Democracy for sale, Europe’s first black leader + tea with Obama | Crooked Media
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March 21, 2024
Pod Save the UK
Democracy for sale, Europe’s first black leader + tea with Obama

In This Episode

This week Nish and Coco ask if our politics is on sale to those with the deepest pockets? The Conservative Party would love us all to move on from the row around the £15 million donation from Frank Hester, but it’s a story that highlights the often murky world of political funding. Nish and Coco talk to investigative journalist Peter Geoghagen about what the rules are, what donors get for their money, and whether there’s a better way to do it.


Dodgy donations have also cast a bit of a cloud over a momentous week in Welsh politics, which saw the appointment of Vaughan Gething as the first black leader of a European country. Journalist Will Hayward explains why it hasn’t been an easy ride for him so far and why he’s got a rocky road ahead. Plus in other news, MP’s and Lords play ‘ping pong’ with the Government’s Rwanda Bill, and there’s a new name in the Tory leadership frame.


Competent and popular politician spotted at Downing Street shock: Nish and Coco discuss President Obama’ popping in for a cup of tea with Rishi Sunak. Plus a new sighting of Princess Kate raises more questions about the royal PR machine. In this week’s hero and villain, find out why a Glasgow record shop has amused Nish and why a Lord has annoyed Coco.


Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.


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Will Hayward, Welsh affairs editor at WalesOnline

Peter Geoghagen, investigative journalist and author of the Democracy for Sale substack


Audio credits:

ITV News

ITV News West Country 


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Nish Kumar Hi, this is Pod Save the UK.


Coco Khan I’m Coco Khan.


Nish Kumar And I’m Nish Kumar.


Coco Khan On today’s show democracy for sale.


Nish Kumar We examine where the big money is corrupting British politics with our special guest, the investigative journalist Peter Geoghagen.


Coco Khan Plus, find out how Wales made political history this week.


Nish Kumar And Rishi Sunak gets out his best. China as a surprise guest pops in for tea.


Coco Khan Hi Nish.


Nish Kumar Hi, Coco. How are you?


Coco Khan I’m okay. I’m sorry if I’m sounding a bit funny.


Nish Kumar We’ve. You’ve had oral surgery?


Coco Khan I have indeed. The face is puffy, but the heart is happy. Oh, by the way, have you heard our big news?


Nish Kumar What’s our big news?


Coco Khan We have a celebrity fan.


Nish Kumar Do we really?


Coco Khan Yeah, it’s Sarah Jessica Parker. As in Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City.


Nish Kumar I did know this. I did know this. I think my brain is struggling to process the information.


Coco Khan I feel like Carrie Bradshaw, as a character, has been hugely influential on women my age.


Nish Kumar Yeah.


Coco Khan Mostly for kind of reasons, of sexual awakening and sexual exploration. But for me, it was really the lie that you can make a living from writing one article a week that is really just ruined my life in many ways.


Nish Kumar Well, it’s very exciting that SJP is listening to the show.


Coco Khan Yes.


Nish Kumar This came out in an interview, right? Exactly.


Coco Khan So it was in Marie Claire, and the interview focused on the micro joys in her life. And she told them, and I quote, I listened to tons of UK podcasts and news coverage. I really like Pod Save the UK.


Nish Kumar Well, I mean that I’ve always wanted to be a micro joy to a celebrity. That’s a that’s a real.


Coco Khan That can be a macro joy, babe. Aim higher.


Nish Kumar That’s too much for me. That’s too much pressure. Being a micro joy to somebody is too much. I can’t operate under that kind of strain, Coco.


Coco Khan Okay.


Nish Kumar It’s too much pressure for me. I won’t be able to deal with it.


Coco Khan Okay.


Nish Kumar But being a micro joy, that’s fine. I can deal with that.


Coco Khan Yeah. Okay. Well, look, Sarah, if you’re listening, please do get in touch with us, because we’d love to have you on the show.


Nish Kumar Please.


Coco Khan And we can talk about politics and small joys and your outfits and your show opposite your husband, Matthew Broderick in London at the moment.


Nish Kumar The fantastic. It’s it’s.


Coco Khan That was a good pitch. Come on. That was seamless. That was like, listen, come on the show, you get a plug and you get some love. I’ve spelled it out for her there.


Nish Kumar We can’t. We can’t say fairer than that. We cannot say fairer than that. I also don’t know if you saw this. Coco. There was a surprise cameo at Downing Street this week.


Coco Khan Yes. The former president Barack Obama.


Nish Kumar In town for a meeting of the Obama Foundation, which is his nonprofit organization. He actually called in for a surprise tea time visit, at ten Downing Street on Monday. It was described by Downing Street as an informal courtesy drop in as part of his trip to London, which maybe doesn’t sound like the ringing endorsement, but she said that might have wanted Barack Obama made a polite visit out of borderline obligation. And, it’s number ten spokesman said the pair spoke for around an hour over cups of tea.


Coco Khan Yes. Apparently they discuss a range of subjects, including AI, Rishi Sunak’s favorite subject. I mean, gosh, do you want to have a cup of tea with Rishi Sunak? Talk about AI.


Nish Kumar Can’t think of anything I want to do less in my entire life. Hey, if you’re asking me a straight choice between that and getting punched in the balls, I’m saying get that punchin fist ready.


Coco Khan The former president also met with the Labour leader, though Keir Starmer. And then he went for dinner with a former guest on this show, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy. Apparently they knew each other at Harvard.


Nish Kumar I mean, that makes sense. They’re both very accomplished people.


Coco Khan It’s like a spitting image of you in at gamble when it.


Nish Kumar What David Lammy and Barack Obama, well, similar to me and Ed Gamble.


Coco Khan Look at you both you know, you’re old pals from university.


Nish Kumar We went to university together. I would say that’s probably where the similarities begin and end. I’m pretty sure there isn’t an anecdote where, Lammy and Obama got absolutely smashed on double gin and tonics at a bar and then jumped in the river in their pants.


Coco Khan Well, we don’t know that there’s no anecdote about that.


Nish Kumar He actually last visited Downing Street in April 2016.


Coco Khan Wow.


Nish Kumar Ahead of the Brexit referendum, where he said Britain would go to the back of the queue in negotiating a trade deal with America were it to leave. And he was, to be fair, correct, because there is no current trade agreement with the UK and the US. A good. Four years after the Brexit deal was completed in 2019, I believe at the time, and we’ve discussed this on the show before, he was the subject of an op ed piece, where he was described as the Kenyan president who had an ancestral dislike for the British Empire. What do we do with the author of that? We made him prime minister.


Coco Khan Oh, God.


Nish Kumar Britain has fantastic race, politics, everyone. You could write a racist Op-Ed piece and then be prime minister within the half decade.


Coco Khan Oh, my goodness me.


Nish Kumar [AD]


Nish Kumar There have been two big political stories dominating the week so far. One taking place between the chambers at the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and the other taking place almost entirely between the ears of panicked Tory politicians.


Coco Khan Okay, so the first is the passage of the Government Safety of Rwanda bill that’s going through Parliament. Just to remind you, the proposed law aims to ensure the UK can deport asylum seekers to Rwanda by declaring it to be a safe country, after the Supreme Court ruled otherwise. Last year, the bill was amended by the House of Lords, but on its return to the House of Commons, the government used its majority to vote down those ten amendments. And the bill’s now been sent back to the Lords in a process known as parliamentary ping pong, where MPs and peers try and agree on the final wording with the bill batted between the two chambers.


Nish Kumar Labour peers are trying to reinsert some of those amendments as we record this. If they succeed, it would make it likely that the bill would be delayed until after Parliament’s Easter break. This is going to frustrate Sunak, who has set great political stall in getting flights to Rwanda off the ground this spring with the idea that it will deter asylum seekers from risking crossing the channel and thereby help fulfill his pledge to stop the boats.


Coco Khan A good day for Rishi is a bad day for humanity, hey?


Nish Kumar Yes, it’s very dispiriting. That good day for the government involves deporting vulnerable people, especially given that it’s to a country that the Home Office is also offering people asylum from. And a country that the Supreme Court said it had its concerns about due to poor human rights record and its past treatment of refugees. Judges actually highlighted in 2021, the UK government criticized Rwanda over extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, enforced disappearances and torture. They also pointed to a 2018 incident where the Rwandan police opened fire on protesting refugees. So the whole thing feels very it feels very bleak that this is the political capital that Rishi Sunak feels that he needs.


Coco Khan Right. And it is. It is maddening sometimes that when you see this reported on, it’s always in the context of the Conservative Party and their psychodrama and whether it will be a victory for Rishi Sunak, rather than the fact that this is an abhorrent bit of policy, that it’s unfolding in front of our eyes, something that will be a shame in decades to come.


Nish Kumar And I’m not sure that any of this is hugely making a difference to the death spiral that Sunak’s leadership seems to be locked into. I mean, a poll that was in all of the newspapers this morning suggested that a third of conservatives want a different leader. This is a poll of Tory voters, and, 37% of them elected to answer someone else to the question, who should lead the Conservative Party into the next general election?


Coco Khan So this week’s favored candidate to replace him as Tory leader seems to be Penny Mordaunt, the coronation sword wielding leader of the Commons. Depending on which reports in the press you read. So it’s either that right wingers unhappy with Sunak have touted Morden as a possible replacement, who could attract support from all wings of the party, or her name’s actually been put out there by her rivals in an attempt to undermine her and make her look disloyal or maddest. Of all, the rumors have actually been started by number ten itself, because they think it’s helpful to tarnish the potential suitors for the top job, while also boosting loyalty for the Prime Minister. The plot thickens. Or actually the plot is just rubbish. Meaningless drama.


Nish Kumar Yes, when you know that conservative MP Jonathan Galas is the voice of reason, that’s when you really realize how much trouble we’re in as a country. He even said on the Tory WhatsApp group that he was, and this is a direct quote, fucking bored of what he called the psychodrama.


Coco Khan I just can’t tolerate another prime Minister that hasn’t actually got their mandate from the general public. That just seems outrageous. And the fact that they’re even thinking about it suggests to me that they really feel like they are born to have power. Do you know what I mean? Like, it’s not even a question about going for an election. If we’ve had enough of Rishi Sunak, which we clearly have, will the polls show that we have? Then let’s get an election call. Do you know what I mean? Rather than all of this?


Nish Kumar So look, this is a historic moment in Welsh politics because as we record this, the new leader of Welsh Labour, Vaughan Gething, is being confirmed as Wales’s new first minister and so becomes the first black man to lead a European country. Thomas Rhys, from Pontypridd, emailed in to ask us what we thought of it, but we thought we’d get an expert opinion. So welcome back to Pod Save the UK. Will Hayward, journalist for Wales Online. Welcome back Wil.


Will Hayward Thanks for having me.


Nish Kumar Now I have a question for you, which is what are next week’s lottery numbers going to be? Now, the reason I’m asking you that is because on Friday you tweeted this because nothing makes me happier than eroding my own credibility. I’m going to predict whether Vaughan Gething or Jeremy Myles will win the Welsh leadership election. I think it will be VG 52%, JM 48%. Aside from that being the first Brexit ratio, it was almost bang on. You were you were almost bang on with that. Well, that that’s fairly extraordinary.


Will Hayward Oh, I like to think so. I think it’s actually a case of, stopped clock being right twice a day. It’s, yeah, it’s always a bit of a risk, isn’t it? If you put a prediction out there as a political journalist and commentator. But, yeah, I feel like I’ve no credibility left. So what was to lose?


Coco Khan Well, look, this is a real history making moment, isn’t it? So what do our non Welsh listeners need to know about him?


Will Hayward So, Vaughan Gething is the first, black leader of a European nation. So he’s been, part of the Welsh Government for many, many years. He was the health minister, during the pandemic. And he has a distinction of being one of the few Welsh ministers that anyone in Wales knows. So it’s actually perhaps unsurprising in a way, that he was elected.


