Joyful female submission and the gloved hand

 

A Roman soldier stands in a chariot, flexing his bow. One of the two horses is rearing; the arrow points skyward. The image is pretentious, and whoever drew it did not bother to find out what weapons the Romans used: not the bow and arrow.

These days anything goes, of course. But if you have given your organisation a name that appeals to history, a name you proudly say is Latin … wouldn’t you take a bit of trouble over your logo?

Legatum didn’t think facts were important. It was in a hurry.

The Legatum Group was set up in 2006 by Christopher Chandler, a New Zealand billionaire who, with his brother Richard, had made a fortune in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its headquarters are in Dubai. Its “development arm” is the Legatum Foundation, registered in Bermuda and controlled by a company in the Cayman Islands, which is the main sponsor of the Legatum Institute, based in London.

The Foundation claims to be an educational charity, but this status is currently being investigated by the Charity Commission. The Institute is advising Government on Brexit. The Wikipedia page on the Institute describes it as an “independent non-partisan policy, advisory and advocacy organisation.” This is laughable.  A think-tank more partisan than the Legatum Institute is hard to imagine. It has espoused hard Brexit with fervour and total disregard for facts.

Here is a typical assertion from its recent document, The Brexit Inflection Point: “Historically, the British system of free trade made Britain, Europe and the world richer…” However, “the EU system that has replaced it  – of protectionism and harmonised regulation – has constrained economic growth for Britain and the world.”

The Financial Times commented, “Anyone tempted by this pre-1914 nostalgia would do well to check the data.” Using Bank of England trade volume statistics back to 1830, the FT found that “UK trade openness (total imports and exports as a share of economic output) has been more than twice as large on average during its membership of the EU than in the 1830 to 1913 period. Indeed the UK has traded more in every year since 1977 than it did in any year before 1912.”

Well, who’s counting?

Legatum has the ear of Government. It meets regularly with ministers, who heap praise on its economics director, Shanger Singham. Singham talks to ministers and anyone else who will listen about the fabulous trade opportunities for the UK after Brexit, opportunities that don’t exist, because the EU will not allow them or WTO rules do not permit them, or because, for instance, we would have to multiply our existing trade with New Zealand by a factor of 30 to make up for the trade we will lose with Ireland.

Legatum’s publications have been criticised as “riddled with misconceptions” (the FT)  and “not realistic” (George Peretz, a specialist in trade law), or as magical thinking (EU). There has been a scathing response to its proposals for the Irish border, which favour “creative thinking” and the use of “unmanned aerial vehicles and aerostats” (drones and air balloons. Why use plain language when posh language is available?)

If the last bit sounds remarkably close to the Government’s paper on the border, one may assume that Legatum drafted the paper.

It was not always like this. Legatum has come a long way.

It’s instructive to read a piece about British think-tanks by Zoe Williams in the Guardian of 27 October 2010. Williams chose Legatum as one of ten “to watch.” She said of it, “Not that big, but weird. Set up by four ex-Bush staffers, who would have been swamped in the US think-tank environment. Wanted to be taken seriously on a global level, so had to find a location between Washington and Everywhere Else. Which, it turns out, is Mayfair.” (My italics.)

If you want to be taken seriously you need more than a Mayfair office. For a long time, Legatum was struggling to find a place. Before 2016, it didn’t have a USP. Neoliberal and right of centre, it was nevertheless pro-EU. Shanker Singham voted Remain.  Anne Applebaum, the high-profile journalist and commentator, was also a Remainer. The referendum caused an earthquake. Applebaum departed, after what sounds like an almighty row, Shanker Singham underwent a Damascene conversion to Brexit, and Legatum embarked on an ideological crusade. Unbelievers were purged.

And Philippa Stroud arrived. With her arrival, Legatum, already “weird,” became weirder.

Created Baroness Stroud of Fulham in 2015, Philippa Stroud was appointed CEO of the Legatum institute in September 2016. She came from the Centre for Social Justice, which she co-founded with Iain Duncan Smith in 2004 and which collaborated with the Legatum Institute in its initial Brexit publication, Road to Brexit (2016). She had been a special adviser to IDS at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Philippa Stroud ‘s interest in social justice had begun at the age of eight; she remembered “lying across a massive Queen Anne armchair in our house in France, transfixed… by photographs of famine victims in Bangladesh.” (God’s Heart for the Poor, by Philippa Stroud and Christine Leonard, 1999). After university (it is unclear where, just as it is unclear why her family had a house in France when she grew up in Surrey, or at what age she became a Christian), she went to Hong Kong, where, rejecting her father’s career in international banking, she worked among drug addicts. She was elated to be there: “I loved it when rats ran across my feet in the dank darkness of sewer-like alleyways.”

After two years she returned to England, married David Stroud, an evangelical Christian whom she had met in Hong Kong, and founded the King’s Arms church, which offered practical support to the homeless.

She stood twice, in 2005 and 2010, as a Conservative parliamentary candidate, but was unsuccessful. By 2010 a change in public attitudes had brought the practices of the King’s Arms church under unfavourable scrutiny. An article in the Observer of May 2010 accused it, and Philippa Stroud personally, of trying to “cure” gay people by “driving out their demons.” A former administrator of the church commented anonymously in the Guardian, “Anything – drugs, alcohol or homosexuality, they thought you had a demon in you.”

Stroud contested the claims, but holds other fundamentalist views. She opposes abortion. She has drawn a parallel between the pro-life campaign and the anti-apartheid struggle of Mandela. The evangelical Newfrontiers Church, which she attends and of which her husband is a leader, proclaims itself “a church where…husband and wife embrace male servant leadership and joyful female submission…”

Voices were raised asking Cameron to sack her. She was a special adviser in a Government department in which her personal opinions would necessarily come into play. Cameron didn’t.

Now she is heading a think-tank steering Government policy in a matter even more fundamental, and for which she is unfitted in exactly the same way. She has a Rottweiler in this fight, and it’s dressed in sheep’s clothing. She hates the welfare state. Members of the Christian right may be individually good people, but their refusal to acknowledge the political causes of poverty drives them into positions that often cannot be distinguished from fantasy.

Baroness Stroud is a fantasist. What else can one call someone who is overjoyed by the sensation of rats scuttling over her feet in an alleyway? Never mind the demons or the cavalier approach to biographical fact. “A positive record of helping her community,” was the judgement of a former member of the King’s Arms project in the Guardian, “finely balanced with monumental delusion.”

Into this delusion, the project that is Legatum fits like a hand in a glove. For Legatum is deluded, too: a cursory glance at its pronouncements demonstrates that.

And perhaps here we have the answer to the mystery that is Brexit. A young right-leaning think-tank that desperately wanted to be taken seriously met a Government that was totally out of its depth and needed a hand to hold. It was a marriage made in heaven.

The consequence was folie a deux, which brought forth the Government’s Brexit policy.

Is this enough?

“Finance capital is clear about what Brexit is for,” states Brendan Montague in How Legatum has written the hymn sheet for a dirty Brexit on the Open Democracy website, 27 November.  “It is to transform Britain into a low-regulation state, and in turn break the semi-regulated cartel that is the European Union. This is necessary because capitalism right now is almost flatlining, and is not going to save itself. It needs to be fed, and your pension, and your planet, is its feed.”

The gloved hand is a fist. Legatum is operating on two levels: the fantasy floats above a reef. In this context, the financial background of Legatum’s founder, Christopher Chandler, and the offshore locations of its various head offices make perfect sense. Disaster capitalists make money out of disasters.  Those wishing to know what this means should read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which has a chapter on the collapse in Russia.

The question arises of whether people who profit from disasters have a hand in causing them. Of course they do, sometimes. There will always be a rationale. And at the very least, the disaster capitalist will want to be on the spot when the disaster unfolds.

So there sits Legatum, in its Mayfair office, waiting for the crash that will be Brexit and helping it on its way.

