Opinion: Let’s talk about Corruption

The latest cash for access scandal may well have highlighted yet again the murky world of party financing and lobbying but overall the UK can pride itself on not being corrupt; Transparency International places it in the least 20 corrupt nations in the World.  How does this tally with opinion polls showing that almost three quarters of the British public think corruption is a serious problem in the UK that many consider has got worse in recent years?

Whether the public perception is wrong, there is a profound gap between public and expert definitions of corruption or if there really is a big problem with corruption, the Government should probably act; the public certainly think it is central Government’s responsibility.

A major sticking point is the definition of corruption.  The business leaders consulted for the Transparency International global ratings naturally focus on the prevalence of bribery, conspicuous nepotism and so on.

Public polling makes it clear they don’t think this is a big issue here; they consider the country to be broadly meritocratic with a relatively low level of bribery, although the revelations of the Leveson Inquiry may change that.  Instances of ‘corruption’ highlighted in the surveys range from MPs employing family members to large companies avoiding tax to lobbying and party funding in general.  It is a class of activity less than seeking direct personal financial advantage that is explicitly against the law; it is more subtle rent-seeking behaviour, hard to catch by legislation such as the Bribery Act.

This soft corruption is highlighted regularly in Private Eye but seems to escape the notice of the mainstream media and civil society until something particularly outrageous happens, such as the recent Peter Cruddas scandal.  Public perception over the extent of corruption is despite of, not because of, the media’s treatment of the issue.

The Liberal Democrats should be taking the lead on this; they have a staunch potential ally in the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke and a need to reinvigorate their new politics credentials.  Implementing the recommendations of Transparency International’s report on the state of corruption in the UK would be a good start.

We must try to find a more realistic definition of corruption that makes it clear what sort of ethos should be at the heart of public life and what behaviour is unacceptable.

A more robust public sector audit system, politically but not policy neutral with a wider remit should be established and allowed to roam freely across British public life, having the power not only to identify, but to right wrongs.  This should build on the work of the Audit Commission, National Audit Office and others, rather than looking to outsource this function to the big consultancy firms, who just might have some vested interest outside of public service.  A bolstered audit regime would look not just at how public money is spent but how power and decision making are distributed and used.

At root ignoring this problem will have damaging consequences for the economy and the amount of faith the public places in political institutions.  Recognising the problem, even if it is only one of perception, must be the first step.

* Tom Smith is Director of Liberal Insight, the new liberal think tank.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Advert

3 Comments

  • Keith Browning 11th Apr '12 - 3:44pm

    Corruption scandals in many countries often run into millions of pounds, so our problems are miniscule in monetary terms. British corruption is about ‘gongs’ and the benefits and kudos a knighthood or an honour can bring. Then there is the merry-go-round round of chairman of this commission or that board of directors. British corruption is about power and influence not Rolls Royce fulls of cash, although the cash usually follows, in what then seems to be a decent and honest way. The money has been well laundered!!

  • Party funding reform, an elected Lords and a stronger lobbyist register than is planned will help. LDs need to push for all of these and more.

  • Keith Browning 12th Apr '12 - 12:13am

    Just been reading ‘Private Eye’ about the huge number of ‘food’ based meetings between the Treasury and big business. Surely those should be absolutely verboten. Why are they allowed to take place?

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User Avatarmalc 8th Dec - 9:36am
    "The Burqa ban is a violation of human rights" No it isn't. What is wrong in saying you can't hide your face when you enter...
  • User AvatarJohn Peters 8th Dec - 9:27am
    I used to tour the Scottish on-line papers post Referendum to try to judge the electorates mood. I stopped when it became apparent the SNP...
  • User AvatarPat 8th Dec - 9:07am
    Oh dear .... I think the Lib Dems are definitely backing the wrong horse! The party is taking a huge gamble in calling for a...
  • User AvatarCatherine Jane Crosland 8th Dec - 8:40am
    Edwin, I agree absolutely. The Burqa ban is a violation of human rights. It is contrary to the right to religious freedom, and the right...
  • User Avatarexpats 8th Dec - 8:27am
    Andy Hinton 7th Dec '16 - 11:57pm....It is not undemocratic to reserve the right for the people to change their mind. Indeed, that is essential...
  • User AvatarTim13 8th Dec - 8:06am
    Interesting viewpoint, James Spackman. Thankyou for your replies to my points, Mike S, and for your points Katharine Pindar. I know you make an important...