Leading article: The sleazy business of selling influence

Share

Here is a simple question: If the Labour Party's acceptance of loans from three wealthy individuals was entirely innocent, as the Government maintains, why were these loans kept secret? Yesterday, we learnt thateven the party's treasurer was not aware of these financial arrangements. In the absence of any adequate explanation for such secrecy, we have little choice but to conclude that the Government is in the sleazy business of peddling influence.

Sadly, this is not a particularly shocking revelation. The fact that a hefty donation to the governing party has enabled the rich to command the services of the Government has been true for many years under both Conservative and Labour administrations. Tony Blair was handed power by an electorate fed up with Conservative sleaze and desirous of a cleaner political system. Instead, one of his biggest failings has been a readiness to support the business interests of those who have made big donations to Labour Party coffers. In 1997, he attempted to exclude Formula One racing from the ban on tobacco sponsorship to please the Labour donor Bernie Ecclestone. And a few years later, the Prime Minister made a personal appeal to the Romanian Prime Minister on behalf of another donor, Lakshmi Mittal. Such actions may stop short of outright corruption, but they are still a distasteful abuse of public office.

More often, though, big donations have bought honours rather than crude financial influence. Of the 23 people who have donated more than £100,000 to Labour, 17 have been granted a peerage or a knighthood. The three businessmen who lent money to Labour were all nominated for peerages. The Prime Minister's defence of his conduct does not stand up to scrutiny. Mr Blair argues that he cannot exclude people from the peerage simply because they donate money to the Labour Party. No one would disagree with this. But the fact is that a number of people have made it into the House of Lords over the years for no other reason than their generosity to the Labour Party. This demeans the body politic and sullies the reputation of those appointed to the Upper House for genuine distinction or public service.

This tacky trade would arguably be less damaging to the public good were it not for the fact that a peerage comes with substantial political influence. As we have seen recently, members of the House of Lords continue to have a vital legislative role. And a seat in the Lords can also be a route into the Government for the unelected, as the careers of two generous donors, Lord Drayson and Lord Sainsbury, attest. This is one more reason why reform of the House of Lords should not be delayed. The sale of honours also emphasises the need to address the problem of the funding of political parties in a democracy. Schemes such as blind donations, matched state funding, campaign spending caps all need to be explored if such corruption of our political system is to be contained. Britain is by no means alone in facing this problem. Nor is it a problem for the Labour Party alone.

But that does not let Mr Blair off the hook. In the absence of an adequate funding system for political parties, the best guarantee against such corruption is openness and transparency. If we know who has given large sums of money to a party, we can scrutinise its behaviour and hold it to account on that basis. The attempt by the Government to conceal the existence of these latest loans by classifying them as separate from donations is the true scandal. Mr Blair's defenders point out it was Labour that introduced the legislation making large donations declarable. But all this shows is that the Prime Minister tried to circumvent his own rules. Mr Blair once promised New Labour would be "purer than pure". He cannot now complain when he is held to that standard.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little