The second consequence of the Government’s happy marriage, therefore, will be the wilderness identified by Brendan Montague and the further enrichment of a few people who have their bank accounts in places like the Cayman Islands.

 

White water

 

“The Ayes three hundred and nine, the No’s three hundred and five,” pronounced the Speaker, and a portion of the House erupted while the Brexiters sat stony-faced like Scrooge at a picnic.

The Government’s Brexit steamroller had been stopped for the first time.

Early on Wednesday morning, David Davis had written to Conservative MPs asking them to support the Prime Minister in the vote over Clause 9 of the Withdrawal Bill. At stake was – if you believe Dominic Grieve, who tabled Amendment 7 to that clause –  the coherence of the Bill and the sovereignty of Parliament, or – if you believe the Government –  the safe passage of Brexit. The Government always says this, and it is inflammatory nonsense. Facts will defeat Brexit before MPs do.

Dominic Grieve spoke truly about the sovereignty of Parliament. Theresa May had repeated ad nauseam that Parliament would have a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal, but had obscured the timing of it and had boxed rather too clever on the meaning of “meaningful.” So, yes, this was about sovereignty, but it was also about trust, and it turned out that a tranche of her own MPs do not trust her.

Eleven rebelled. The amendment was won by four votes. This means that MPs will be able to vote on the final deal with the EU before it is signed (which is one part of the meaning of “meaningful”), and that their vote will be written into law. The Government had repeatedly said that that was what it intended. This was far from the truth.

Behind the legal phrases and the dry-as-dust abstractions of the Withdrawal Bill loom the Henry VIII powers, which I wrote about in The height of pavements (10 September). They are called that because they are essentially undemocratic and are ascribed – perhaps unfairly – to the monarch we love to deplore. They give a Government minister powers which properly belong to Parliament and allow her or him to exercise them in secret and without redress. Legislation passed in this manner is called “secondary legislation,” which is itself sleight of hand since it implies that it isn’t anything to worry about.

Clause 9 of the Bill invoked these powers in relation to Britain’s departure from the EU. It said, “A minister of the Crown may by regulations make such provision as the Minister considers appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day.”

“Regulations” is the important word. It means, not by statute. It means, not following debate in Parliament. It means it can’t be challenged. (Theoretically it can. But there has been one successful challenge in 38 years, so don’t hold your breath.) This was how the Government proposed to legislate for the most profound change that will affect Britain for generations.

Dominic Grieve’s remedy was brief and to the point. He proposed to add the words, “subject to the prior enactment of a statute by Parliament approving the final terms of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”

This quiet formulation contains a lethal bite and the Government was mortally afraid of it. It was afraid of two words: “prior” and “statute.” “Prior” meant that whatever Grieve was asking for had to be done before the Minister pushed through any of his regulations. “Statute” meant that what he was asking for was a separate Bill, an entirely independent piece of legislation.

In a written statement on Wednesday, before the crucial vote, David Davis promised that the Government would not use the Henry VIII powers to implement any parts of the Withdrawal Bill until after the Commons had voted on it. He said that vote would “take the form of a resolution in both Houses of Parliament and will cover both the withdrawal agreement and the terms for our future relationship [with the EU].”

The trouble with this is that (a) Davis’s promise is not binding – Grieve wanted a legislative guarantee that the secondary powers would only be used after the vote – and (b) that a statute and a resolution are not at all the same thing.  “A resolution would simply involve a yes/no vote on whether MPs approved the withdrawal deal, whereas statute means a bill – which would be amendable.” (Guardian, Politics Live summary, 13 December).

“The government is also promising a bill,” the Guardian summary explains, “but Davis says in his written statement the resolution would come first.” (My italics.) “Under his plan ministers would be able to start using sweeping Henry VIII powers …using a simple, binary vote. Under Grieve’s plan the bill, which would give MPs the chance to rewrite bits of the withdrawal plan, would have to come first.”

It emerges with stunning clarity from this explanation just what a sack of weasels this government is. It wanted to present Parliament with the take-it-or-leave-it option that it loves because it removes MPs’ freedom to think, and then rush the result into law by an archaic route that cannot be scrutinised. It called this manoeuvre “granting a meaningful vote” when it was the opposite of meaningful, pretended it would not do what it had every intention of doing, and perverted the natural uses of language to conceal what it was up to.

