Leading Article: When indecent proposals become everyday business

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The Independent Online
READERS were no doubt shocked to read in this newspaper yesterday of Asil Nadir's attempts to buy a knighthood from the Conservative Party. This is not how the world is supposed to work any longer, although the tradition of selling honours for cash is a very old one. James I invented a new method (baronets) and Lloyd George was the last great practitioner. Where, then, is the line between a straight business transaction and an indecent proposal?

A century before Robert Maxwell, Anthony Trollope wrote about an adventurer who wheedled his way to prominence before suffering a similarly sudden end. Today's 'vanity publishing' industry is a mere shadow of what it was in 1800, when hundreds of authors every year paid to have their great words set in type and bound in leather. Eyebrows may rise today at the few rich men (among them the president of Sony and the founder of Institutional Investor) who can afford to conduct a symphony orchestra without an audience; in the 18th century, any prince worth his castle had a private chamber orchestra waiting, bows raised, for a twitch of his finger.

Yet some things remain elusive to the rich - not all of them spiritual. These include the Order of Merit, the only honour that lives up to its name; membership of London clubs; and the right to see one's own Times obituary, for which a member of the plutocratic Gulbenkian family of Armenia is said to have unsuccessfully offered a king's ransom. The Independent believes in transparency: starting on 1 April next year, advance drafts of our obituaries can be purchased by their subjects for pounds 100 a word.