Nish Kumar This is a really interesting and potentially historic moment for Wales, but it’s been a tricky and bumpy campaign. Because there’s been a scandal around a 200,000 pound donation that he accepted. Well, can you give us some background on that?


Will Hayward Well, it was two 100,000 pounds donations in morning, December 1st in January from a Cardiff company called Dawson Environmental Limited. Now, the reason that this is controversial is for two reasons. The first is the size of the donation. So 200,000 pounds in Welsh politics. So, this is insane. So, Welsh Labour in the last Senate. So that’s the Welsh Parliament election. Only spent half 1 million pounds and they had 100 candidates. So this is, this is huge that the spending limit is actually only 44,000 for the, for the race, but it doesn’t include staffing costs. So you can spend as much as you want on staffing. So what he actually did was have a call center which was calling, prospective voters. So that’s what he used the money for. But the other issue, apart from the size of the donation, is the source of the donation. So, the donation was from a company and then an owner who has been prosecuted multiple times for, environmental offenses, essentially dumping waste on a nature reserve and then failing to clear that waste up. So, it was seen that taking money from, convicted criminal was actually not a that would be the Tories. You’d imagine that Labour, Welsh Labour especially would have been trying to call that out and saying this is unacceptable. So it’s caused a lot of issues within the Labour Party because it was in Wales, because it was incredibly close race. So I, I think that has left quite a bad feeling that he spent so much more money than his opponents. And so it’s been that it’s been very controversial.


Coco Khan So he’s going to have quite the rocky road ahead of him then how is he going to win his party around?


Will Hayward Well, it’s yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s it’s I mean, even if someone was coming in without any of this baggage, they’re still coming into, the, the sickest country in the UK. Wales has got the worst health outcomes. Part of that is because we’re we’ve got an older population, not least because so many English people love to retire here. And, we’ve also got the history of, industry mines, which still has a knock on effect. So we’ve got a poorly performing health service reforming education system. And he’s coming into this quite damage. So the way he’s going to have to do that is by trying to win over members of his party. And at the moment he’s trying to form a cabinet. But most of the misses. So that’s members of the Senate. The Welsh Labour, members of the Senate supported Jeremy Miles, who was the other candidate now. So he’s going to obviously have to offer them cabinet positions. But Welsh Labour is intent. People tend not to rock the boat. They’re the most successful democratic political party in history. They’ve been the biggest party in Wales for over 100 years. And they tend to do that by closing ranks in a crisis. So I think there’ll be a bit of, foot stomping and then people will get offered cabinet positions and they’ll just carry on as they always have.


Coco Khan I’m not going to lie to you, Will. This doesn’t sound very positive. Why are you flatlining? What is is there any positivity to be taken from this historic win?


Will Hayward Well, I think the fact that, Wales has a. Well, we have the first black leader of the European countries. Absolutely. It’s that is a factor. And the reason just to celebrate, I think it’s a mark of the a diverse and inclusive Wales and that that is something that in itself it’s a positive thing and it’s, it’s symbolic isn’t it. But I think the most important thing is that he’s a successful First Minister. And I think because Wales, political politics in Wales has been quite stagnant, and especially when you consider actually it’s part of the UK that perhaps is in most in need of change and improvement. I think, having reported here for a long time, I’m not trying to trying to sound as miserable as I feel like I’m probably coming across.


Nish Kumar Is there positive in this? If is if Vaughan Gething is the sort of choice of UK Labour, does that mean that he has a good relationship with Keir Starmer, looking forward to that potentially being a Labour government in Westminster?


Will Hayward Yeah. So Jo Stevens, the shadow secretary of State for Wales, backed Vaughan Gething. They actually work together when they’re both lawyers in Cardiff as well. So they are there is a close relationship there that the member of Starmer’s. Potential government. Who will be that voice in Wales is backing him? That could be very good and it will be an inclination now, even if there are disagreements to keep them in house. Where is a lot of disagreements between the UK government? The Welsh Government have been played out in a very public forum because actually it was beneficial for both sides for that to happen, whereas now hopefully people will just be all pulling in the same direction.


Nish Kumar Will, thank you so much for joining us. And, as ever, thanks for your insight and congratulations on being the first political journalist to get a said, absolutely bang the fuck on.


Will Hayward If you just say 52%, you know we’re all right.


Nish Kumar Thanks, Will.


Will Hayward Cheers


Nish Kumar [AD]


Nish Kumar So on last week’s show, we talked about Frank has to the Conservative Party’s biggest donor, who said that Diane Abbott, the UK’s first black female MP, made him hate all black people and that she should be shot, both of which aren’t direct quotes. A week later, with Hester having apologized for being rude but not denying making the comments, not only have the Tories refused calls to give back the money, but it’s emerged the actual amount he’s donated in the last 12 months is 15 million pounds, because there’s another 5 million pounds that hasn’t yet been declared. To put that sum in context, the Conservative Party spent 16.5 million pounds on its entire 2019 election campaign. The Tories would obviously rather we just forgot about all of this and moved on. And to that end, here is Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer speaking to ITV news.


Clip What is important is that he has acknowledged that he made an error. I think personally that we should accept that apology. People make errors. This would. These were comments that were made five years ago in private. And I think that it’s appropriate that we now move them.


Clip So accept the apology, accept the money and move on?


Clip Yes. I think, they, I think that’s exactly right.


Nish Kumar We are not going to move on from this, because the fact that the Conservative Party is happy for its general election campaign to be bankrolled by this man, is not something we should be fine with.


Coco Khan It also puts a spotlight on who funds our politics and why. What’s driving someone like Frank Hester to give 15 million pounds to the Tories at a time when they are lagging in the polls and likely to lose the next election? What do donors like Hesta, whose company has been awarded more than 400 million pounds in NHS and prisons contracts, get for their money. It’s not just an issue confined to the Conservative Party either. As we touched on earlier in the show, Labour’s Vaughan Gething has been elected as First Minister of Wales despite facing criticism for accepting a donation from a man convicted of environmental offenses. So who pays for our politics, and do we need to completely rethink how parties are funded to restore trust in our political system?


