+ I've been on holiday. So not much time for blogging. Still, here we are again, ready to confront the issues that matter!
+ According to the Financial Times, (15th May) Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesborough has called out the Tory Teesside Mayor, millionaire Ben Houchen for alleged ‘cronyism’ in his redevelopment plans for the old Redcar steelworks, a site which will feature greatly in the Tory Freeport scam. McDonald’s remarks were made under parliamentary privilege, which is just as well since no doubt if they had been made outside of the House of Commons chamber the millionaire would pursue him for libel. So thank god for parliamentary privilege, it’s serving it’s purpose! It is my honestly held opinion that Houchen is one of those arrogant types who can get away with what he wants, transporting his self-made man business ethic into the public sphere. I think we saw a glimpse of this when, during Covid he decided to have all the parks locked up, lest anyone get any fresh air or have somewhere to exercise (which was permitted at the time). All the while he no doubt self-isolated in his park and mansion (a story covered by the Guardian). Steve Bundred (according to the FT) a ‘former chief executive of the Audit Commission, a public body that examined local government entities before being disbanded in 2015, says the evidence “calls for a full and thorough investigation by the National Audit Office and the public accounts committee, as the situation now appears far remote from the business case originally agreed with the government. It seems that a very valuable public asset has been secretly disposed of, without and real benefit to the taxpayer, while securing lucrative gains for the taxpayers." The FT says the private developers have reaped 45 million from the scheme without investing anything. All very reminiscent of the Yeltsin era. But is it corruption? McDonald spoke in parliament of ‘industrial scale corruption,’ though it could be hard to pin down exactly what is meant by that. Is he suggesting something worse than cronyism, which isn’t against the law – just as it seems the Tories’ awarding billions of pounds worth of Covid PPE contracts wasn’t (so far as we can tell) against the law. Transparency International produced a very clear and precise report on corruption – Corruption Laws, a Non Lawyer’s Guide – which looks at what is legal and what isn’t. It makes it clear that some forms of corruption, particularly cronyism and nepotism in legal terms are OK, although in certain cases they can be officially frowned upon, or will not withstand the court of public opinion – the appointment of Richard Sharp as Chair of the BBC comes to mind.
The role of the nod and the wink in politics I guess will never be eliminated, and the argument is often made that even if so-and-so is an old pal it doesn’t follow that they aren’t the best person for the job. It helps of course if you don’t look anywhere else. In the Teesside case it is alleged that despite the value of the contracts, nothing went out to tender. So much for the free market.
In politics so much depends on trust, and the more you are in the public eye it is ironic that you will have a greater need for people you can trust, and hence less transparency in their appointment. It is also clear that standards of accountability perform differently in the ever present semantics of ‘Let me put this into context.’ Here we can detect the gloss of opacity which is so often relied upon to cover up the inexcusable, which amounts to a different form of corruption. It helps the corrupt to be adept at corrupting the language, a la Big Brother. The prevalence of semantic corruption is perhaps a key contributor to the greater level of cynicism felt by the public, who less and less expect politicians to tell the truth or even stick to what they have said before. Yes, you’ve guessed it: Starmer’s broken pledges and constant shape shifting have definitely made him look quite the unreliable and opportunistic politician he is. And if that’s the way you end up it is surely a hard task to recover – as is often said, it can take an age to build trust but only a moment to destroy it. I guess some of our ruling elite are just so inured in their own hubris they cannot see anyway out, even if they felt the need to, which I am not at all sure is the case.