Parliament is rotten to the core. Three Labour MPs – David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine – and one Tory peer are facing criminal charges over their expenses. They are taking their sense of privilege literally, claiming they should be allowed to invoke parliamentary immunities to avoid prosecution. They want to use procedures written in the 17th century to protect MPs from the king as a “get out of jail” card. But there is more to this than meets they eye; over half of all MPs have wrongly overclaimed on their already very generous expenses. Cabinet ministers and others have avoided council tax and capital gains tax. MPs have double claimed expenses on fictitious houses and hired relatives to do fake jobs. Try doing any of that if you are on benefits – you certainly won’t get the MPs’ kid glove treatment. MPs think they are untouchable. Their greed stems from government deregulation and privatisation. This isn’t simply about MPs taking as much as they can get away with. Last week the expenses’ scandal was used to bury bad news. The list of drinks receptions and dinners at parliament that MPs booked for their friends was quietly released. The report, covering over 300 pages, provides an insight into how the links between business and politics works.
To take a few random examples, John Denham MP held a breakfast event for AXA – then registered an interest in providing them with consultancy work the following month. Patricia Hewitt booked Commons rooms five times for companies she had financial interests in – Boots, BT and Cinven. She also found time to hold a drinks reception for the despicable BAE. The Right Honourable John McFall is chairperson of the Treasury Select Committee which oversees the bailed out banks. That is when he can spare the time from hosting receptions for the Royal Bank of Scotland. Environment secretary Ed Miliband happily sponsored a dinner for the oil and gas industry. Just to show it is not just about big business the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, hosted a Masonic reception in June 2006. Tony Baldry MP hosted the Provincial Grand Lodge of Surrey. Corruption scandals are not about one bribe for one favour – they are about the systematic penetration of politics by business. Thousands of lobbyists constantly swarm around Westminster seeking access and influence - Gordon Brown’s contribution has been to fast-track the process.
The consequence of Labour pushing business interests and privatisation is companies raking in profits. In return, an occasional tip is perhaps paid by grateful bosses for services granted. Tory leader David Cameron this week bemoaned, “the relationship between politics, government, business and money”. But this doesn’t explain the flight of lobbyists to the Tories as the election approaches. Nor does it explain his frequent meetings and dinners with lobbyists. The levels of corruption may vary, depending on the health of the economy and the degree of political crisis, but corruption and parliament are currently inseparable. Corruption is an expression of the contempt our rulers have for the democracy they pretend to stand for, and of their personal abuse of public services while claiming there is no money for things we need.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.