Three years ago, I travelled around India and the Middle East to find out what people there now think of their old rulers. It was a research trip for my new book. Young and old Arabs and Indians complained about the deep-rooted corruption in their societies. Several interviewees said that, though imperialism was indefensible, the Brits understood probity and duty.
A retired Indian civil servant ruefully observed: “Under them, public service was required to be honest and efficient. Now the whole system is dishonest and inefficient. I am a patriot and my grandfather was a freedom fighter. But when those Raj men left, rectitude and honour also left with them.” People around us nodded in agreement. And then a political scientist asked: “Is there really no corruption in the UK or are they just better at concealing it?” He is in London at present and will have answered his own question by now.
On Saturday, Oliver Wright, The Independent’s Whitehall editor, revealed a large donation by a certain Martin Taylor to Labour. The hedge fund millionaire has handed over £600,000 since 2012.
I thought we had moved on from the amoral, self-enriching Blair, Mandelson and others in the New Labour cohort. How will Ed Miliband ever again be able to damn the Tories for being too close to and influenced by the moneyed? Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, believes Miliband has now opened himself to the charge of hypocrisy. The Labour leader spoke nobly and acted shiftily. I can’t tell you how miserable this story made me. Et tu, Ed?
On that same Saturday and then yesterday, came further blows to the idea of honest politics. Nick Clegg described Westminster as a “joke” and stated that he felt alienated from the establishment. There were other candid observations: “The way all parties, including my own, get into hot water about party funding needs to be cleared up… We’ve got a House of Lords that passes laws even though no one votes to get them there. Of course, it is ridiculous.” No, Mr Clegg, not “ridiculous” but reprehensible.
Twenty-four hours after the utterances above, the questionable dealings of the Lib Dem hierarchy were exposed. One of their peers was accused of facilitating a donor who did not want to be identified or follow the rules of transparency. The donor, was, in fact, an undercover reporter for Channel 4’s Dispatches. Just a cheque of £10,000 got him access to Clegg and Vince Cable, the Business Secretary. Every little helps.
Tories and their rich chums don’t even pretend to be unimpeachable. Global corporations and the CBI seem to exert a massive influence on Boris Johnson, David Cameron, his strategist Lynton Crosby and most of the Cabinet. It is life, the right economic strategy, realpolitik.
The public should rage against those who bring our democracy into disrepute. They don’t and instead, tragically, give up on democracy itself. Some Oxford academics have been investigating possible links between party donations and peerages. The research is published on the university website. They found no absolute proof of peerages being sold, but do say that “the relationship between donations and nominations has been found to be significant”.
What very British coyness. Yes, we do need wealth creators in the Lords. But those who donate hundreds of thousands of pounds to political parties should never be nominated. That would sort out this unholy “relationship”.
It won’t happen. That’s not how it works. Power means immunity. Which is why ministers and other senior politicians lobby Parliament for cash, prime ministers work for big business and rich dictators. It is why even historic child abuse is seemingly tolerated, of and by some of those in high places.
Some MPs must have known about Cyril Smith and others whose names are slowly dripping out of the damp, smelly attics of the establishment. New allegations, as yet unproven, are emerging against Leo Abse, the Welsh Labour MP, his close friend George Thomas, once Labour speaker of the House of Commons, and the Tory David Atkinson whose son claims his father was a “prolific sexual predator”. All three MPs are dead. But some who are being investigated are still alive, among them Labour’s Lord Janner. These are, I stress, allegations and Lord Janner has long denied them.
Serious crimes committed by politicians have been determinedly ignored by police and the criminal justice system. There is understandable outrage about the Pakistani groomers who carried on violating young girls and were not stopped by police officers. Where is the outrage about white violators who make our laws, are expected to look after citizens and uphold virtuous behaviours and principles? (It is claimed by some officers that they did try to investigate the allegations but were warned off.)
Venality, vice and degeneracy in politics are getting worse or probably are more likely to be uncovered. Admittedly, our parliamentarians, administrators and other power merchants are not as avaricious, nasty and unscrupulous as those in most developing nations. Regulation, transparency and some assiduous journalists do try to maintain standards.
But it is now undeniable that our upper caste has come to believe that the law, ethical constraints, accountability and retribution apply only to those beneath them. They feel entitled to take bribes, exploit the system and people, aid and abet tax avoidance, cheat and lie and not be called out. We do have decent MPs and peers but few of them ever rock the boat.
After endless revelations about the moral deficit of so many people in power, we must now ask if corruption is rife in British politics, though often well hidden. The mother of parliaments, so admired around the world, is sickening, infected by those in her belly. Save her we must. But how?
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