Nish Kumar Here to help us answer these questions is Peter Geoghagen, investigative journalist, the author of democracy for Sale Dark Money and Dirty Politics, and the writer of the democracy for sale, Substack. Welcome to the show, Peter. Those are two titles that suggest you have got a very serious job.


Peter Geoghagen And none more so than at the moment as well. Well, when you’ve got one donor who’s giving 50 million pounds and is leading the news agenda for an entire week, rightly so. I think this is it’s a huge question about who funds our politics. And it’s a question, frankly, I’m so glad you guys are continuing on this story, because it’s a question that we don’t really ask often enough.


Nish Kumar Can you just tell us a little bit about the background for Frank West, his relationship with the Conservative Party?


Peter Geoghagen So in some ways, Frank Hester’s an unlikely person to be given 50 million. I should say it’s more money than the Tories would raise in most years outside of an election. It’s a huge sum of money for politics. The conservatives have a thing called the leaders Group, which has been running for about 15 years. David Cameron set it up of Tory donors for 50,000 pounds 500,000. You get to meet once a quarter with the Prime minister and senior ministers, with nobody else present to have a nice chat. That’s what you get for 50 K. So 15 million. Put that into context. It’s an unbelievable sum in terms of the amount of and frankly probably access you get. We know he had multiple meetings with Rishi Sunak. The government are not really saying much about them. We know he’s paid to fly soon Arctic up to the north of England as well. But what’s really interesting with the history story is this is someone who’d never made any donations to political parties in Britain until about a year ago, until he gave the Tories 5 million pounds, which she put into context, was one of the biggest sums ever given. This guy just comes out with his check and writes a check for 5 million. He then writes another check for 5 million and we know he’s written yet another one. His history is interesting. He’s a guy who seems to be not very politically active. He says he sometimes voted green in the past. There’s not much about the Tories these days. Would smack, you know, for a green voter, is there? In the past, he’d spoiled his ballot. That might help the conservatives at the election poll at the polling stations, given where things are at, if people went out and spoiled their ballots. But there’s nothing about some of the screens politically active. What is interesting is business, as we know, runs very much on government contracts. He’s had 400 million pounds to contracts in the last eight years for bases of tech, NHS, tech. It’s interesting if you look his company counters look, I’m sad and I do. His operating margins are massive, which means he makes a lot of profit. He made his margins last year by 40%, which is a lot for a business. It means that for every pound of money coming in, you’re making 40% profit. That’s a lot. So he makes a lot of money. He’s a sole shareholder of this TPP, the Phenix partnership, which had just paid out 22 million dividends in three years. That’s a lot of money. You’re one person who oversees a 1 billion pound business that relies very heavily on government contracts, and we don’t know why he gave the money, so he doesn’t really seem to give interviews. So he could come out and say, look, I really believe in what the conservatives are doing. But the problem for people like us sitting in the studio is to go, okay, well, you know, you’re very reliant on government contracts. We know from things like the VIP lane for Covid contracts, the political donors are more likely to get a sympathetic ear when it comes to government contracts or actually to get them. So again, it feeds this sense of, okay, why are you giving this money if you’re not ideologically committed to the party? You’ve never really given money before. The party looks like it’s about to go out of power. And you’re now writing huge checks and potentially, frankly, writing way bigger checks as we head to general election.


Nish Kumar That’s the question that I guess is most obvious to ask why, at this point in time, would you give a just slightly feel like investing in white star liners just after the Titanic’s orchestra go underwater? Like, it feels like such an odd point in British political history to investigate the Conservative Party.


Peter Geoghagen Well, there’s two interesting things about this. One is that the conservatives have never raised more money than they have at the moment, ever before. Which if you take away testimony that it’s not as much, but they’ve never raised as much, it’s just backed up with question why would you buy shares exactly in a company that looks like it’s going down the tubes? That’s a very good question. We could we could kind of talk about that a bit more. But the other thing that’s worth bearing in mind, and I wrote about this on my Substack. When it happened, I felt I didn’t get enough attention was back in November. You know, and I think it was a Monday night without anyone paying too much attention. The government brought in new election laws. They changed the election spending limits, and they raised them significantly. So in the past, one of the reasons that the Tories spent 16 million at the 2019 general election was you had a ceiling during the campaign of 19 million, they bumped that up to 35 million. They also massively increase the amount of money you can give without having your name put into public domain. They increased that by about 40% as well. So the amount of money you can spend in British politics has gone up a lot, and the amount you can give anonymously has gone up a lot. And that happened just the very same time as Frank Forster started writing these checks. And that to me is a really interesting thing and worth thinking about.


Coco Khan It’s difficult, though, because obviously, you know, when we talk in this way, it all screams, doesn’t it? But actually proving that a company won a government contract because of a donation, that’s really hard, right?


Peter Geoghagen Yeah. And I don’t think that’s not the accusation. I think that I would make and others would make about this. I think it’s the big concern is this sense. And we saw like the Covid eye cover to cover contract story a lot from the start. And I think I probably went into a go, look, these are political donors are giving money. Yeah. And obviously you have some you get some leverage or whatever. I was shocked by what I found when I started reporting those contracts, and especially what we know now about the links that happen between government and donors under preferential access for donors. I think even someone like me, who had just literally just published a book called democracy for sale was shocked, which I think does probably put it into context.


Nish Kumar But it doesn’t feel great.