Naturally this was all about control, and not just control of the final process. Ken Clarke, in a masterly speech, pointed out that the amendment would affect “the tenor of the negotiations.” It would force the head of government to ask herself, as every other political leader in Europe would be asking, “Can I deliver to the House of Commons what I am thinking of conceding?”

It is obvious that any such consideration would not suit Theresa May’s book. However, until about half an hour before the division the Government still thought it would win. Then it was realised that the Whips had miscalculated, panic set in and a concession was hastily offered. It was insufficient, and much too late.

Theresa May had had a bumpy week. She had managed, somehow, to turn around the disaster with which the DUP presented her when it interrupted her lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker. The proposal on the Irish border concocted late on Thursday night was a fudge, but the EU accepted it in the cause of moving the talks on. Then David Davis, demonstrating a boast he had just made about not needing to be clever, announced that the agreement which Theresa May had just signed in Brussels was not legally binding.

The EU moved like a cat sighting a mouse. If the British Government regarded it as not legally binding, said Barnier, it would be made legally binding straight away.

Davis re-interpreted himself. It was his second narrow escape in a week. May, taking stock, might have thought that things could be worse: she hadn’t had to replace Davis, with luck she wouldn’t have to sack Boris for Irangate, and it was unlikely the inquiry looking into Damian Green and his computer would want to rock the boat. No wonder, with all this, she wasn’t thinking very hard about the steely resolution of Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry.

The result was that, for the second time in ten days, she had to go to Brussels in sackcloth to endure the smiling company of Europeans whose overall grasp of the situation is far better than hers and whose patience she and her rabble of ministers are now close to exhausting. It is difficult to see what cards she has left to play.

And she will need cards. Stage two of the talks is going to be for grown-ups, and it’s not apparent that we have any. The EU wants to know what we mean by “Brexit.”  Parliament will want to know, too. As Jonathan Portes points out in the Guardian (15 December), the drama involving the Brexit vote is not over. Wednesday’s passionate debate will lose much of its purpose if the deal voted on does not include the future relationship with the EU.

Portes asks why Parliament would want to reject the deal now agreed on any of the three initial topics (citizens’ rights, financial settlement, border), or the transition arrangement which is yet to be negotiated. He finds no reason, either because no further movement is possible, or MPs are content with the terms, or voting against the border settlement would solve nothing.  But Parliament will certainly want a say on any post-Brexit economic integration with the EU, or a trade-off between single market/customs union access and the ability to negotiate free trade deals. Yet this is not something Parliament will be able to vote on when it gets its “meaningful vote,” says Portes: “by then it will be too late.”

The extreme tightness of the schedule for completing the talks was the only objection the Government was able to advance against Grieve’s amendment: his statute would take up time. Never mind that the main cause of the shortage of time are the weeks wasted by Mrs May’s election. Trade talks normally take years: these have no chance of being completed before 29 March 2019, although the EU thinks it may be possible to reach “heads of agreement.” Even that would be tight, and Theresa May has been trying to remove any flexibility with her foolish plan, now abandoned, to “enshrine” the time and date of Brexit in law.

And the Cabinet has still not met to discuss what its aims are.

Before the Government tables anything in Brussels for the phase 2 negotiations, says Portes, Parliament should insist on a proper debate on the future relationship. “Let’s settle the things we didn’t and couldn’t decide in the referendum. These are vitally important questions…”

They are.

As you approach the rapids, the water runs faster.

MPs will need to paddle very hard.

But we have to give them the paddle.

 

 

“Thick as mince, lazy as a toad”

 

It may be assumed from his demeanour – harassed, irritated, sucking a sweet – when he appeared before the Brexit Select Committee on Wednesday that David Davis did not want to be there. He had been told he must, by the Speaker.

