Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Something Smells Rotten in our Political System

The news reported in today’s Times that 4 Labour Peers have been allegedly taking money in order to influence legislation is just the latest in a long line spanning many years of similar stories. I bet that the vast majority of people hearing this story are unsurprised and that includes me. I would also be very unsurprised is it turns out to be true.

I very much regret the fact that many people today think that politicians are just in it for what they can get for themselves. Friends and associates of mine have expressed this view to me on occasion and they have sometimes expressed surprised that I am interested and involved in politics. In my experience, most politicians are extremely hard-working and genuinely dedicated to trying to make their area, the country and the world a better place.

The problem as I perceive it is that the political system is structured in a way that puts temptation in the way of politicians and the line between what is and is not acceptable is sometimes so blurred as to be almost impossible to pin down. In this particular case, from what I have read it seems that peers are allowed to take fees as “consultants” and to advise companies or individuals but not to then subsequently influence any policy. Well, I have to say that seems to be a rather elastic distinction. Politicians come under all sorts of influence and if they have a highly paying corporate client who wants something to change with whom they have spent many long lunches and been in close contact with, is it even possible for the politician to completely divorce his or her decision making from this influence? In the case from today’s Times it seems that there may have been something more blatant than this going on but the system subtly encourages this sort of behaviour implicitly anyway. This is completely wrong in my view.

The allegations about cash for honours which plagued the fag-end of the Blair administration and for which there was never enough evidence to prosecute is another example. The police could not find a smoking gun but the very strong correlation between donations to the Labour party and honours bestowed on individuals left many people feeling that there may well be a link. Proving it is of course very difficult but that goes to the heart of my point. The system should not allow even the suspicion of this sort of thing. It should ideally be as sleaze proof as possible and I am sorry to say that we are very long way away from this.

I was bitterly disappointed with the Blair government after a number of years when it became clear that they were as bad if not worse than the Tory government that they had so assiduously taken apart largely using the chant of “Sleaze”. The fact is that I am sure most of the people in the Blair government wanted to do the right thing, as was undoubtedly the case with the Tories that went before them. It is this sort of thing that causes some of my friends to come to the conclusion that they are all in for themselves, wrongly in my view.

Nick Clegg wrote a fantastic article for the Independent last year about democracy which was very wide-ranging and specifically referenced these sort of problems and how they should be dealt with. He is the only one of the main party leaders who is advocating fundamental reform in this way and it is absolutely necessary. I don’t pretend to have all the answers myself but some of Nick’s ideas in that article are a very good starting point.

Something will have to change and soon, otherwise I will eventually come to the conclusion that the politicians in power actually want the system that we currently have, and then the comments of some of my friends will start to sound more and more convincing.

Some reaction to the current story from Labour Home here. They are not happy!.

No comments: