The Greensill affair is back – and of all the various sleaze stories that have been floating around in recent months, it is arguably the most important.
Lex Greensill, the Australian financier, managed to dazzle Whitehall into buying into a scheme described by one expert who gave testimony to parliament as being “as close to fraud as you could imagine”, charming British politics’ supposedly finest minds along the way.
The cost to the taxpayer from the fallout might hit £5bn. It is not clear what went wrong inside the heart of government, so it is not clear anyone can say this won’t happen again.
But as crucial as his testimony to the treasury select committee will be, it is worth noting how the politics around Greensill has changed, along with the politics of all the so-called sleaze scandals.
Before last week’s Labour disaster in various elections, the party would have tried to use it to paint a picture of systematic Tory cronyism.
No matter the most prominent politician in the drama – David Cameron – was from a previous administration, there was a concerted attempt by Labour to stitch together an attack narrative.
This is much less likely to fly now. The world has changed.
Labour figures accept that by going so hard on sleaze in the run-up to the local elections, and then having that argument so resoundingly rejected by voters, they have made their ability to campaign on the issue almost impossible for now.
Voter after voter post-election criticised Sir Keir Starmer for attacking Boris Johnson‘s wallpaper – a reference to the inquiries over who initially funded the PM’s flat overhaul – without putting up his own vision first.
Labour appear to have toxified the issue of sleaze.
For now, they cannot rely on it working to their advantage to attack Boris Johnson.
They have effectively disabled an important opposition tool and line of attack by doing it too hard, too bluntly, without having enough of a vision to paint.
This doesn’t mean Greensill isn’t important. It just means Labour’s missteps mean they can’t weaponise it.