The writing on the wall

Submitted by Anon on 18 June, 2003 - 1:00
  • Dodgy Dame caught out
  • Trust me, I'm Alan Leighton
  • Debtors of the world unite

Dodgy Dame caught out

Dame Shirley Porter, the former Tory leader of Westminster council, is in the headlines again. Remember her? She epitomised 80s' Tory values. Westminster was the "flagship" Tory council. Lest we forget how revolting they were, here's a summary…

In 1999 Dame Shirley Porter and her deputy at the time, David Weeks, were ordered to pay a £27 million surcharge for their attempts at gerrymandering votes for their party while in charge of the council. They ruled for 20 years but towards the end of the 80s got worried about Labour winning back the council. Their response? They concocted a scheme called "building stable communities" which involved selling off council homes in marginal areas to potential Tory voters. This would, they thought, boost the party's electoral chances. Poorer families would be (effectively) evicted, to make way for "professional home owners", who would more likely vote for Porter and the rest of her scummy chums.

Boost their vote? Maybe. It certainly boosted the number of homeless people in the area. In many cases council houses were boarded up and kept empty for sale rather than used to meet need.

With interest the total owed by Porter has now climbed to £37 million. But Porter, once named by Vogue as the 20th richest woman in Europe, has always claimed she cannot afford to pay the fine. "I only have about £300,000 to my name," she said. Poor her, scarcely enough to keep her in hairdos for the next twenty years.

And so far Westminster council has received assets worth just £7,000 from Dame Shirley (including a solid gold toilet seat). Was it a case of "can't pay the fine, you must do the time"? No way. Porter escaped abroad.

Now it turns out that Porter lied! She transferred very large sums of money to foreign trusts and Swiss bank accounts. The truth emerged after someone stole some business emails belonging to Porter's son John. If, as the emails suggest, Dame Shirley has had control of more assets than she has revealed, she could be found guilty of contempt of court and face imprisonment.

Many people have long hoped that the council could spend some of the money it recovered from Porter on increasing the supply of affordable housing in the area. The council - still run by the Tories - has always refused to commit itself on that one. Cutting council tax bills might be more up its street. Their idea of caring for the homeless is to prosecute, and have sent to jail, rough sleepers who refuse hostel accommodation.

There would at least be a lot of irony, if only partial justice, if Porter comes face to face in jail with one of the people she made homeless during the 80s.

Trust me, I'm Alan Leighton

He certainly puts himself about a bit. When he's not overseeing the attempted imposition of management dictatorship as Chairman of Royal Mail, Alan Leighton is busy securing a bit of nepotism at BSkyB, where James, the son of Rupert Murdoch (35% share in the company), has just been eased into the top job.

The big shareholders are not happy about the job going to Murdoch Junior. Who cares why, they probably think he's not up to the job. The point is Leighton has been trying to reassure them about the job handover: "The process was robust. You wouldn't have [me] in anything that wasn't…" In other words, trust me, I'm Alan Leighton.

Top wheeler dealer? Man who always makes the best business decisions? Failure not a word he is familiar with? Well things may not look so good at Royal Mail, they look even worse at Leeds United, the club where he is a board member.

Never mind the off-the pitch shenanigans of the players (drink-driving), or the fact that the club have sold off all their best players, there's also the £50,000 loss to account for.

Debtors of the world unite

Ever felt like beating the capitalist scum at their own game? (Debt evasion, dishonesty etc). Take heart from a recent report from Leeds University. Debt recovery from credit-cards and bank loans may be one of the UK's fastest growing businesses. It is also one of the least effective. Lenders often do not bother to collect, particularly on debts below £1,000.

According to the author of the report, the rational thing to do with debt collectors is to "ignore them completely". The main penalty for non-payment is a bad credit rating and no more loans.

Viva Barclay's credit card!

Spend now, don't pay later!

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