Michael Brown: Vultures feeding on a rotten corpse

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Yesterday's revelations about the alleged willingness of some Labour peers to take cash in return for seeking amendments to the law will be a nail in the coffin of Gordon Brown's government. Notwithstanding the protestations that none of those involved are ministers, the public will nevertheless see little difference between this and the cash-for-questions scandals of the mid-1990s involving John Major's government.

Based on the experience of the Tory troubles of 15 years ago, we are now into the rotting corpse stage of a governing party that has outlived any claims it had to be "purer than pure". There is an explicit suggestion of corruption. That Gordon Brown, like John Major before him, is probably one of the most morally-upright politicians of our time is neither here nor there. This is the moment when the inability of the Government to preside over good economic times for the masses fuses with the perception that politicians are on the take.

This was the problem for the Major government. Ordinary citizens were suffering from unemployment and house repossessions while we, as Tory MPs, were seen to be profiting from our privileges. I was caught up in the Neil Hamilton/Mohamed Al-Fayed saga. Both of us lost our seats at the subsequent election and faced an inquiry by the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee. The only difference now is that the claims refer to non-elected politicians. The brouhaha surrounding the events of 1996 became emblematic of everything else seen to be wrong about the Tory government. We were perceived as a party feathering our own nests and out of touch, through arrogance caused by length of time in office, to those we represented.

History is repeating itself. A collapsing economy (caused by bankers lauded – and knighted – by Labour ministers), a refusal to subject MPs' expenses to Freedom of Information legislation, and the revelation that the Lords' dining room is a self-enriching clearing house for some Labour peers, create an impression that sleaze and greed have again become the driving forces of the economy and politics.

Perhaps there is a law of politics that a government in power for any length of time breeds arrogance, evasiveness and corruption. Only the cleansing power of defeat can renew the polity. Changes to rules, flimsy defences of no wrongdoing – employed by the Tories in the 1990s – do nothing to reassure the public. The stench of rotting fish from the Lords' dining room will inevitably overwhelm Labour at the polls.

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