The Greasy Pole Column from the November 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
Around that legendary city of Nottingham there is a name which is very difficult to avoid and even more difficult to forget. Djanogly. There is, for example, the Djanogly City Academy, previously the Technology College. Then there are the University Djanogly Gallery and Lecture Theatre and a Djanogly playground. Even more splendidly we might come across the Sir Harry and Lady Djanogly Learning Resource Centre – a daringly circular building on an island platform. All this reminds us that the said Sir Harry, apart from owning the largest collection of Lowry paintings in the world, has also been an habitual sponsor of technology and learning and if we ask how he can afford this we need to know only that he has interests in, apart from anything else, the massively famous textile company Coats Viyella (now Coats plc), which he is said to have founded. Another family investment has been their son Jonathan who, after an unexciting academic experience, qualified as a solicitor and is now a partner in the corporate department of a city law firm as well as the Conservative MP for Huntingdon – one of the safest seats in the country previously represented by Prime Minister John Major, who is a close personal friend of Sir Harry.
The Djanogly family fortune is put at £300 million; Jonathan is himself a millionaire, recording shareholdings in companies including Imperial Tobacco and BP. However it has not all been unyielding happiness for among the rural bliss of Huntingdon there has been mutinous gossip on the theme that Sir Harry’s close bonds with John Major may have allowed some subtle arm-twisting to ensure that his son was selected to stand for the Tories after Major gave up. Any such resentment could not have been soothed by the new MP’s subsequent rapid rise up the Greasy Pole, in opposition and government, until Cameron’s victory in 2010 saw him blossom into Under-Secretary of State at the Justice Department, dealing with matters including legal aid, family justice and the law courts.
But at some stage – there were quite a few incidents to explain it – the dizzying rise and rise of Djanogly stalled. Perhaps it was when, as one source of information has it, he caused local opinion to sour to the extent of describing him as “lazy, with no political convictions or beliefs”. Or when one leading party member, possibly nostalgic for the battles between John Major and his Eurosceptic bastards, thought that he “works very hard not to give an opinion… nobody knows where he stands on anything. He is a wet fish…” and again he was damned for winning the candidature because “…party members voted for him as a favour to John Major. He has been a disaster and we need to deselect him”. With which the local “Ditch Djanogly” Facebook campaign, whose membership included the “estranged” son of a Tory big-wig, will heartily agree. In his own defence Djanogly can give examples of his performing with very adequate energy and commitment, except that this was not always on matters and in a style likely to justify the approval of the Huntingdon Tories.
There was, as a start, the scandal of his expense claims in which, along the green benches, he was not alone. Djanogly had claimed something over £77,000 on his “second home” in Cambridgeshire while giving his main home as in London. This claim entailed a certain adjustment of the facts, because that £3.7 million Maida Vale home is owned, or rather held in trust, by his parents who allowed him to live there rent free. Then there was the sum of £4,936 to install a set of automatic gates at his home in Alconbury, which he said were needed to keep him safe from animal rights campaigners protesting at his links with the notoriously animal-testing Huntingdon Life Sciences. Gardening costs accounted for £400 a month, two digital TV boxes £846…
And then there was the item which attracted the most intensive media scrutiny – his claim for over £13,000 for students described as cleaners for his constituency home, although it emerged that one of them was an au pair who advertised herself as such and spent most of her time in their London home or on holiday with them, looking after their children and waiting on visitors at constituency events. Under pressure from the exposure of his breaches of the rules on expenses, Djanogly had to repay £25,000 while local party members were angry that he – a Minister of Justice – had lied to them.
Their Honourable Member’s response to this was to employ, at a cost of £5,000, private detectives who worked their well-honed deceptive skills to trick Djanogly’s most serious critics (who included his constituency agent) to reveal their identity. And any energy he had to spare from this subterfuge he devoted to pushing through the Commons a Bill which, by slashing legal aid entitlement and changing the procedures in cases of claims for damages after accidents and the like, promises effectively to benefit the insurance industry by as much as hundreds of millions of pounds. Djanogly did not seem to be embarrassed by being likely to profit from this as a partner in his family’s underwriting firm – although, seven days after the matter was publicised in the Guardian, he moved his shares in the Djanogly Family LLP to a “blind trust”. Just another incident in the political career of Jonathan Djanogly, with its ripples of confusion, doubt and outrage among even his closest supporters, to put his parliamentary future in serious doubt. By even the accustomed standards, it has been a sad and sterile affair, nurturing the myths of capitalist politics – that privilege and charity are proper and adequate adjustments to enduring poverty, that society’s rulers wheedle into power over us on the pledge that the outcome will be to our benefit when it will remorselessly aggravate the damage and repression we already know so well.