Peter Geoghagen Doesn’t feel great, does it? And I think this is the problem because we have this political system that runs on private money. It’s an access system. And so the question is, and the big difference in America isn’t just money. And it’s it’s also we don’t have a culture of giving money to political parties amongst people. There’s a lot in America, a philanthropic culture. But giving money to state is small. People give money often not just rich people. But also, if you look at Obama, Bernie Sanders got a lot of money from small donors. Britain. We don’t really have that. We just don’t have that culture. So the parties are running around chasing quite small numbers and actually increasingly strange and unusual donors. Whether it’s Frank Hester, the current co-chair of the Conservative Party, is Mohamed Mansour, not a name many people would know. He used to mount an Egyptian businessman, made a lot of money, was formerly a government minister under Hosni Mubarak. The dictator was removed in the Arab Spring. He’s a coach out of Tory party. It’s not on their website for whatever reason, you know, and it’s perfectly legitimate. He’s able to give money to political parties. But again, I think there’s a sense of a why are people why are these people are giving money to political parties? What is the other side of it? A lot of people don’t give interviews, so it’s hard to get a sense. And all the parties will say to conservatives, whoever else will say, all of these donations were legitimately recorded. I’m sure they were of the Electoral Commission, so there’s nothing to see here. I think the bigger thing, though, is for people that people do feel like, well, actually, why? And the Hester story is comments are appalling and it’s right we focus on his comments. But the sad reality is his comments wouldn’t have come to light if he wasn’t a political donor. That’s almost certainly true, sadly, because of the state of journalism and local journalism. But secondly, what you how does this person, how are they able to influence our politics? How are they able to give so much money? And I think that second part of the question is absolutely huge.


Coco Khan Would you like to see it then, that donors have to pass some sort of vetting system? They have to prove themselves to be fit and proper, or actually, they should just not be allowed to give this amount of money.


Peter Geoghagen I think there’s two bits to this. The first bit on vetting, which is like so at the moment there’s almost no vetting process. So if I am whoever I come in and I say, look, I want to give money, I can actually declare in Britain you have to be on the electoral roll to give to make a registered donation. But and this is the craziest one, you can give money to a shell company from wherever you are so you can set up a show. We could do it. Oh my God. See, we could actually. Literally do this before the end of this show. We could set up a company and company. So I was cost about 15 pounds and we could start giving money to political parties. And whoever from. So it’s and that loophole is abused. So there’s a problem with that anyway. But the lack of this really little due diligence done under the on parties, there isn’t much onus on them. There’s not like all they have to do is check if this person’s on the electoral roll. If they are fine, you can take their money. And there’s actually no real system because the Electoral Commission which kind of investigations I think there’s been, you know, if there’s a an illegal donation or if they got concerns, they thanks to the legislation that was brought in a couple of years ago on, which included voter ID, the Electoral Commission is no longer independent. It’s priorities are set by government. And actually it’s it’s overseen by a committee, a parliament. So actually account it’s not really got the same leverage to launch an independent investigations into the.


Nish Kumar Whole purpose of it. That defeats the whole purpose of having an electoral commission if it takes his cue from government.


Peter Geoghagen We’re going into an election campaign in which there’s actually no clear force, who’s in charge of regulating politics and seeing it as a legal donation. So even if there was an illegal donation, it’s not clear how it would even be investigated at this point.


Nish Kumar It’s worth also stating, we talked a lot about the Conservative Party, so it’s worth asking the question, what’s the picture for the other main parties? You know, for the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party, the Greens, reform UK and the SNP, what’s their relationship like with this kind of, dark money, for want of a better word?


Peter Geoghagen The problem is all the parties rely on private money. Yeah. And that’s the big driver of of politics, almost in a way, the more popular you get, the more likely you are to start getting private money. We saw you mentioned, foreign getting to new First Minister of Wales and a scandal around donations and 200,000 pounds, which in Wales is a lot of money for Welsh politics. You see it wherever parties start to emerge and start to become, you know, become more popular and, money starts to flow in what we’ve seen with the Labour Party. The Labour Party is put on a big spring to try and raise more private money, partly because the Jews have reduced from membership, because there’s less members. The relationship with the unions and also Labour for political reasons, would like to be less reliant on the unions. The relationship with the union is not as strong as it was before. And so for a bunch of reasons, also, they want to be able to spend like the Tories. They’re having to rely more and more on private money. So you’re seeing people who used to give money to Tory to donate to Labour, which is a good headline for the Labour Party. But again, it creates these questions about, well, what are you getting at? It’s really interesting. We’ve now got 20 years of data that’s so funny. For years we had no records of political spending really at all. And back in the 80s, the Tory treasurer to time apparently stuck around the City of London with literally a bag at Christmas time, and he would fill it up and once it was filled, did wander off.


Nish Kumar Like a river. Santa. Yes.


Peter Geoghagen I did him wearing a little like a little hash, but a little bulb and all that. Here’s my bag. I also think it should have swag written on it, but what we know from the data we do have, because we have we had the Labour government of Blair and Brown, and then in the last 13, 14 years, the conservatives. Is that money for those parties we saw under the Labour government, they brought in lots of money from and they there’s quite a lot of scandals actually, under that Labour government, there was cash for access, cash for honors, cash for questions, scandals, all of these sorts of things, scandals around Bernie Ecclestone. So nations, lots of scandals around this stuff.


Nish Kumar The Hinduja passport scandal.


Peter Geoghagen Yeah. It seems like there was there was plenty of scandals and and what’s happened now, unsurprisingly, is a lot of those scandals are then accrued around the Conservative Party. Now, my big fear with all this is that there isn’t a sense in which, you know, we we see these systems as themselves. The problem, like the problem isn’t just who’s in charge. The problem isn’t just, you know, one individual, Ross National. It’s actually this system of running our politics from private money and cocoa. To get back to the question, yeah, you asked a really good question. Is, is this the problem is a problem that we rely on private money? I think, frankly, it is. No one in Britain wants to talk about state funding of parties, which is one option. But the hilarious thing is, almost every party relies on state money. They get what’s called short money from the government. So the more seats you have in various legislatures, you get money. Parties really depend on that money. You can be guaranteed that after the next election, if the conservatives do as badly as is predicted, one of the big problems in service will be all the donors goal. The other problem of the all the short money is gone and all these stories about the conservatives face bankruptcy, etc. I’d be very surprised there isn’t because of that reality. But we don’t want to talk about shifts for parties, and instead we have this system where, where money bases be able to buy access and a of creation of things you could do short of state funding. But we don’t want to seem to want to talk about any of them. We want to just focus on, okay, this is a system. It is okay. Someone’s on a bad thing. Let’s focus on them. But let’s not stand back and go, actually, is this right? Is this right in a democracy that one person with deep pockets has so much more access, has so much more power than somebody that doesn’t.


