Just two days after the Mail published a detailed investigation into the new boss of the Commonwealth, exposing her links with evil tyrannies and questioning whether she was fit for public office, I was passed a copy of an email subsequently sent to her staff.
It was from the organisation’s corporate affairs chief, Gary Dunn, on behalf of Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Scotland, and had the subject line ‘Together we are so much stronger’.
This hackneyed phrase has been used by many in public relations and advertising over the years, and was even trotted out by Michelle Obama this week to endorse Hillary Clinton.
In an email the Commonwealth’s corporate affairs chief said the Mail’s coverage of Baroness Scotland was ‘distorted’ and ‘unfortunate’
Mr Dunn’s email — a round-robin to members of the Secretariat, or civil service, which runs the Commonwealth — was somewhat different in tone, and dropped into the inbox of staff at 9.50pm on Monday, when many were preparing for bed.
Mr Dunn was talking about leaked documents which formed part of the material used in my investigation, which was published in last Saturday’s Mail.
The article took a close look at Baroness Scotland, a Labour peer and close friend of Tony Blair, who took office as the Commonwealth’s Secretary-General, or effective boss, in May.
It detailed, among other things, how she is spending extraordinary and unprecedented amounts of public money on aggrandising herself and her office, and giving highly paid jobs to an assortment of loyal friends and political chums.
Not only has she added a motley bunch of Blairite old boys to the Commonwealth’s (publicly funded) payroll, but another large portion of the organisation’s cash is being spent on a lavish refurbishment of her official residence in London’s Mayfair.
While no rules appear to have been broken, this comes at a time when the cash-strapped Commonwealth has a £6.7 million hole in its pension fund, a sum equal to its entire annual wage bill. Judging by Monday’s email, the Baroness was rattled that the Mail had exposed these awkward facts.
She also seemed anxious to employ her propaganda machine to silence any future whistle-blowers tempted to inform the media about developments at this important diplomatic body, which represents 53 sovereign states with 2.2 billion citizens.
The email from her factotum reminded staff of a diktat issued last month, when the Mail began investigating Baroness Scotland, announcing that the Secretariat has launched a draconian ‘internal review’ to find the source of our information.
Staff were warned they were being watched and that their bosses could ‘check and monitor official electronic communications and equipment where there are grounds to suspect serious misuse’. The Head of IT would also be carrying out ‘routine monitoring’ of their computer equipment.
Anyone caught talking to the Press would face disciplinary proceedings for ‘gross misconduct’ and dismissal.
This newspaper is also in the firing line: lawyers for Scotland have also (so far unsuccessfully) tried to stop us publishing leaked documents by arguing that it is illegal under the Data Protection Act.
So much for a free Press.
But then, how ironic that the Baroness’s contempt for the media is shared by two evil and corrupt dictatorships to which she has ties.
Shortly before taking office — as boss of a body whose charter talks of upholding ‘democracy, human rights and the rule of law’ — she undertook a mysterious ‘working visit’ to Kazakhstan, meeting key figures in its despotic government.
Baroness Scotland, pictured with the Queen, went on a mysterious ‘working visit’ to Kazakhstan shortly before taking on the Commonwealth job
The country has for 30 years been run as a personal fiefdom by Nursultan Nazarbayev, a deeply oppressive autocrat whose regime has fixed elections, imprisoned and murdered opponents, shut down opposition newspapers and siphoned vast wealth to his friends and family members.
Being visited by the Baroness was a PR coup for the regime, which has been accused by the U.S. State Department of presiding over ‘pervasive corruption’ along with ‘torture’, ‘restrictions on freedom of speech’, ‘arbitrary arrest’ and ‘discrimination and violence against women’.
Its official news agency circulated photographs to the domestic media of what it called the ‘Secretary-General of Commonwealth Nations’ shaking hands with senior politicians and discussing the ‘strengthening of the mutual relationship’ between the UK and Kazakhstan.
The trip looked especially curious, as Scotland has in recent years been a paid adviser to a secretive Swiss-based private investigation firm called Arcanum.
Run by a polo-playing financier called Ron Wahid, the ‘strategic intelligence firm’ was, at the time she worked for it, hired by the Kazakh regime to track down and investigate opposition dissidents who had fled overseas.
Kazakhstan, of course, has also paid Scotland’s friend Tony Blair to give its autocratic president advice on how (among other things) to manage his image after the slaughter of unarmed civilians protesting against his regime.
And Kazakhstan isn’t the only dictatorship to which the Baroness has been linked.
One of her first moves after taking office at the Commonwealth was to hold meetings with the brutal regime in charge of the Maldives, which had previously paid her £7,500 a day to do legal work.
Following her meeting with an envoy of the Maldivian dictator (a client of her friend Cherie Blair, and a man who has jailed more than 1,700 opposition activists since seizing power in a coup), it was revealed that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (which deals with ‘persistent and serious violators of the Commonwealth’s shared principles’) will conveniently not be disciplining the Maldives, a member nation.
This ought to raise concerns about whether Scotland — nicknamed Baroness Shameless — is fit to lead an organisation of fine repute whose head is the Queen.