He was there to explain himself. He had been rumbled. Having been directed by a Commons Opposition Day motion to release certain documents about the impact of Brexit on the economy which he had long said his department was preparing, having been ordered by the Speaker to obey that vote, and having promised to release versions that were unredacted, he had finally stopped prevaricating and given the Brexit Select Committee 850 pages in two lever arch files.

It was ridiculously insufficient and appeared to be highly redacted. It was accompanied by a letter saying that the documents the committee was expecting had never existed in the form MPs thought they did, and that he had repeatedly made this fact clear.

Committee chair Hilary Benn did not waste time (see Guardian, 6 December). Perhaps he had been told that Mr Davis had an important meeting in Brussels. He asked whether the fact that the Brexit impact assessments did not exist in the form that MPs had thought was the reason why the Minister had not handed them over.

That was correct, said Mr Davis. There were formal definitions of an impact assessment, and the work done by the Government did not fit those definitions.

Benn asked him if the Government had undertaken an assessment of the impact of Brexit. Davis said it had not, “not on a sector by sector basis.”

He was asked if it had assessed the impact on, for instance, aerospace, or agriculture. Davis admitted that it had not assessed the impact on any sector.

Wasn’t that a bit strange? Hilary Benn asked, with visible restraint.

The Secretary of State didn’t think so. The intention, when these sectoral analyses were carried out, was to help the government understand what the effect of Brexit would be. (He did not explain how that differed from making an assessment.) He added, rolling the sweet around his mouth, that he was not a fan of economic models because they had all been proven wrong.

Benn then asked him about comments he had made to a Commons committee in September, when he said detailed assessments were being carried out. Davis’s reply was illuminating, although not of the subject. He said, “Just because you are looking at the impact of something, that does not amount to an impact assessment.”

What, in that case, Benn asked him, had he been talking about when he told a committee that Theresa May would have seen “summaries of the assessments carried out”? Davis replied that he was referring to the “summary outcomes” of the reports that had been commissioned.

Seema Malhotra (Labour) took up the questioning and reminded the Minister that in September he had told a Lords committee that his department would “carry out a qualitative assessment.”

That was not the same as an impact assessment, said Davis.  He said that he had been using the term “sectoral analysis.” That was different.

Stephen Timms (Labour) asked how much had been left out from the 850 pages submitted. The Minister didn’t know exactly. He didn’t think it was a lot. And, no, he did not edit the material himself.

Indeed, it turned out he had not even read any of it. He had been provided with a sample two chapters before the material was given to the committee, but he did not read them. This was because he did not want to be responsible for deciding exactly what was and was not released. He would not have had time to read 850 pages.

It was not long after this that he said he was late for his next appointment.

Wera Hobhouse (Lib Dem) asked him where the misunderstanding that there were impact assessments had come from. He told her she would have to ask other people.

Incensed and incredulous Committee members debated, after the session, whether Davis should be charged with contempt for defying the Commons motion ordering him to publish the assessments in full. Non-parliamentarians might think that that was not the half of it. He had revealed that the Government had not carried out any assessment of what effect Brexit would have on the British economy. Was this not (as Seema Malhotra tweeted) a gross dereliction of duty? And he had lied. He and his underlings had at the very least “misled” the House (Joanna Cherry, QC, SNP justice and home affairs spokesperson). Parliament does not normally forgive this.

For a start, he had only “made it clear” for the past few weeks that the assessments never existed. For fifteen months he had exerted himself to give the impression that they were a real, ongoing process. The picture started to take shape as early as July 2016, when ministers told a parliamentary committee of the need to examine the impact of Brexit on various sectors (see jackofkent.com/2017/11/the-early-history-of-the-58-brexit-sector-analyses/  .

Then, at a Lords committee in September 2016, Davis spoke of carrying out “quantitative assessments,” used the words “sectoral analysis” and said, “they are working through about 50 cross-cutting sectors.” By December, the sets of analysis had grown to “about 57”, each of which had “implications for individual parts of 85% of the economy.”

