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Monday, June 03, 2013 

The same mistakes.

I'm sorry (I'm not sorry), but haven't we gone through this pitiful shit beforeI could have sworn that it was only a little over a year ago that the Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas had to resign after he told hacks from the Sunset Times that for a mere £250,000 they could have some real swell gala lunches with either the prime minister or the chancellor.  Prior to that, we had those three Blairite goons, Byers, Hewitt and Hoon prostrating themselves before reporters from Dispatches, all eager to stuff their pockets prior to their leaving parliament at the election.  And before that, we had another four Labour lords (a leaping?) done up like proverbial kippers, all of whom were willing to try and change legislation in exchange for the largesse of lobbyists.

That's not to include the incredibly sad defenestration of Liam Fox thanks to the activities of his dear friend Adam Werritty, the antics of Tim Collins of Bell Pottinger, or the related but slightly different revelation that Baron Ashcroft had taken his seat in the Lords despite breaking his promise to become domiciled in this country as opposed to the tax haven of Belize.  Now we have Patrick Mercer and another three lords to add to the roll call of those tempted by the lucre on offer from people who suddenly emerge from out of the blue.

There are three obvious things to take from this.  Firstly, that MPs and Lords keep getting caught out by the same old tricks suggests either they're not very bright, or there are loads of people with wads of cash wandering about Whitehall trying to gain influence.  Second, that some politicians are extremely cheap dates: bung Mercer £500 in used notes and he'll happily shill for whichever crappy little country it is you're from.  Third, that doing this every year simply doesn't change anything but also isn't close to being indicative of the true extent of corruption at the heart of our democracy.

If the phone hacking scandal should have taught us anything, it's that the ultimate way to win friends and influence people is to subtly assimilate yourself into their inner circle.  Witness how Rebekah Brooks went from being close to Blair and Blunkett to being BFF with Dave 'n' Sam.  Yes we cam! If you don't want to make the effort to do that, and who could possibly blame you, then there are easier ways.  Regardless of how the Tories were stung by the difficulty with Cruddas, the party is still completely up front about just what you get in return for a hefty donation.  For a cool £2,000 a year you join "Team 2000", "who support and market the Party’s policies in Government, by hearing them first hand from the Leader and key Conservative politicians through a lively programme of drinks receptions, dinner and discussion groups".  If you're feeling a bit more flush, £5,000 gets you into the Front Bench Club, chaired by Fatty Soames, which promises lunches (natch) and receptions with MPs.  Add another nought to that figure, and you join the leader's group itself, complete with access to Dave.

It comes as absolutely no surprise whatsoever then to learn that the suggested legislation to deal with this inequity in our politics also includes measures that will attempt to do over Labour and the unions.  Think what you like about our buddies at the TUC, at least it's mostly obvious what they want from Labour and they don't attempt to hide it.  The donate to the Conservatives page on their lovely website doesn't so much have a "help us make the country make a better place" theme as a "help us put one over on the evil lefties" motif.  Labour's, by contrast, simply says "help us campaign for a fairer Britain".

The real problem here isn't so much that we have a problem with some politicians taking what they can get, which is close to being inevitable, it's more that we have a second legislating chamber made up primarily of old MPs pensioned off so the new blood can take their vacant seats.  Those who were previously ministers then almost equally inevitably find themselves wanted by companies to continue the cycle whereby they lobby their replacements.  It's why we get the likes of Lord Reid constantly whining about the terrorist threat, having worked for G4S and since set up his own advisory firm, and why Lord Warner is so in favour of the privatisation of the NHS, considering his declared interests.

To call it a vicious circle doesn't really cover it.  Any reform of the funding of political parties flounders because Labour is screwed without the unions which the Tories and Lib Dems want to heavily restrict; reform of the Lords hasn't happened because the Tories hate the Lib Dems and dinosaurs on all sides want somewhere comfy to continue claiming expenses; reform of the constituency boundaries hasn't happened because the Lib Dems hate the Tories and the Tories want to screw over Labour; and reform of the voting system hasn't happened because the Lib Dems picked the worst possible alternative system and the yes campaign then settled on luvvies rather than co-opting Farage.  Lobbying by contrast is relatively easy to fix.  It still won't happen.

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