Coco Khan Because I suppose it’s quite. Naive to imagine that these people with deep pockets get nothing. I mean, there’s going to be something, isn’t it? There’s going to be some amount of influence. A seat in the Lords is generally understood as being a given. I mean, this is going to sound silly, but has there ever been, good examples of where cash has bought you nothing?


Peter Geoghagen I it’s a really good question. Like, you know, like the holidays. Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. People give money for different reasons. Some people are ideologically motivated, and I think that’s true. Like some people think I believe in this cause I’m going to give money to this party because I want. I believe this is a good thing, actually. I used to cover Scottish politics and there was a the winners won the EuroMillions. This couple from outside Glasgow, they won like millions on the EuroMillions and they gave 1 million pounds to the SNP and they were big sports of independence. I mean that basically I think, I don’t think they wanted a lot of access. They want a Scottish independence. Here’s £1 million to the party, you know, the SNP’s eyes lit up and it was like crazy happy days. So maybe we need more lottery funding.


Will Hayward Maybe this is the play guys. So it is a.


Peter Geoghagen Curious PR policy.


Nish Kumar Sure of exclusively getting lottery winners together. What are the other solutions? You said that there are other things that we’re not looking at. What are those things?


Peter Geoghagen There’s interesting creative things that you can do with this. So one thing, one thing is an obvious thing is a cap on donations.


Nish Kumar Yeah.


Peter Geoghagen Like at the moment I saw the Liberal Democrats seem to have mentioned it in their speech at Davie the other day, although he didn’t really seem to put any flesh on the bones. But I think a lot of people would feel like, oh, well, I think it’s what’s so interesting about this whole area. And I kind of fell into reporting on it about six years ago. This whole area of access influence money, power and politics. And I think I came in as a bit of an engineer and I was like, what do you mean there’s no caps on donations? I think a lot of people would assume you can’t just give unlimited amounts of money to a political party, but you can, and there’s lots of ways you could do that. You could cap donations. So the cap was 10,000 pounds a year, for example. That’s a very that’s a large chunk of money. That’s a large chunk of money for a lot of people. But it’s also a reasonable that could be a reasonable amount. You could also tie a cap to the living wage, like there’s loads of things you could do around capping donations, both from individuals and from corporates. So that’s that’s doable. Just fun. Things are more creative things you could do, which is there’s been some experiments in America around this, what they call democracy dollars.


Nish Kumar Democracy vouchers. Yeah. That’s something we’ve discussed on the show before.


Peter Geoghagen Is a really interesting idea. This idea that what you do is essentially give these vouchers, give for a kind of free money. That’s not it’s not fungible. You can’t turn into cash, but everyone gets it and they get to spend it in the way they want. You know, they can spend it on political parties. They can spend on my other big hobby horses. Think tanks have a real problem with corporate funded think tanks who don’t declare their donors and have a lot of access. And part of the reason groups get all this access is that there’s nobody else spending this money. There’s nobody else doing that. There’s nobody else there. Whereas if you had these democracy dollars, you would actually create a little ecosystem of people who are able to do good work, able to feed and able to create ideas, and political parties would stop being like they would have to appeal to things or people interested in. A great example is the housing crisis. Yeah, we live in this country where it’s really hard for people to get houses. Yeah, rent is huge. And everybody, you know, especially if you’re, you know, if you’re 40 and under in particular, it’s really impossible. And yet we have a political system that is completely and utterly facing the wrong direction. Large number of MPs or landlords, the housebuilding industry and other aspects of it with their own interests, sexual interests fund, they fund, groups in Parliament. They’ve got a lot of access and the ordinary person isn’t able to really they don’t register. You know, generation renters are a group later, they don’t have money. You know, they might be able to write a piece in the Guardian, but they don’t have it. Whereas if you had these democracy dollars, actually large groups of people who were experiencing something that didn’t have a corporate outworking didn’t have that they were able to express themselves. It’s an interesting experiment that I think we need to start looking at experiments in this country around this, because our current model doesn’t work.


Nish Kumar We’ve talked a lot about donations coming from people within the UK, and also people who have come to the UK and become UK citizens. I just briefly want to touch on, foreign money and specifically Russian money that’s been coming into the country. We’ve actually had an email from the human rights group redress asking if we would cover the story of the proceeds of Roman Abramovich’s sale of Chelsea Football Club. Just in case anyone wasn’t following the story, after the kind of Russian invasion of Ukraine, there’s a huge amount of scrutiny about Russian money in the United Kingdom. And one of the things that happened was that Roman Abramovich was forced to sell, Chelsea Football Club. The email that we were sent by redress says, given the escalating economic and human cost of the war in Ukraine, why has the UK not given the 2.5 billion pounds raised by the sale of Chelsea FC to help victims of the war, as promised two years ago? So a commitment was made that the proceeds of that sale would help. Where is that money? Peter?


