The Reuben Brothers, powerful property tycoons, had a very cosy relation with National
“Prime Minister William Hague told the leadership of the National Party on Wednesday that corruption was a thing of the past. Hague said: "I don't want Britain to become an uninhabitable country because people are accused without evidence. This has nothing to do with hiding anything, or trivialising or forgetting. All corruption is unacceptable and we need to fight it wherever it appears," quoted senior sources. "This party has acted as soon as it learned of corruption at a level that no one else has equalled," he added. Hague also made a direct reference to what he called incidents of "harassment" that various members of his party had experienced. In an indirect reference to the form of protest known as the "scratch" in which protesters target individual politicians at their home.”
- PM targets 2013 as turnaround year, BBC News Bulletin (2013)
Hague entered Downing Street with a huge target on his back, as National turned off the spending taps the press began to look deeper into the party’s finances. This was the first time National had faced real intensive press scrutiny, during the Junta years journalists had been fairly toothless, and when in opposition they had been mostly ignored by spooks chasing stories on the Social Democrats. A party unused to accountability, having spent years under the radar and with the tacit support of the security services, meant there was a well of corruption waiting to be uncovered. Many of Britain’s journalists remembered how National had treated them under the Junta; they certainly weren’t going to be gentle in their investigations.
The wolves would get their first bite at National when the accounts of the National Party were leaked by Channel 4, over five years of financial documentation found their way into public hands. The documents showed National’s Secretary General Rupert Harrison had taken financial donations from leading businessmen and financiers without declaring said donations to the Central Electoral Authority. The papers showed these donations going into payment to senior party officials without any declared purpose, including yearly payments of 35,000 euros to Hague himself, as well as these over 47,000 euros were spent on miscellaneous purchases labelled with names such as “Theresa Suits” or “William ties”.
One excerpt showed May claiming 4,000 euros for a suit
Several other senior National Figures would be named in this documentation including Tim Collins, David Davis and Ed Davey. These documents became known as the “Harrison Papers”, named after the party’s Secretary General who had to sign off on all the accounts. In a time when National was making deep cuts to public services, and preaching the need for national restraint, revelations that he had paid himself 30,000 euros outraged the population. Within a week of the papers being published over 1.4 million people had signed a petition calling for Hague’s resignation. Harrison was quickly identified as National’s fall guy - In a four hour interview with the Times he claimed full responsibility for the financial misconduct, claiming neither Hague, May or Collins had any knowledge of the secret negotiations. In one particularly mocked clip, Harrison declared he had merely been “overzealous” in reimbursing expenses.
“Britain’s National Party funded itself through kickbacks, former General Secretary Rupert Harrison has told the Times. Harrison is the central figure in a major graft cases which have damaged the credibility of National. Corruption scandals have crushed faith in Britain's two major parties and angered Brits suffering under a recession. Harrison said that National received kickbacks from construction magnates in return for contracts in provinces governed by the party. Harrison’s lawyer, Alfie Taylor, was not available for comment on Sunday. A spokeswoman for the National Party declined to comment on the interview. Harrison is charged with money laundering, bribery, tax fraud and other crimes in an ongoing investigation. He is also under investigation for a National slush fund that distributed donations to party leaders.”
- UK ruling party funded itself illegally, says ex-secretary general, Reuters (2013)
Police arrested Harrison, and several other high-ranking National Party staffers, but declined to make any arrests of leading political figures. Still with Harrison’s trial likely to last several years, Hague hoped to ride out the storm by hunkering down in Downing Street. Hague refused to speak to the press or face Parliament on the issue, with Justice Secretary Jeremy Clarkson - the party’s attack dog - sent out to be savaged on the media rounds. Smelling blood, the Social Democrats threatened a motion of no-confidence in Hague, mere months after he ascended to office. Hague’s Parliamentary allies began to wobble, John Swinney stated whilst the SNP would continue to honour their pact with National, he would allow SNP MPs to vote no confidence in Hague personally unless he addressed the Commons personally.
Hague had survived by being the least offensive player on the board
Backed into a corner, Hague was forced to face the music in Westminster. In his address to the Commons Hague confessed he had made a “mistake” in trusting Harrison and denied taking illegal funds. He distanced himself from Harrison, only describing him as “the offender” in his speech, he also accused the opposition of trying to “criminalise” him and other leading National politicians, who he argued were also victims of Harrison. The Prime Minister confirmed that Harrison had been expelled from the National Party and declared his full support for criminal charges against Harrison, furthermore he announced he would bring in independent economists to conduct a full audit of the National Party’s finances. Above all, Hague refused to resign, nor call snap elections.
The fact police refused to even investigate Hague showed the Security Services continued to ignore corruption if it came from perceived political allies. Several Social Democratic politicians had received a lot harsher treatment for much smaller crimes. The Harrison Papers destroyed any honeymoon period, with one poll showing support for National collapsing to just 30%, leaving the party with only a one percent lead against the SDP’s 29%. But by throwing Harrison under the bus Hague’s political career had been saved, and his premiership could hold on just a little while longer. But National’s loss hadn’t been the Social Democrats gain, polls showed the public seeing both parties as corrupt, anger - one could even say outrage - was growing.
“You have taken everything from me! These were the words of Isla Clark, a 47-year-old woman who recently walked into her bank in Leicester, poured petrol over her body and set herself on fire. She was indebted to the bank, living on €360 a month, and had received an eviction notice. Behind Britain's new unemployment figures, with 27% of the population now out of work, lie many such stories of desperation. In the last three months there have been 20 suicides where economic hardship was a factor reported in the media. It has been two years since the Outraged took over public squares around the country to protest. Now, from health workers to trade unions and youth groups, hundreds of thousands have mobilised. More people are making the journey from private sadness to public indignation.”
- In Britain they are all outraged nowadays, Steven Hill, The Atlantic (2013)
In meeting halls across the country something was brewing