In the largely fatuous White Paper on Brexit, the outlines of the great enterprise became clearer: “We have structured our approach by five broad sectors covering the breadth of the UK economy: goods; agriculture, food and fisheries; services; financial services; and energy, transport and communication networks, as well as areas of crosscutting regulation.”

In March, Davis was telling the Commons of a “huge amount of work,” and in April promising an in-depth assessment. The assessments were in “excruciating detail.” DexEu said it would shortly be publishing the list of sectors.

The list, which does indeed cover 58 sectors, was eventually published, after pressure from MPs, six months later. It runs from aerospace to wholesale markets and investment banking, taking in agriculture, business services, defence, fisheries, higher education, medical services, nuclear, pharmaceuticals, and a great deal more on the way. It is impressive. But then, a list doesn’t have to do much.

The documents which Vince Cable says he saw, “under a procedure rivalling access to the Crown Jewels,” in the room in which the Government has placed the documents for MPs’ viewing, hardly tallies with this prospectus. They were “descriptions of the sectors, not assessments of impact,” he said, and contained nothing that was not available on Wikipedia.

This flimsiness is assumed to result from a state of panic that struck DexEu in November when it realised that the game was up, and began frantically throwing material together in the three weeks that David Davis had said he would need to “collate” the information into a convenient form. The pressure had begun to mount on 10 October, when 120 MPs signed a letter demanding the release of the “secret advice” the government was assumed to have.

The rhetoric about the analysis was immediately rowed back on and “assessment” became a taboo word, but it was far too late to correct beliefs that had been foolishly nurtured. The Opposition Day motion was passed on 1 November, but it still took an order from the Speaker to get the documents, such as they were, released, and an Urgent Question from Keir Starmer followed by another intervention from the Speaker to get Davis in front of the Brexit committee.

What on earth was the department doing before that? However, that isn’t, of course, the point. The question is, what did David Davis think he was doing? And it’s an interesting question, if one can manage to bottle one’s rage and keep it on a shelf while considering the matter. How long did he think he could keep it up? Did he really think MPs were by now so cowed that they would never ask to see this stuff? That their constituents wouldn’t? Was he relying on his luck, on everything falling apart anyway, on a royal wedding?

Or, to dig in another direction, why didn’t he do the work?  Was he afraid of what the analyses would reveal? Or does he just not like work?

“Thick as mince, lazy as a toad, vain as Narcissus,” said Dominic Cummings (Vote Leave manager) of David Davis in July.

Perhaps it’s as simple as that.

The Brexit committee voted on whether to move for Davis to be held in contempt of Parliament. They voted by 11 to 8 that “in view of the fact that no impact assessments have been undertaken [my italics], the Government’s response to the resolution of 1 November has complied with the terms of that resolution.”  In other words, since the assessments had never existed, Davis could not be held to be in contempt of Parliament for not publishing them.

The 11 in favour were Tories and one DUP member; the eight were all opposition MPs.

The Government went to some trouble a few months ago to ensure that government members on a Commons committee always outnumbered opposition ones (see my blog post of 10 September, The height of pavements). This is an early fruit of those labours.

Someone on the Government side is working diligently.

 

 

 

Not a sausage

 

Theresa May does not, as Tony Blair once put it, have bandwidth for anything except Brexit. If she talks about something else, it is to smooth the way for Brexit. She has just been in Saudi Arabia, selling the Saudis weapons with which to kill the Yemenis so she can pay for Brexit.

So why, I wondered, had she devoted her entire speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet to Russian interference with western democracy? It was as if she was expecting something to happen. I noticed that she hadn’t mentioned Britain. But of course she couldn’t: that would be to acknowledge that Russia might have had its fingers in the referendum, which would suggest that the referendum ought to be re-run.

A few days later a friend sent me a link to a piece by Louise Mensch on the Patribotics website (https://patribotics.blog/2017/11/24/exclusive-brexit-referendum-may-need-to-be-redone/). It claimed that “sources say that UK intelligence is minded to recommend to Theresa May’s government that the Brexit vote be redone.”

