Leading article: Looking tough is not enough

Share

First, two pleas should be entered in mitigation on the Prime Minister's behalf. The Government has tightened the rules on political donations and required their disclosure. It seems extraordinary, looking back, that before 1997 partial information on donations had to be pieced together from company accounts, while money from individuals, including from abroad, was simply secret. Second, it should be emphasised that the British political system is one of the cleanest in the world. Instances of politicians using power for personal gain are rare and trivial (such as David Blunkett's first-class train ticket for his son's mother). There has been only one provable case of the policy of the Labour government being changed at the urging of a party donor, namely the temporary exemption of Formula One from the ban on tobacco advertising (and Bernie Ecclestone's £1m donation was returned). Although it would have been difficult for Tessa Jowell to continue as a minister while sharing her life with a man facing bribery and perjury charges in Italy, no suggestion that she has misused her position has been sustained.

Nevertheless, Tony Blair still has an important case to answer. The sale of peerages and other honours may be no more than what occurred under previous governments. But the point of disclosure is to enable people to judge what had been hidden. And Mr Blair can hardly expect a nation's gratitude for legislating for openness if such disclosure reveals that his conduct is as unbecoming as we suspected the behaviour of politicians to be.

The new regime of disclosure also makes it harder to maintain the fiction, behind which governments have always hidden, that any correlation between party donations and honours is coincidental. In raw statistical terms, this is obvious nonsense, although it is difficult to control for common factors. Many party donors, for example, are also generous philanthropists in non-political fields. But our analysis on pages 20 and 21 today should dispel any doubts that peerages and knighthoods are for sale at Baubles 'R' Us, just up the road from the Commons.

Much has been made, in a fairly jocular way, of the parallels between Tony Blair and David Lloyd George, as if the sale of honours were a harmless historical tradition. Wrong. Time may have softened the image of Lloyd George, the lovable rogue, and it may be said that knighthoods are mere snobbish decorations. But the sale of peerages is a problem. A peerage confers the right to sit in Parliament and amend the laws of the land. The idea that it should be possible to purchase a seat in a legislative assembly was outlandish in the last century; in this it is simply intolerable. It is surprising that Mr Blair, elected as a moderniser, allowed this state of affairs to continue for nine years - indeed, he took it to a new level, with the advent of multimillion-pound Labour donors.

It may now be too late for Mr Blair to complete a thorough and corruption-proof reform of the House of Lords. And it could be argued - this is the third plea to be entered on the Prime Minister's behalf - that the new system of scrutiny is working. The row over the current batch of proposed peers, revealed by The Independent on Sunday in November, suggests that stringent standards are being enforced to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. But this is not enough. If Mr Blair will not do it, Gordon Brown and David Cameron should say that, pending full democratic reform of the Upper House, no one who has given money to a political party should be eligible for a life peerage.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick