More Than 170 People Applied For Watchdog Job That Went To Boris Johnson's Bullingdon Club Acquaintance
Labour has described the appointment of one of Boris Johnson’s Bullingdon Club acquaintances to a government anti-sleaze watchdog as an “utter joke” after it was revealed 173 people applied for jobs on the committee.
Solicitor Ewen Fergusson is one of two new appointments to the Committee on Standards in Public Life which provides advice to the Prime Minister on ethical standards of conduct in public office.
The 55-year-old was photographed alongside Johnson in the infamous 1987 image of the elite Oxford University dining society the Bullingdon Club, which also features former prime minister David Cameron. Fergusson is also reported to have attended a fundraiser for Johnson when he ran to be Mayor of London in 2008.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said this university connection should have disqualified him from the role.
In response to a written parliamentary question, Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith explained that there were 173 applications for the two positions on the committee, that the panel found Fergusson “appointable”, and the appointment was carried out in accordance with the Governance Code for Public Appointments.
Rayner, who is also shadow chancellor to the Duchy of Lancaster, said: “Being Boris Johnson’s chum from the Bullingdon Club does not qualify you to sit on the watchdog that is supposed to crack down on sleaze and cronyism in our politics. In fact, it should disqualify you.
“This appointment is an utter joke, and out of 173 applicants of course the Bullingdon Boy fits the job description of marking the Prime Minister’s homework.”
Professor Gillian Peele, an Emeritus Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and an Emeritus Associate Professor of Politics in the University of Oxford, was appointed in the same recruitment process.
The committee is chaired by Lord Jonathan Evans, a former head of MI5, and as well as advising the Prime Minister is there to promote the Nolan principles - the seven rules for conduct in public life. There are seven members including former Conservative Party Attorney General Jeremy Wright.
It recently recommended former ministers and civil servants who end up working in the private sector should be banned from lobbying for up to five years after they have left government, in light of the Greensill lobbying scandal.
On Fergusson’s appointment, a government spokesperson said: "Mr Fergusson applied through open and fair competition, in line with the Governance Code for Public Appointments.
"His application was carefully considered on its merits by the Advisory Assessment Panel, chaired by Lord Evans, which interviewed him and found that he was suitable for appointment."
The Prime Minister choses who to sit on the panel, though the short-listing and his final choices must be agreed to by the Advisory Assessment Panel.
In the written answer provided by minister Smith today, she explained that the 173 applications were received by the deadline of April 2021 for the two independent member vacancies on the committee.
An Advisory Assessment Panel interviewed shortlisted applicants and made recommendations to the Prime Minister on which candidates they felt met the criteria set out by the Governance Code on Public Appointments.
Smith wrote: “The two applicants who have been appointed by the Prime Minister to take up post on 1 August 2021 were both found appointable by the Panel.”
Fergusson was a partner at law firm Herbert Smith Freehills from 2000 to 2018 and the government’s website states during his time there he was “ranked consistently as one of the City of London’s leading individual lawyers in his sector”.
He is a non-magistrate member of the Lord Chancellor’s advisory committee for South East England.
He has been appointed for a five-year term, andis expected to work two days a month and with a renumeration of £240 a day.
Former committee chair Sir Alistair Graham told the Times earlier this month that the appointment was “pathetic”.
He said: “It really is desperate if you have to be a university mate of Boris Johnson to qualify to sit on the committee that is supposed to examine sleaze.”
The job advert hosted on the Cabinet Office website earlier this year said: “We are looking for high calibre individuals with a real interest in ethical standards and commitment to the principles of public life, who could make a strong contribution to the important work of this Committee. We are especially keen to encourage applications from a wide range of backgrounds, including the voluntary and private sectors.”
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