What sources, I immediately wanted to know, but Louise Mensch was not going to tell me. It’s an exasperating piece, crucially vague. Ms Mensch has been having a nasty spat with the Guardian, which accused her of making things up. She rebutted this angrily. A former Tory MP, living in New York, once a chicklit author and now working for Rupert Murdoch (yes), writing about the alleged corruption of the UK’s political system by Russia… one wonders where she’s coming from.

But I can’t dismiss the piece, not only because it has become impossible to ignore the evidence that the UK’s political system has been corrupted, but because, reading around it, I came across some disturbing things.

Mensch claims that, according to her unnamed sources, “the level of money and the reach of the fake bots and targeted data funded by Russia, using Cambridge Analytica, were so great that M15 and M16…did not believe that the Brexit referendum could be said to have been ‘free and fair.’”

The article continues: “Sources cautioned, however, that an absolute decision had not yet been made and that the Prime Minister and her government opposed a revote. Reasons for this included both the public reaction, and the fact that it is thought that any second vote is likely to have the same final result as the first one.”

That’s the authentic voice of Whitehall. But how about this?

“Sources with links to both UK and US intelligence also believed, however, that there was major anxiety within the British government… of politicians’ links to the Russian state being exposed.”

Which politicians? Links of what kind? This is not about going to a party at the Russian embassy and drinking too much vodka.

Mensch then fingers other political players who are said to have been recipients of Russian generosity – the SNP, Labour, UKIP (she has nowhere explicitly mentioned the Tories) – before dropping her reader from a great height with: “Sources speculated… that any re-do of a corrupted Brexit vote might be announced after the arrest of Nigel Farage, which, separate sources assert, is a certainty.”

Let’s not rejoice prematurely.

Russian interference in the American presidential election is now beyond dispute. Because of the close links between the Leave campaigns and the Trump campaign, and Putin’s evident interest in a British exit from the EU, questions about Russia’s involvement in the EU referendum have been getting louder in recent weeks.

Boris Johnson had a fit of absence of mind when asked whether he had seen any evidence of Russian interference in British politics but eventually managed, “I haven’t seen a sausage.” This provoked incredulity from Chris Bryant, MP, vice chair of the all-party parliamentary Russia group, who used the words “distinctly fishy” and said, “Even as a junior minister in the foreign office, Russian stuff came across my desk every day.”

Boris was feeling the heat at the time because he had on 19 October attended a Brexit fundraising dinner at which he had met, and been photographed with, a Mr Mifsud who is named in an FBI investigation as a high-level go-between linking the Trump campaign and the Russian government (Guardian 11 November). Ben Bradshaw, MP, expressed amazement that British intelligence, who must have been told by the FBI about Mifsud, allowed this accident to happen.

The only way he could explain it was that “Our own agencies are keeping information from Johnson for some reason… which only begs further worrying questions.”

It’s an extraordinary suggestion. It suggests a distance between the intelligence community and government, and – worse – distrust. And it takes us back to Louise Mensch’s reference to “politicians’ links to the Russian state.” We already know that, for instance, Matthew Elliott, founder of the TaxPayers’ Alliance and chief executive of Boris’s Vote Leave campaign, and now reportedly being lined up for a senior role at the head of the Conservative party, was a member of Conservative Friends of Russia, “a Moscow influence organisation” (Carole Cadwalladr, Guardian, 4 November). Is Boris one of these politicians? If May thinks he is, she is likely to be not just worried but pacing the floor.

But then, I began to realise, if there’s Russian influence it doesn’t stop at Boris.

How strong does a link have to be, to be significant? In many cases we’ll never know what links exist. They will be scrambled, covered over, sent on baffling detours. But here’s one link that certainly ought to be pursued, because it’s in full public view and it’s operating at the highest level. It’s the link between the Government and something called the Legatum Institute, “a handsomely-funded extreme free-market think-tank fuelled by offshore cash from the Caribbean and Dubai,” behind which “stand the Chandler brothers, who made their billions in Russia’s most turbulent years, and once owned 4% of Gazprom” (Gina Miller in the Guardian, 28 November).