Peter Geoghagen So apparently is sitting on a bank account at the moment, so it’s sitting in there. So what happened was the sale went through with the government involvement. The it was agreed Roman and Roman Abramovich. Just remember now until the war in Ukraine was. Journalist Catherine Belt wrote a book about involved. I mentioned Roman Abramovich called Putin’s People, in which she said that Putin had okay the purchase of Chelsea Football Club. He sued her. Oh yeah. And got a lot of a lot of cases went on cost about 1.5 million. So just to put that into context. Yeah, this is somebody who, up until those tanks went in there, you could barely because of Britain’s libel laws, you could barely say a thing about Roman Abramovich. Great guy runs a football club. Couldn’t say anything else. Now, of course, we’re in a different state. So what happened then? The government quickly said, look, what we’re going to do is we’re going to sell us and the proceeds will be agreed. This is the problem with Abramovich about what we’ll do with the money. It will be spent on Ukraine, but we’ll have to agree what to do with the money. That money is now sitting on a UK bank account because there isn’t an agreement between the government and around the Obama and Abramovich about this. We now know a lot more about Roman Abramovich and where his money comes from. We know how close he is to Putin. He’s effectively been like where he was at the start of the war and kind of depicting himself as a would be peacemaker, you know, to between Russia and Ukraine, but very much from the Kremlin’s the Kremlin, a mess emissary. And this money is sitting in a bank account and nothing is really is being done with it as of right now. And I think it’s a really good question, because it cuts to the heart of the the rhetoric that we had in March 2022 about how London ground was closed. No longer could you use the libel courts to sue journalists like me and others. No longer would I ill gotten gains, go to London. It’s all going to change. And the problem is the reality is very, very different. It’s a reality is far more, far more mixed. And you’ve got something like this. I think it’s a really good question because to the ordinary person you go like, we’re two years into this war, Ukraine is really suffering there. They have a real lack of funds. What’s happening in America is really having a huge impact in the Republican Party. This is a substantial amount of money that would make a big difference. And yet it’s just sitting there. And one of the reason why is because Roman Abramovich, they can come to an agreement. And I don’t know, there hasn’t been reports of what exactly he wants to do with the money, but giving where his political background is his closeness to Putin. You can be pretty sure he’s not going to want to to help defend Ukraine.


Nish Kumar And also, we don’t even really have time to do this. But it’s worth asking the question, why was Boris Johnson in Venezuela?


Peter Geoghagen That’s a very good question. Boris Johnson’s trip to Venezuela recently to meet Nicolas Nicolas Maduro, who check notes, is not is. It’s the other guy I’m going to play. I’m pretty sure the U.S. under Trump, but I actually recognize the opposition. So but it turns out he might be okay to go on meet now.


Nish Kumar Especially if and I believe this is the case. Johnson is there as a representative of a hedge fund.


Peter Geoghagen A hedge fund seems to be paying him as well. And of course, surprise, surprise, he didn’t ask for any approval to do this. But why would you? Because who cares? You know, if you can ask for approval. But if you don’t show what happens to you? Absolutely nothing.


Nish Kumar Well, I anticipate eagerly reading more about this from you because, as I said to you of Mike, the Johnson Venezuela story reeks of Geoghegan. Yeah.


Peter Geoghagen That could be that. That could be the tagline for myself. Stock breaks. Okay, good. It’s just it’s.


Nish Kumar Just what you see is already, I guess, and I guess this is testament to the quality of your work, but there is sometimes what you say, political corruption. So you think it’s going to be all out of that? He’s got you. He’s going to build that like a fly on shit. I we think if you work, I guess at the moment the positive note we can leave this on is it’s important for people to keep asking those questions. And, you know, keep supporting independent journalism, I guess, because that’s the only thing that’s going to scrutinize these.


Peter Geoghagen I think so true. And I’m not just saying just because I’m an independent journalist, but it is it’s a really important place to be able to keep doing this work, because one of the things I know I do my my demographer self, Substack, is a place where I do publish on this. I try and work with other people in the space to to make sure that these issues keep on getting some attention, because as you say, it gets to me, it’s too important not to keep asking these questions is too much. They’re not to do it.


Nish Kumar Thank you so much for joining us, Peter.


Coco Khan Thank you, Peter.


Peter Geoghagen Thank you so much for having me, guys.




Coco Khan So nice. You’re doing our hero this week. Is this an attempt to help you ditch the angry uncle label that a couple of listeners attached to you last week.


Nish Kumar They misspelled the word agony. Okay, I repeat, I refute the label, even though I am quite literally someone’s angry uncle.


Coco Khan Before we hear your hero though, Nish, I love this suggestion that we’ve had in from Rebecca. She’s emailed in from Canada to say Caroline Newton may not clear the bar for recognition as a hero of the week, but she made me laugh out loud and yelled you go girl! At her response to the suggestion that she stand down in Henley to support Beau Jo’s return to the Tory leadership. Also on LBC, whether she would consider letting Johnson take her place, she said I’d say absolutely not. Listen, the idea that a woman would step aside for a man to take a job that he just fancies is absurd, and it’s certainly not something I’m going to do. I’m just fascinated that someone in Canada is engaging with very local politics, and we’re into it. We love that.


Nish Kumar Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Coco Khan But anyway, let’s hear your hero then.


Nish Kumar So this week I’ve actually gone for a Glasgow record store called Monorail Music. Now they raised 2,250 pounds for Medical aid for Palestine, which is an amazing charity that people should absolutely get behind and support. They do incredible work for people in Gaza. I was involved in a fundraiser that happened a couple of weeks ago. Great night at the Camden Roundhouse. Loads of money raised. It was raised, I would say very conventionally. People did comedy, read poems, performed music, and the ticket money went to the charity. That is absolute textbook fundraiser stuff. This one, less conventional. The record shop auctioned some backdrops from a recently infamous Willy Wonka inspired attraction, which they found in a bin. So the context of This is Willy’s Chocolate Experience was billed as a family immersive experience inspired by the recent Wonka film. It did not live up to the, heavily doctored AI generated photos that were used to advertise it, and the images went viral after they’ve been shared online. And they showed a near empty venue decorated with a handful of Wonka themed props. And Wonka seemed there is a very, very loose term. It was very loosely Wonka themed and a very small and frankly, shit looking bouncy castle that frankly looked like it was absolutely covered in viruses. So look, here’s Michael Casper from Monorail Music telling us exactly what happened next.


Clip So a friend of the shop has a workshop, underneath Willy’s chocolate experience. And he was literally just taking some rubbish out to the bins and saw, the backdrops all folded quite neatly in the bins. And he felt that something of such historical significance shouldn’t be left to be forgotten in a rubbish tip somewhere. Glasgow has been quite, vocal collectively, over the the war in Gaza. So it was kind of a no brainer, really. We just decided that we should raise money for, medical aid for Palestinians. Basically everyone in the shop was kind of, like, gathered around a laptop, kind of what should it go up? And then, with like, 30s to go, it just went like 2,000 pounds. It was like someone scored the final penalty of a World Cup game. Some were allowed to say that, it was the musician Ben Howard. The. But it. I don’t know what what what he’s intending to do with it, but and I have an inkling that, the public will get to see them in some, some way or other. That’s all I can say.


