There was a note of petulance, testiness even, in the yesterday’s statement from Downing Street about lobbying reform. The government is not going to be rushed just because Foxgate has uncovered feral lobbying at the heart of government. No, it will address the matter in its own time. It was a statement redolent of the emotions expressed before the expenses scandal broke.
The government is now acutely aware that if the lobbying can of worms is opened, it has the potential to make the expenses scandal look like a Sunday school outing. Why? Because lobbying has not only corrupted the body politic, it has spawned a culture which accepts, and even promotes, practices which are corrupt. Successive governments have turned a blind eye because it has suited their personal and party interests to do so. They’re super-sensitive about this – and so they should be.
But politicians have had their antennae fine tuned by the expenses scandal. They are acutely aware of the fate which awaits them if they allow a lobbying scandal break. Foxgate has shaken them. They will do everything they can to smother discussion on the lobbying issue. Watch out for sops about registration and endless obfuscation as they play for time and try to distract us. They will use every trick in the book.
And when the scandal breaks, as it surely will, steal yourself for the pathetic bleating of politicians claiming they were only ‘working within the rules’ – rules which of course they made.
The root cause of the problem is of course money. In America money has corrupted politics to such a degree that it has become dysfunctional. Unless we address both lobbying and political funding, and do so properly, we are very likely to have a similar problem to the Americans.
In a few weeks time there will be a report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life on political funding. In the coalition agreement the Government promised to ‘remove big money from politics’ by ‘limiting donations and reforming party funding’. They need to be kept to their word, but the likelihood of any substantive changes emerging are slim.
The bottom line is that until we take money out of politics it will always remain corrupt and the best interests of the people will be secondary to those of the political class.
Is the state funding of political parties an option? It certainly is. If we pay .68p pa for the Royals, surely there would be few who would not be prepared to pay £5 pa if it meant that we had honest politics? Politicians would of course argue that we would never agree, but that’s because they don’t want it to happen. They’d be very unhappy if their gravy train were to be derailed. It’s time we made our feelings felt
There are stirrings of discontent in the land. If real and meaningful reform is not forthcoming, politicians could be in for a rude shock.