Yet depressingly, like increasing numbers of the so-called ‘great and good’, she appears blind to what might be regarded as everyday standards of moral probity.
How symbolic, therefore, that Scotland first came to public attention in 2009 as Attorney-General in Gordon Brown’s Cabinet, when she was found to be employing an illegal immigrant from Tonga called Loloahi Tapui as a housekeeper.
Despite being a multi-millionaire QC with a riverside house in Chiswick and a country home in the Cotswolds, Scotland, it emerged, was paying her domestic servant the minimum wage of just over £6 an hour. She was duly prosecuted for breaking the immigration laws that she had helped to draft, and fined £5,000. But her lack of contrition — she likened the misdeed to a motoring offence — was shameless.
Repentance is clearly not a word in Baroness Scotland’s vocabulary. She had already been accused of securing her job through an ‘utterly corrupt process’ in which she allegedly awarded bogus knighthoods and made offers of charitable donations in exchange for votes. What is more, aspects of her self-aggrandising would shame a monarch.
For example, the Mail has revealed how she recently appointed two spin-doctors to her retinue of staff. They are Blair’s former PR man Matthew Doyle, and Joe Phelan, an employee of slick city lobbyists Weber Shandwick — each being paid £16,000 a month, despite the Secretariat already having its own fully staffed press office.
She also agreed to hire — for £30,000 a month (plus a further £325,000) — a company controlled by her chum Lord Patel of Bradford, a Labour peer. It is apparently now advising her on how to run the Secretariat.
Thanks to the leaked documents, we have also discovered that because the Commonwealth’s code of ethics states that ‘purchasing decisions will never be made on the basis of personal friendships’, Patel was appointed after Scotland had secured ‘a waiver from the Secretariat’s preferred recruitment practices’.
Other documents recently revealed by the Mail detail the extraordinary steps taken to beautify Scotland’s five-storey grace-and-favour home in Mayfair, which is currently completely swathed in scaffolding in order to be extensively refurbished, at the Commonwealth’s expense.
Among those helping out on the project is famous interior designer Nicky Haslam.
While not being paid for his work, Haslam (whose memoir was entitled Sheer Opulence) has suggested improvements that would add almost £140,000 (plus VAT) to the initial £230,000 budget for the work, including £33,000 on luxury paint, £5,000 on a ‘vanity unit’ for her ‘powder room’ and £7,000 to upgrade her carpets to ‘top of the range’.
How on earth, one wonders, do the noble principles of the Commonwealth Secretariat, which looks after some of the world’s poorest people, fit with these grandiose plans to upgrade the Baroness’s home? If you are looking for answers, they won’t come from her office, despite its overstaffed press team. They have refused to say how much the project is now costing, or how many of Haslam’s spreadsheet of recommendations have since been given the go-ahead. The organisation’s most substantive response to the Mail’s revelations have actually come in a letter sent this week to the High Commissioners of all 53 Commonwealth nations.
Marked ‘confidential’, but promptly leaked to me by one outraged recipient, it said her first 100 days in office had been ‘clouded by the publication of articles in one newspaper group which, with their half-truths and innuendo, could easily give rise to distrust’.
The letter accused the Mail of a ‘scurrilous and unwarranted attack’ based on ‘false allegations’.
Funnily enough, it failed to identify a single ‘false allegation’ in our coverage. No inaccuracies in our account of the refurbishment of her home were identified, either. The letter does not deny our revelation that she has employed two spin-doctors on £16,000 a month (a sum which exceeds not only Scotland’s £160,000 salary but the Prime Minister’s, too), or dispute our coverage of her chum Lord Patel’s recruitment.
What is more, the ‘confidential’ missive also failed to address an important claim, made by the Mail on Sunday, that the Commonwealth’s procurement manager has resigned because of his dismay at being asked to carry out various tasks.
Instead, it has sought to justify the hiring spree by arguing that ‘section 3:2 of the rules governing the recruitment of staff gives the Secretary-General the discretion to recruit persons the Secretary-General deems appropriate’.
In other words, like many a lawyer, Baroness Scotland seems to be arguing that because something isn’t illegal, it is right.
That is a line which generates short shrift from one of the many appalled Commonwealth staff members whose deep dismay at her stewardship has prompted them to raise concerns about her reign. One says: ‘It’s outrageous. Traditionally, Secretary-Generals only use rule 3:2 to appoint their deputy. She is putting an entire kitchen cabinet of friends on the payroll, at grossly inflated salaries.’
Seemingly impervious to criticism and in defiance of worried staff, Baroness Scotland, I learnt last night, is on the verge of appointing a third spin-doctor to her staff.
He is a former BBC journalist called Barnie Choudhury, who just happens to be a long-standing acquaintance of Scotland’s chum Lord Patel, with whom he shares a senior role at a charity called AWAAZ (its mission statement says it ‘envisions a just society that promotes and protects the rights of women, believes in gender equality and celebrates womanhood’).
Yet more wheels within wheels. But, to the continuing dismay of many who hold the Commonwealth dear, that would appear to be how, under Baroness Shameless, this noble diplomatic organisation is going to work.
Source: Daily Mail.Co.uk