind of. Labour’s Emma Lewell-Buck reminded Scully that, a few years ago, Dennis Skinner was kicked out of the House of Commons for calling Cameron “dodgy Dave”. Now that Cameron has been firing off texts to his mates to try to get his hands on taxpayer money to keep his own multi-multi-multi-million pound payout afloat, was Skinner perhaps right to have called him “dodgy Dave”? We got a one word answer. “No.”
So there you have it. Cameron isn’t dodgy. And that’s absolutely, absolutely all anyone’s allowed to say. Which is probably fine, isn’t it?