Friday, July 13, 2007

So, what is his status?

This blog is not alone in being interested in Lord Malloch-Brown's (as he is to be)relationship with George Soros. One of the Londoner's Diary hacks seems to have been following the saga:
Barely ten weeks after becoming vice-chairman of George Soros's hedge fund company, Mark Malloch-Brown was given a job in Gordon Brown's cabinet. Although he is no doubt pleased with this appointment, especially since he has been made Lord Malloch-Brown for the post, it must have been a blog to his bank balance to quit his new and highly lucrative job.

The question is - has he quit it? When I ring the Foreign Office, where Malloch-Brown is the minister for Arica, Asia and the UN, I am told he has yet to make a declaration of his interests. "That process has yet to be undertaken," says a spokesman, "there was a delay actually because the cabinet office were reviewing the ministerial code of conduct and Lord Malloch-Brown is out of the country until Tuesday so that process has not yet happened. But very simply he will be making his declaration on his return."

So is he on holiday? "He is on private business not official business," adds the spokesman. Let's hope whatever business he is attending to adheres to the new code of conduct.

When Malloch-Brown took up his post on Soros's hedge fund in April, he also became vice-chairman to the billionaire's Open Society Institute, a private grant-making foundation. The New York office informs me that Malorch-Brown stepped down from that as soon as GB became PM.

But will he be as quick to give up the hedge fund? Given that it is full-time, it would seem likelyt that time constraints would force him to do so. Any shares that he holds in the fund himself may have to be sold or put into a blind trust.
One's first thought on reading this piece [not on the web] is to think that one should always beware official spokesmen who manage to use the word "process" twice in two consecutive sentences. Sir Humphrey would not have approved, I suspect.

One's second thought is to wonder why it takes ministers so long to sort out matters that are remarkably simple. I seem to recall problems with Lord Sainsbury when he became Minister for something or other and his shares not being put into a blind trust for weeks. At the time I was told by a journalist friend, who had had to go through the same process, writing as he did about economic matters, that it took half a day to sort it all out.

There were hints of Gordon Brown appointing Malloch-Brown for months, so the man must have known for some time that his position in the Soros empire was temporary. After all, it is not difficult to understand that being vice-chairman of that organization would cause a clash of interests for any member of the government, and not just because it is a full-time job.

It is surely incumbent on the man to make a clear and immediate announcement (from wherever he happens to be) about his position in the Soros empire, if any. Or is that going to become one of those "don't go down there" matters, like the large pensions collected by former Commissioners?


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