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Time for a shake-up in Whitehall

The collapse of Greensill Capital has shone an unflattering light into the “murky corridors of Whitehall”, says the Financial Times. Not that former PM David Cameron broke any strict rules when he lobbied senior ministers on behalf of his new employer. Nor did top civil servant Bill Crothers, who took a job at Greensill while still in charge of handing out government contracts worth £40bn to similar firms. No, what’s “shocking” is that within Whitehall this stuff is “neither contentious nor uncommon”. It would be naive to expect youngish retirees like Cameron, with time left for a second career, to pass up the chance to make some real money. And there is an “unspoken bargain” that underpaid ministers will be compensated later by parlaying their influence into lucrative jobs. But Cameron was right a decade ago when he said the revolving door between politics and business would be the next big scandal. “That moment has arrived.”

Not a minute too soon, says Richard Brooks in The Guardian. The policing of the revolving door is “homoeopathically weak”. The closest thing we have to a regulator is the toothless Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which can be ignored with “complete impunity”. Worse, one of its senior members, Andrew Cumpsty, was this week revealed to run a lobbying firm boasting of access to top ministers, available at a price. It can’t be easy for Britain’s ministers and mandarins always to act in the public interest when they’re endlessly having their ears bent by those with a financial stake in their decisions. “It is, however, their duty.”

Those moaning about the revolving door should remember that this is something a lot of people thought they wanted, says David Aaronovitch in The Times. For years politicians and commentators have longed to tap the expertise of smart entrepreneurial types outside the “linked igloos” of Whitehall and Westminster. Our sclerotic political class, many said, doesn’t understand the modern worlds of business, finance and tech, and would benefit from closer contact with people who do. It’s the same reason Ted Heath brought in Derek Rayner from M&S and Margaret Thatcher hired the banker and industrialist David Young. By the 1980s, Treasury officials hitting their thirties and “discovering their salaries wouldn’t run to school fees” would regularly take better-paid jobs in the City and never come back. New Labour and Cameron simply continued the trend.

But Dave was meant to be different, says Isabel Hardman in The Spectator. Before he left Downing Street, his vision for a second act was “admirable”. He would stay on the backbenches, he told me, handing out advice and wisdom to his successors. He might earn a bit of extra cash while still working as an MP, but would mostly continue in public service, with charities and the like. Now his reputation will always be tarnished by what he really did after leaving office. Before becoming PM, he is said to have remarked to a friend: “How hard can it be?” It turns out he hadn’t appreciated how tricky life after office could be, either.

How Lex Greensill got into No 10; see Best Podcasts, in Life.