The politicians still don’t get it

70% of UK voters bemoan “ a broken society” (although 60% are optimistic about the future). The MPs expenses scandal rumbles on. In the pre-election period politicians’ appeals for public trust will be tested as never before. They’ve got a lot to do. Mary Riddell in the Telegraph has a fine piece exposing the gap between rhetoric and record. In the Commons today, Labour is testing the waters of support for a controversial change in the voting system, too late for this Parliament to pass it. David Cameron launches a vicious personal attack on Gordon Brown because his spin doctors tell him Brown is Labour’s weakest link. In the same speech, he unveils Conservative constitutional reform plans of Gladstonian highmindedness for “fixing broken politics.” The next corruption target says Cameron is the ӣ2 billion lobbying industry” which has a big presence at Westminster, with some MPs being approached more than 100 times a week by lobbyists. He should know all about it. He was a lobbyist himself, for Carlton television. So how clean are the Tories themselves? Rachel Sylvester scores a bullseye in the Times.

The Tories are currently operating a revolving-door policy in reverse, with 28 prospective parliamentary candidates in winnable seats working as lobbyists or PR consultants. And can Mr Cameron really claim to be spearheading a new era of transparency when his own election campaign is being funded by a man who refuses to say whether he pays tax in this country

  • David Crookes

    Bull’s eye indeed, Brian. ‘A new era of transparency’! Makes you wonder how genuine is Mr Cameron’s commitment to the gubstoppers of his ‘New Force’.

  • RobertNoonan

    THE UK is rotten to its core did anyone care to read the recent poverty report”An Anatomy of eonomic inequality in the UK” Summary.pdf
    It has not changedd that much since Labour came to Power.The idea that the leader of the Tory party is interested in Transparency is laughable.Labour is no better. The British people are not served well by the Political masters, bar a few notable exceptions.People are now so apathetic.Blair wa sthe biggest failure to them he let down so many people.

  • “some MPs being approached”

    Let’s not forget our MLAs and the Thursday Club, including the failure of some to make a declaration in the Register of Interests.

    Westminster has its own ‘cash for access’ club and the Scottish version had questions asked about the participation of lobbyists.

  • Panic, these ones like it up em.

    Of course the don’t get it.

    If they got it they would have to stop getting it and where is the sense in that !

  • The big problem with this is that the Tories are going to be very keen to attack any projects that are state-funded – or even arms-length state-funded (through the voluntary sector) when they use lobbyists to help them shape legislation or to present the interests of the people that they are established to represent.

    They won’t be as bothered about the private sector lobbying for sectional interests – there won’t be the same demands for transparency there, I’m sure.

    Why does this matter? Well, a lop-sided demand for ‘transparency’ (for instance, insisting that the BBC disclose all of their senior salaries without making the same demands on private broadcasters) essentially gives an advantage to those who don’t have to disclose very much.

    And then what about the media? They have a huge ability to influence legislation, and they are subject to massively funded PR campaigns that seek to distort issues that MPs and MLAs have to legislate on. Is Cameron going to insist that all of that is disclosed? Should journalists have to disclose every meeting that they have with a PR? Should they have to publish (and show their fact-checking on) every press release that they act upon?

    All politics these days is essentially a dialectic between institutions that want to promote collective action and the commercial interests that prefer a more fragmented individualist ‘tyranny of structurelessness.’

    The tories prefer the latter. And so, perhaps, would all of us if we had a huge amount of inherited wealth to our names.

  • Greenflag

    Look at what Joseph Stiglitz in today’s Independent has to say about the power of the corporate lobbyists in the USA . Americans might as well be voting directly for Corporations , and Financial services providers . No wonder Obama and Co are terrified of tackling the money men .

    As for political transparency the best way for people to know who their elected Senator’s and Congressmen represent, would be for the elected politicians to be forced to wear ‘corporate’ logos on their suits in respect of the percentage of their electoral campaign funds that these ‘donors’ contribute . There is probably not a Senator of either main party who would not look like a Nascar driver . The recent Supreme Court decision to allow Corporations to spend without limit will have a further negative impact on what used to be called democracy but which now should be more accurately called plutocracy .

    We may need to bring back the guillotine and the Russian revolution so that some semblance of ‘equity’ can be brought back to our western societies.

  • Greenflag: Agreed. It’s an interesting question though isn’t it?

    In the idealised courtroom, you have to call expert witnesses who have to demonstrate their impartiality and expertise – they have to be cross examined on it before they even give evidence. Evidence is only admitted for consideration if it has a respectable provenance and proceedings are directed by a judge who has a role ensuring that deliberations are conducted in a way that minimises the action of biases, prejudice or partial interference. Jurors are the the main decision makers and they are held somewhat in isolation and they are only provided with evidence in a controlled way so as to avoid tainted decisions.

    Is there a case for somehow bolting that template on to government? No lobbyists to ever meet MPs. MPs cloister themselves in a library where they consider only evidence that has been proven to be untainted.

    I know it sounds a bit far fetched, but it seems to be almost a metaphor for where a lot of us sometimes want political deliberation to go to. And clumsy metaphors can be a starting point from which more practical scenarios sometimes emerge.

  • Greenflag

    Paul Evans –

    The political arena is far removed from the courts. In a court of law it’s usually a case of one individual against the state or a corporation or a mix of similar cases . In a polity you are talking about ‘interests’ which affect the lives of millions and today billions of people around the globe .

    The question is do you trust corporations who are motivated by the profit motive to deliver say universal health care and universal education or do you trust government ? or do you trust neither ?

    I think we all understand by now or should that ‘corporations’ cannot be trusted to do any more than look after their own sectional interest . The whole history of social advance and increased rights and education and health care of people has been built by western governments over the past century . Prior to that time the old were discarded at retirement – children were sent down mines etc -there were no legal holidays , vacations , sick pay , overtime etc etc etc .

    Granted some companies _Guinness in Dublin for example and Cadburys in England who were exceptions to the overall trend .

    I don’t have a problem with lobbyists meeting politicians to put forward their point of view . I have a problem when the politicians supposedly elected by the people are really just representatives of the corporation which donated the most money to their campaign.

    What Stiglitz makes clear is that it’s up to government to ensure that corporations behave themselves and do not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. You might also say that in the reverse i.e centrally controlled economies it was the State that killed the golden egg laying goose .

    But it seems to me that in the light of modern economies and the power of concentrated financial capital and despite the fact that the internet allows for more public discourse that somehow the very large banks and corporations thumb their noses at the destruction they have wrought and are not in the least remiss about their economy destroying avarice .

    It’s much more than an interesting question . The future of what we like to call democracy is dependent on the ‘robber barons’ being brought to book and tamed not just for their own good but for the other 99% of humanity with whom they ‘share’ the earth .