Political donations totalling £8000 were made by controversial hedge fund manager Crispin Odey to two Gloucestershire Conservative constituency parties. The Electoral Commission`s website reveals that Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper received £5,000 on 09/02/2010 – just 3 months before the general election, while Gloucester Conservative constituency party received £3,000 on 03/12/2007. Richard Graham was elected MP for Gloucester at the last general election and like Odey has previously worked for Barings bank, which went bust in 1995. In total Odey has donated £222,000 to the Conservative party.
Crispin Odey is one of the main investors in Circle Healthcare, which was the first private organisation to take over the running of an NHS hospital when it assumed control of Hinchingbrooke hospital in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire in February this year. In the same month Mark Simmonds, the Conservative MP for Boston and Skegness, apologised for failing to declare an interest when speaking in favour of the Health & Social Care Bill on two occasions in Parliament. The MPs’ register of interest shows Simmonds is paid £50,000 a year as a strategic adviser to Circle Healthcare.
Circle has a fiendishly complicated corporate structure which allows it to extract increasingly large amounts of taxpayers money from the NHS budget and transfer it into tax havens like the British Virgin Islands. In September 2011 Conservative MP Kwasi Kwarteng was featured in Private Eye when the magazine mentioned that Kwarteng had a £20,000 pa part time job “advising” hedge fund Odey Asset Management. Immediately after it hit the news stands Kwarteng contacted the Eye to say that the magazine`s Circle Health story “has nothing to do with me” on the grounds that a mere 2 weeks earlier he had “cut ties with Odey Asset Management”!
The very well-connected Odey paid himself £28m in 2008 after his firm made a fortune betting on the near collapse of the UK banking system. His wife Nichola Pease is a member of one of the founding families of Barclays Bank and was a non-executive director of Northern Rock when it collapsed in 2007. This has given rise to an obvious concern of insider dealing, which was apparently on the mind of Evening Standard journalist Chris Blackhurst when he described Northern Rock as “the one bank he [Odey] claims not to have touched” (emphasis added) in his write-up of an interview with Odey published in 13 April 2011. Odey went on to make an astonishingly well-timed investment in Barclays Bank, buying shares at 50p when others thought the bank might have to be rescued by the taxpayer. It later emerged that Nichola Pease`s brother-in-law John Varley, then Chief Executive of Barclays had secured Middle Eastern backing rather than turning to the Government for help – the shares climbed to 380p.
Preaching Big Society while taking “donations” from Big Business
Circle Healthcare has been held up as a model of social enterprise, Cheltenham LibDem MP Martin Horwood has described Circle Health Partnership as 100% employee-owned, but fails to mention that the clinicians own the minority share in the overall company! Horwood is vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary group on Employee Ownership, the chair is Conservative MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire Jesse Norman, who received a £5,000 donation from Crispin Odey on 30/06/2009. This was the month after Odey was reported in the Sunday Times as being one of the City financiers to have become disenchanted at the new tax rate and the proposed changes to EU regulation of private equity and hedge funds, “We are seriously considering leaving,” said Odey. Odey`s love of country sports led him to claim that “he would move anywhere” provided that “the rivers were stocked with salmon and the valleys with pheasants”. So far he seems content to stay in the UK, he owns Eastbach Court Farm near Coleford in the Forest of Dean, where hapless pheasants plummet from the sky as steeply as the shares of banks he bets against.
Jesse Norman has done much of the intellectual rebranding of the Conservative party, churning out 3 books on a similar theme in recent years, “Compassionate Conservatism” (2006) which has been described as “the guidebook to Cameronism” by the Sunday Times, plus “Compassionate Economics”(2007) and “The Big Society” (2010). He was a director at Barclays before leaving the City in 1997 to research and teach at University College London, and his finance background is evident in his analysis of what he regards as the problem with the state, as this extract from “Compassionate Conservatism” demonstrates:
“In effect, the state is like a gigantic hedge fund, running a vast array of open positions in different financial markets, but with little assessment of risk vs. return, a weak regulator, and no debate as to other ways to invest.”
This conveniently ignores the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scam, one of the “other ways to invest” which, since it started in 1992, has done so much to saddle the NHS with debt while benefitting institutions like er, Barclays Bank! In turn the PFI debt has been used to justify more private sector involvement in the NHS.
So would Norman prefer that parts of the state like the NHS be handed over to his generous hedge fund chum Crispin who can perhaps succeed in making a profit from the sick where the NHS has so dismally failed? That would indeed seem to be Norman`s vision for the NHS, and on the subject of Hinchingbrooke hospital he offered this dubious reassurance while speaking at a conference last November:
“The assets will not be transferred but there will be service contracts that are played in on top of them. That allows government’s (sic) to hedge its bets. If something does go horribly wrong then it has the ability to maintain the asset by bringing in people to run it quickly. Equally if it is finding it is going extreme (sic) well, it hasn’t sold the assets at a cheap price, which couldn’t be justified to the taxpayer”
Perhaps sensing that people were beginning to see a more traditional Tory masterplan behind the “Big Society” marketing, he added:
“I am not in this activity peripherally and [Cabinet Office minister] Francis Maud is not in it centrally to set up a very thinly capitalized marzipan layer of employees-owned, mutuals or social enterprises that can be hoovered up by the usual prime contracting suspects”
In an interview he gave to the BBC on 10th January 2012 Norman criticised “Crony capitalism” – the very thing he`s so close to!
“this country slipped into what I call a kind of “Crony capitalism” which is not “real” capitalism, it isn`t about a day`s work for a day`s pay, taking real risk with your own money, it`s about using other people`s money and playing the financial markets, and often taking a lot of the gain for yourself and not allowing others to share in the benefits”
Is that Crispin Odey he`s talking about?