Thursday, March 23, 2006

Those loans - what's all the fuss about?

Try as I might, I just can't get excited by all the controversty about the loans and peerages row besetting the Labour party.

In general, the British political system is pretty free of corruption. Even in the areas where it is part of folklore that bribes take place, it seems to be myth rather than reality. From time to time I see TV dramas where the plot involves councillors being bribed to pass planning applications. Yet in 10 or more years as a member of a planning committee, the most I have ever experienced is a polite letter from applicants arguing that their application meets all the relevant criteria. I'm not saying that there is no corruption in public life in Britain. Just that any there might be is almost certainly of negligible proportions.

It's in this light that I judge the recent furore. Where political parties nominate working peers, these are likely to be people who support the party's cause and have had some degree of success in their chosen career. So it's no surprise if some of them are seriously wealthy and made generous donations to the cause of the party they believe in. While making large donations to a political party shouldn't entitle someone to a peerage, neither should it be a barrier to it nor a cause for suspicion.

The only problem, it seems to me, is if a peerage is rather obviously bought by somebody who is clearly unfit to serve in the House of Lords and whose only real qualification is to have given a party a large amount of money. And there are safeguards against that.

Participation in the democratic process is a positive thing. Political parties need money in order to put their case to the electorate. Some people may just pay a few pounds to attend a constituency fundraising dinner. Others with more money on their hands may make rather larger donations. Good! It all helps make sure we have a vibrant political system. It is illogical that charitable donations are automatically seen as a good thing, even though some of the cosyest sounding charities will have controversial campaigning agendas, while giving to political parties is seen as a little sordid, even though the latter, for all their vices, are a necessary guarantor of an open society.

1 comment:

Angus J Huck said...

There is a big difference between a charity and a political party.

A charity is required by law to apply its resources only to charitable objects. The Attorney-General, through the Charity Commissioners, has very extensive powers to police compliance.

A political party, on the other hand, is normally an unincorporated assocaition. Its powers are restricted only by its own members. (I should say the powers of its LEADERS are restricted only by its own members, because an unincorporated association has no legal personality.)

I think corruption does exist in UK politics, though it is probably much less widespread than in other European countries.

And I don't think one can easily dismiss as unimportant the fact that rich people like Bernie Ecclestone and Richard Desmond have proved themselves able to buy government policy.

I think it was "corrupt" for Rab Butler to allow James Hanratty to hang simply because he was told to by the Freemasons. And I think it is "corrupt" for Tony Blair to allow Barry George and Abol-Basset Al-Magrahi to remain in prison simply because diplomatic considerations favour the suppression of the truth about their alleged crimes.

And there are many other individual examples of dishonesty on the part of British politicians which make the pecadillos of Archer and Aitken look small beer.

By hanging Hanratty, the Freemasons protected one of their members. The fact that they killed someone to do so cemented their feeling of specialness and belonging.

Attitudes like this remain rife in the upper echelons of UK public life. And the fact that things may be much worse elsewhere is little cause for comfort.