UK Politics

Corruption: a dirty word we should probably get used to

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Growing up, the idea of corruption conjured images of soviet party officials and generals enjoying lavish luxuries with the protection of state-owned media and secret police. But with the contracts scandal currently exploding, it is time for the current generation to realise that we live in a corrupt country.

In the current crisis, it’s clear that corruption isn’t just a problem in other countries, nor is it something that happens on the fringes of society among “bad apples”. Corruption is at the centre of British privatisation.

In the last election, Conservatives talked about how Labour was stuck in the Westminster bubble, but it is abundantly clear that it’s the Conservatives in power that have formed a network of friends of the party.

John Penrose is the UK anti-corruption champion. He is married to Dido Harding, a Conservative peer and head of Test and Trace, which outsourced services through Serco. Serco has previously been fined for defrauding the government, as well as accusations it was involved in a cover-up of sexual abuse at immigration detention centres, locked detainees in a burning building, and mismanaged radioactive waste.

Serco is run by Roy Gardner, who is also accused of financial mismanagement of Plymouth Argyle, and Etonian Rupert Soames, grandson of Winston Churchill, nephew of a defence secretary, and brother of MP Nicholas Soames, who has consistently supported military action while working for Aegis, a military contractor.

Privatisation is an open wound that corruption can so easily infect, as it provides an opportunity for politicians to give valuable contracts to friends, family, and allies, as well as potential future employers.

This behaviour appears to be widespread, and worst of all has been taking advantage of a crisis. It’s clear that some have gotten rich off of the COVID-19 crisis, and when the government has been questioned on the improper processing of contracts, they claim it is because of the pandemic that this was done. The implication here seems to be that in times of crisis, rules don’t matter quite as much if it means getting the necessary done.

The truth is quite the opposite, as seen with the history of Serco, favours to allies worsen outcomes for the taxpayer, I know people that were employed in test and trace but did essentially nothing for weeks on end.

We need to expand public understanding of corruption and prosecute as such. If a politician receives money in any form from a business and has influence over decisions that may help this business’ activities then that is corruption.

If there is a firm connection between a high-ranking party member and a high ranking employee of the business receiving a government contract then there is corruption. If a politician has any business relations after their career with businesses that benefited from their work as a politician then there is corruption. Among politicians, this may seem harsh, since it shuts off some of the typical career prospects, but I have little sympathy. Even this does little to tackle nepotism within the party.

It would be naive to suggest that corruption is a right-wing problem, and the cash-for-honours scandal demonstrates this. But right now it certainly seems to be. Paid speeches to Goldman Sachs by Hillary Clinton, US super PACs, and the influence of pseudo civil rights organisations like the NRA variably favour capitalist, right-wing politicians and show that too often politicians are at least implicitly paid to support a certain perspective.

But in a moment of retrospection, I suppose what is the difference between this and the donations left-wing parties have historically received from unions? I suppose that a legal distinction could be made between donor-funded organisations with capped donations and companies or organisations funded by companies. Unions are not companies, they represent the political opinion of their members.

This would still enable organisations like the NRA to operate as they do, but I can’t complain, the goal of eliminating corruption is not to crush political enemies but force them to represent the views of the people not of companies, and if companies are prevented from donating to pressure groups then this will suffice.

What I’ve set out would at the very least prevent the current friendly atmosphere between businessmen and politicians, and force politicians to prioritise the people.

It’s a shame to think that we live in a society with a corrupt government, but at the same time, I think that many of the things I’ve suggested are not controversial and are already widely believed. Politicians are known to be dodgy, they engage in shady deals and use their power to help their friends and take donations from whoever will give them, regardless of whether it corrupts their politics in the process.

We practically expect politicians to go along with what their donors are saying and mix that in with what’s popular at the time. It’s an unfortunate picture of politics and one that by no means represents the entirety of politicians on either side of the political spectrum, but if the policy of privatisation is to ever go ahead, which I truly hope it doesn’t, then before that point, there needs to be the proper procedure to ensure that contracts aren’t given out to friends of the party.

Cover image: Maurice via Wikimedia Commons. Image was cropped. Licence here.

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