The Legatum Institute has emerged from nowhere and is deferentially mentioned on the BBC as an adviser on Government policy, without any explanation of what qualifications it has for that role. Michael Gove attended a seminar held by Legatum’s director of economics, Shanker Singham, ten days ago, alongside people from Downing Street.

I’m not suggesting that Legatum is a Russian front. The Mail is, though. An eye-widening article in the Sunday Mail online (25 November) was headlined: “Putin’s link to Boris and Gove’s Brexit ‘coup’ revealed,” and alleged that Shanker Singham was involved in drawing up the “ultimatum” letter sent to Theresa May about Brexit.

I have long wondered who is pulling Theresa May’s strings. I should have realised that, in a matter like this, the closer one gets to the answer the more the answer recedes.

Money is everywhere in this story. Follow the money and names come up. Follow the names and you fall over more money. The money in Legatum. (The Chandler brothers are disaster capitalists. Why are they interested in the UK?) The “dark” money behind Arron Banks’ s funding of Leave.EU. The £485,000 given by the opaque Constitutional Research Council to the DUP during the referendum campaign (no disclosure about donor required because different standards apply to Northern Ireland). The £625,000 Vote Leave gave to a 23-year-old student for his pro-Brexit campaign. The money which swashes around London.

“London is one of the main outposts for Russian financial and political influence programmes in the west,” said Bill Browder, Anglo-American businessman and campaigner for the Magnitsky Act.  “There’s a huge reluctance to strangle the golden goose. Because a lot of people close to the centre of power are financially benefiting.” (Cadwalladr, Guardian, 4 November.)

How close to the centre of power?

“The big question now,” Gina Miller writes, “is to what extent Russian money came into the Leave campaigns, and is in effect funding a cold war.”

A UK parliamentary committee has asked Mark Zuckerberg to supply any information he has on activity by Russian-linked Facebook accounts during the referendum campaign. The Internet Research Agency, a Russian state-backed “troll farm” operating out of  St Petersburg, is said to have targeted Facebook users in the USA before the presidential election; Facebook has promised to create a tool that will allow users to see whether they were targeted. However, about the UK, Facebook has said nothing.

Ben Nimmo, of the Atlantic Council think-tank, said evidence of Russian online interference in the referendum was “incontrovertible” (Cadwalladr, Guardian, 4 November). In the campaign, Vote Leave and Leave.EU spent lavishly on, respectively, AggregateIQ, based in Canada, and Cambridge Analytica, set up by an American billionaire and with links (illegal) to AggregateIQ: these were companies that scooped up Facebook users’ personal data, analysed it and sent tailored messages to them (see my blog of 26 May, Say you like it). Mensch says that Russia funded Leave.EU’s use of Cambridge Analytica; I’m not aware of the evidence, which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

We already know quite a lot about Russian-linked fake Twitter accounts. They posted almost 45,000 messages about Brexit in the 48 hours around the referendum. Research by Swansea University and the University of California tracked 156,252 Russian Twitter accounts that mentioned Brexit; most although not all were pro-Leave. Many appear to have come from the troll farms.

What is Britain doing about all this? There’s the request to Mark Zuckerberg. There are demands for the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee to investigate. The Electoral Commission is examining the possibility of breaches of the electoral rules by Vote Leave and Leave.EU (“I’m terrified,” said Arron Banks). The Intelligence and Security Committee is only now about to be re-constituted after the general election (why has it taken so long?) At the request of Tom Brake, MP, there will be a three-hour Commons debate on Russian interference on 21 December.

Across the Atlantic, there are five separate FBI investigations under way into Russian involvement in the Trump campaign, and Americans talk openly about impeachment. Here, the Prime Minister has still not used the words “Russia” and “Brexit” in the same sentence, and is presumably behind the timetabling of a debate on the subject three days before Christmas, when, with luck, ten MPs will be present.

Smiley must rap on the door of No. 10. No-one else can do it.

But Smiley needs our help. We have to shout, loud enough to rattle the panes in that decaying building on the Thames. Loud enough to put this corrupted government to flight and replace it with something cleaner.