As the British economy lurched from one crisis to another this summer, two of our most prominent politicians were recklessly accepting lavish hospitality on the yacht of a Russian billionaire.
The world’s most powerful media baron. A Russian billionaire. A powerful commissioner from the European Union who twice resigned in disgrace from Tony Bair’s Cabinet. And the son of a baronet tipped to be Britain’s next Chancellor of the Exchequer.
They are the main players, along with three magnificent luxury yachts, in a political controversy, Yachtgate, which is every bit as explosive as the volcanic past of the Ionian island of Corfu where the drama unfolded.
As the British economy lurched from one crisis to another this summer, we discovered that two of our most prominent politicians, on opposite sides of the political divide, were recklessly accepting lavish hospitality on the yacht of the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who is banned from entering the U.S. Rupert Murdoch’s yacht was moored alongside. His daughter Elisabeth, who is also a media tycoon, had anchored her yacht in the same bay as they were all in Corfu to celebrate her 40th birthday.
Yachtgate exposed a posturing, preening political class, pre-occupied with money, expensive yachts, and glamorous parties at a time when the country’s economy was going to hell in a hand cart
In the U.S. on Tuesday, the Republican Party, was defeated not just because of the charismatic Barack Obama but by George Bush, one of the most unpopular presidents in American history, with his foolhardy adventure in Iraq. John McCain also blundered when he could not recall how many homes he owned. Was it six or seven?
No wonder so many working class folk backed Obama. What would they have made of the spectacle of British politicians, who unlike the U.S., willingly accept multi-million pound donations to their parties from rich individuals—the biggest sum so far is £5 million—sucking up to a Russian billionaire?
Yachtgate has exposed a posturing, preening political class, pre-occupied with money, expensive yachts, and glamorous parties at a time when the country’s economy was going to hell in a hand cart.
The scandal raises serious questions about the Conservative Party which has been in the political wilderness for 11 years. When it was last in power in the 1990s, under Sir John Major, it was tainted by sleaze. A handful of Conservative MPs had taken cash in brown envelopes from Mohamed Al Fayed, whose son Dodi died in the car crash with Princess Diana, in return for Parliamentary favors.
The current Conservative leader David Cameron had successfully put all that behind him by decontaminating the Conservative band in his three years as leader. Then George Osborne, the shadow chancellor who was on holiday in Corfu, went on board the £80 million yacht Queen K owned by Deripaska. The second time he took the party’s fundraiser with him to talk about a £50,000 donation from Deripaska, even though foreign nationals are banned from giving money to British political parties.
Cameron and his best friend George Osborne, who are toffs in the true English sense of the world, had attempted to portray themselves as fresh, modern, and not associated with the Conservatives’ sleazy past. They both went to Eton, Britain’s most elite public school, where Prince William and Prince Harry were educated. Yet here was Osborne, who has led an incredibly rich and privileged lifestyle, talking dodgy donations with a Russian oligarch. In a year’s time he could be custodian of the nation’s finances.
It is the first serious error of judgment by Osborne but one so serious most informed commentators no longer believe that he can be Chancellor in the next Conservative administration. It’s a high price to pay for his moment of madness in the Mediterranean sun. He has already publicly announced he will no longer meet fundraisers in another sign of the damage the episode has inflicted on his and the Conservatives’ reputation.
Lord Mandelson, a leading figure in the ruling Labour Party, was staying on the same yacht at the same time even though as EU trade commissioner he was responsible for regulating Deripaska’s business. He accepted the lavish hospitality despite changing import tariffs only months earlier which made his Russian host even richer.
One of Tony Blair’s closest allies, who twice quit the Cabinet because he was deemed to be too close to rich businessmen, back in the Cabinet for a third time and facing exactly the same allegations. When Mandelson was brought back to the Cabinet last month by Gordon Brown, both camps leaked their partial version of events of who saw who on board the Queen K.
It was an extraordinary spectacle for the British people at a time when the economy’s actually contracted for the first time in 20 years. Each day a new revelation came to light about the champagne swilling vacation of our leaders on the decks of some of the most expensive private yachts in the world.
The episode has triggered inevitable jokes about the “have-nots”, the ordinary man and woman struggling to make a living, and the “have-yachts”, the political classes. But, in fact, the joke is not funny. The lavish entertaining on the decks of the Queen K reinforced in most people’s minds that politicians are merely in it for themselves as wealth and politics always seem to gravitate towards each other. The already battered political process—turnout is down massively down compared with 20 years ago—has taken another ferocious battering. Osborne apologized. If he had been in government, he would have been forced to resign. Mandelson has not said sorry, if he had to resign again even Lazarus would not countenance a third comeback.
According to one ‘Pink List’, “Andrew Pierce is feared and revered in equal measure; he is a tenacious political hack with a talent for breaking stories about the great and good.” Pierce never went to university and cut his teeth on local papers. Currently Assistant Editor of The Daily Telegraph , he also regularly appears on TV and radio.