Nish Kumar Yes, you heard that right. The auction was won by the singer songwriter Ben Howard. I love every single thing about this story, but also I love the fact that it’s preserved this weird piece of internet history that sort of. I guess one day will be displayed in a museum. The fact that it was found in a bid, the fact that it was auctioned off, the fact the bed Howard bought it, the fact that the money’s gone to a great cause. I love everything about this fantastic monorail music in Glasgow. Congratulations. Ben. Howard. Congratulations. Everybody involved heroes. Okay, Coco. Your turn. Who is our villain of the week?


Coco Khan So I’m going for Alan Bathurst, the ninth Earl Bathurst, for putting up a literal paywall around sire and sister park in the Cotswolds, which had previously been open to the public for more than 300 years. So Mr. Bathurst or the ninth Earl Bathurst. I’m not very good with my aristocratic title.


Nish Kumar Or even enter into it. Nope, neither of us knows anything about it. Like it. Neither of us understands any of these titles and how they work. I don’t even think we should attempt to understand it. Just call him Bathurst.


Coco Khan Okay, so Bathurst has introduced a 4 pound charge for people to access our ancestor park from last Friday. He owns the park, which is one of the country’s largest open green spaces. Local people will have to pay a 10 pound annual deposit to use the park, which will be refunded if they move away, while nonresidents will be charged 30 pounds annually. At the weekend, more than 500 residents and protesters from across the West Country walk through our ancestors main gates as part of a mass trespass. Lord Bathurst, a close friend of King Charles, might we add, says he needs to introduce charges to pay for the upkeep of the 3000 acre estate. He was there to see the protest.


Clip And they’ve all obviously got a right to be able to come in and make that point and their points very well made and is taken on board.


Coco Khan So John Moses, organizer of campaign group The Right to Roam, points out that the parkland was bought by Lord Bathurst ancestor Sir Benjamin Bathurst, with profits from the transatlantic slave trade. When that was put to Lord Bathurst, he said I’m not getting into slavery. It was 300 to 400 years ago. Parks are, in my view, niche and accomplishment of society, a total triumph of collectivism, the really important to our health and wellbeing. Someone like me who’s recently discovered the countryside and the beautiful beaches, you know, it’s an emotional experience and I’m sure over Covid we learn about how important these precious spaces are. So then being controlled by an individual or a corporation, they can impose regulations or even just deprive people access. You know, it just doesn’t sit right.


Nish Kumar Absolutely awful. We’ve also had some correspondence in about our chat with Beth Rigby, which is a great conversation available on the feed that was last week’s episode, about the photoshopped royal photo of Princess Kate and her kids at Colin Eagle 4495. Commenting on YouTube says Kate Middleton, like any public figure, certainly deserving of privacy, but I also think that it’s absurd for the royal family to complain about the massive proliferation of rumors filling in the resulting information vacuum, the massive fortune that pays for the luxury lifestyle the royals enjoy is made off the family’s status as the Kardashians of Kensington Palace. The royals need to make peace with the choices they themselves made and move on. I think we should really be clear here and say. Middleton is completely entitled to her privacy. Whatever she’s going through is her business and her business alone. The thing that I am fascinated by is the infrastructure around her. Surely they have PR people. Surely there are people, you know, managing Royal Communications. How are they doing this? So weirdly, it’s the people who are managing the PR that I think is so straight. Has Prince Andrew taken over all of the PR coming out of Buckingham Palace? Because it’s gone weird and strange. There’s another video this week of them in a farm shop with a woman that doesn’t look like Kate Middleton. Like what? Whether it was or wasn’t. It’s sort of almost irrelevant at this point. They’ve managed to create a whole conspiracy theory out of a farm shop video of some, like, poor quality camera phone footage of a woman who does not look like Kate Middleton.


Coco Khan Really, you’d say does not look like her?


Nish Kumar No.


Coco Khan I would say maybe this is the, like, blue dress, gold dress. Remember that viral moment of internet history?


Nish Kumar Yeah yeah yeah


Coco Khan Because I saw Kate Middleton. I’m just saying I saw that. But no, I do hear you. And it’s quite funny you mention Prince Andrew because obviously famously he sacked his PR team.


Nish Kumar That’s right.


Coco Khan To do the Maitlis interview. And maybe that’s what’s happened here.


Nish Kumar Well, well he’s sacked his PR, he’s gone. I’ll do the Maitlis interview. He’s in his mind. That interview went so well. He’s looking at it thinking that I absolutely nailed that interview. In fact it went so well. Netflix have made a film about how well it went. I’m not really able to bring much more to the table. This is a member of the Royal family because of stuff, but I’ll be taking over all of the PR and photoshopping for the rest for the next for however long we need.


Coco Khan So get in touch with us by emailing PSUK@reducedlistening.Co.Uk. We love hearing your voices, so if you’re feeling brave, send us a voice note on WhatsApp. Our number is 07514 644572. And internationally that’s +44 7514 644572.


Nish Kumar Don’t forget to follow @PodSaveTheUK on Instagram and Twitter. You can also find us on YouTube for access to full episodes and other exclusive content. You can drop us a review too, if you like.


Coco Khan Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.


Nish Kumar Thanks to senior producer Musty Aziz and digital producer Alex Bishop.


Coco Khan Video editing was by David Kaplovitz and the music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.


Nish Kumar Thanks to our engineer David Dugahe.


Coco Khan The executive producers are Anushka Sharma, Dan Jackson and Madeline Herringer with additional support from Ari Schwartz.


Nish Kumar Remember to hit subscribe for new shows on Thursdays on Amazon, Spotify or Apple, both wherever you get your podcasts.