With parts of the UK hitting 31 degrees today one would be forgiven for thinking that’s the reason why Robert Jenrick has been left red-faced. The reality, however, is that the Housing Secretary has found himself in hot water over a ‘cash for favours’ row involving the billionaire former newspaper tycoon Richard Desmond.
Following pressure from Labour, Mr. Jenrick was forced to release a dossier of correspondence between himself and Mr. Desmond dating from as far back as November 2019. Correspondence from the 9th of January makes it clear that the Housing Secretary was “insistent” that Mr Desmond’s 1500-home Westferry Printworks project be approved the next day to ensure that the property developer wouldn’t be affected by changes in the London CIL regime – changes which would cost between £40-£50million.
In a string of texts the property tycoon states that he appreciated Mr. Jenrick’s speed “as we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing!”. The ‘Marxists’ in this instance are the Labour Council of Tower Hamlets who would have used those extra millions to do Marxists things like, er, fund social care and NHS services. Mr Desmond went on to mention the “doe” in question when he reminded Mr Jenrick that “We have to get the approval before January 15 otherwise [there is a] payment of £45 million pounds to tower hamlets…”.
Mr. Jenrick later quashed his own ruling, acknowledging that the decision was “unlawful”, he stated in the Commons: “On reflection, I should have handled the communications differently”.
But surely this raises questions as to how the Housing Secretary found himself in this situation in the first place? The pair are said to have met at a Tory fundraiser where they were seated at the same table; Mr Desmond is said to have donated £12,000 to the Conservatives two weeks after Mr Jenrick intervened in the planning decision – a small price for a £45million reward.
In normal circumstances you might expect this to be a sackable offence, but I don’t suppose these are normal circumstances are they? With Bojo confirming the matter to be “closed” the Housing Secretary looks safe. I mean, this is the government who failed to sack Dominic Cummings for blatantly breaking the lockdown rules he helped implement, so should we really expect anything different?
In the end, when the Housing Secretary was met with the question of who should receive £45million: a wealth property mogul or some of the poorest people in Tower Hamlets, he chose the former. This issue rightly raises broader questions about the standards we expect of our elected officials. Unfortunately for us plebs, however, the government clearly deems political corruption to fall well outside of those said standards.