Systemic political corruption at government level in the UK

When the Minister of Transport Grayling recently announced his support for Crossrail 2 in London but not the full electrification of the trans-Pennine rail route in the Northern Powerhouse I complained to my MP about government lies, incompetence, cynicism and corruption. Someone thought 'corruption' might be too strong so I thought about it a bit then made the list on this page.

Note: by 'corruption' I don't mean politicians taking bribes, although they may be. I mean politics corrupted by influences outside the process of democracy.

(1) Political party donations

There is very little state funding for British political parties. It covers only basic administration. Some of the money they have comes from party membership subscriptions but the bulk of it is donations by individuals, companies or other bodies such as trades unions. Donations are not secret and are scrutinised to some extent by the Electoral Commission but there must be a suspicion that donors expect something in return. If this is so, it means favours can be bought and members of parliament are not solely influenced by their constituents.

(2) Party membership

Anyone can become a candidate for election to parliament but they are usually selected by members of local constituency associations, not the general public. These 'members' are in a political party but were not elected. They just paid the subscription, allowing them, if they want, a say in who is the local candidate. It means that while a member of parliament is elected by the public, the same MP may be influenced by a clique of activists with their own agenda.

(3) Political lobbying

This is where a person, firm or other organisation attempts to influence either an individual member of parliament, a government body or the government itself. Professional lobbying has become a big industry in the UK with private lobbying firms employed by commercial interests to persuade politicians to do things that will give them a business advantage. If this is so, again it means MPs are not solely influenced by their constituents.

A typical example is the construction industry or particular construction firms lobbying the government for large public infrastructure investments as a way to generate more business for themselves regardless of whether such schemes are (i) in the public interest or (ii) supported by their constituents (the two are not always the same but they both matter).

(4) The 'revolving door'

It should be clear that members of parliament are elected by their constituents to represent their interests and, when an MP is experienced and competent, to take part in national politics. It may be a career choice or it may not, but either way there must be no expectation of anything else, no spin-off benefits or other payoff except having served the public and helped implement their particular party's published manifesto (it may not be quite that simple but that is the gist).

Politics is corrupted when it becomes the gateway to something else. Of course an MP will do something else if they lose their seat or decide to pack it in, just like when somebody moves jobs. The problem comes when the anticipation of moving job influences an MP while they are still in office. When a departing MP moves into a role related to what they did in parliament they pass through the so-called revolving door. This door is supposedly kept shut for 12 months after they leave office but the system doesn't work properly. It should be at least five years anyway, to prevent the suspicion that MPs start building contacts, doing deals and favours in return for a nice plum job soon afterwards.

(5) Political honours

I complained to my MP about this when Cameron gave a ludicrous knighthood to election campaign strategist Lynton Crosby. If anything is corrupt it's giving a public honour to someone you paid to get your party elected. Cameron treated the conservatives as a public service, which is totally wrong. The honours system itself is a shambles and I would scrap the part of it that lets politicians reward grossly overpaid and incompetent captains of industry who wreck whole parts of the British economy then retire in luxury somewhere abroad.

Other corruptions can be added above: state-sponsored tax avoidance, offshore wealth, golden handshakes, MPs employing family members, NHS management scandals unpunished, uncompetitive public contract awards, dodgy arms deals, fracking, social cleansing in London etc but those are more symptoms than root causes. My MP doesn't think there is much to bother about—by world standards he's probably right.

Page last modified: September 08, 2017

Patrick Elsewhere

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