Few things do more harm to a society than corruption. Humanity only survived as a species because it was good at co-operating. When we lose that ability society starts to crumble, and once-reliable services cease to function properly.
Most people are quite prepared to sacrifice their own personal interests on many occasions in order to ensure the overall success of whatever activity they’re involved in. We saw this clearly during the height of lockdown, when hundreds of thousands of unsung volunteers stepped forward to help friends and neighbours. Others take a free ride and try and take advantage of the good will of others. As we have also seen during the pandemic.
The impact of corruption on society
So long as a society contains a high proportion of people who are trying to collaborate, it makes sense to follow suit. That ceases to be the case once society suffers from an excess of freeloaders who are taking advantage of others. At first, a few people start to notice that their generosity is being exploited, and they become reluctant to help out. Then more and more people feel it is pointless. Before long, almost everyone is trying to pursue their own individual interest and the few people who are trying to promote the collective welfare are seen as mugs.
That’s why the revelations in the Pandora papers matter so much. What’s the point of dutifully paying your taxes if the rich move their money abroad and pay next to nothing? Why work hard for years in a difficult job, while investment bankers pocket millions from moving money around? And what’s the point in going to the ballot box and voting for an MP, if that MP takes money from lobbying firms who expect to influence which laws they pass?
Thanks to some incredible investigative journalism, we now know that £2.1m pounds was donated to the Conservative Party by the Chernukhin family, who became curiously wealthy as a result of holding the office of finance minister under Vladimir Putin. We are entitled to ask what people like this expect in return.
Political influence by the wealthy
We also have our own home-grown generous party donors.
Some £11m was given to the Conservatives in just one year by property developers. The payback was a significant weakening of building regulations, which cut the costs of those donors and increased their profits. Then led to 72 deaths in the Grenfell Tower fire. Hundreds of thousands of people are now living in flats that are unsafe and unsaleable. The taxpayer has already been asked to pay £5.1bn to alleviate this gigantic problem. Yet almost nothing has been done to hold building companies financially responsible for leaving hundreds of thousands of people living in misery and facing bankruptcy.
The Conservatives used to pride themselves on being the party that stood up for the business community. Now we have a prime minister who happily says “fuck business” and is more interested in personal survival than the future of sustainable and socially responsible enterprises. One of the major reasons for the change is the switch in the character of the people who are financing and influencing that party.
The days when the Conservatives survived on the contributions from successful British small business people have gone. Instead, they are now largely financed by swathes of people who have left their own country under a cloud after moving their finances abroad.
The City of London has become the location of choice for money laundering. A significant proportion of property in the capital is bought solely as an investment by overseas buyers. Britain has changed from being a place that earned its living in the world by producing things others wanted, into a location where the families of ex-military dictators can safely hang out with Saudi princes and Russian oligarchs to swap stories about how prosperously they live.
Corruption in British politics
People who have made their money via corruption in an undemocratic country and then housed it safely offshore have a real incentive to avoid strong financial regulations, effective procedures for tax collection and action to control movement of offshore wealth. They are quite prepared to deploy the crumbs from their table in the direction of MPs who can influence policy in their favour. They have much less interest in concepts such as democracy, freedom and fairness of the press, or honestly conducted election campaigns.
Yet that isn’t the most alarming thing about the level of corruption that has entered British politics. What is truly disturbing is that many people have reached the stage of cynicism where they simply shrug their shoulders and say, ‘They’re all at it’.
We have seen a wave of evidence in the last two weeks of deals that are so dodgy that they should have shocked the nation to its core and brought the government to its knees. Instead of producing shock and outrage, we’ve reached that dangerous stage of social disintegration where the majority of people are not particularly interested. They didn’t expect their leaders to behave any better.
Have we given up?
When a society reaches that stage of cynicism it’s in deep trouble. Up and down the country there are still honest politicians from all parties who are genuinely trying to do their best. There are also plenty of fantastic business people who care about what the organisation they work for does. Above all, there are millions of decent workers who still go into their tough job in the NHS, teaching, the police or a thousand other professions who are not doing the job because they want to get rich quick, but because they think it is a job worth doing.
Any decent leader of the country would be working hard to promote the best interests of those forces of society. Instead, we have a prime minister who has just jetted off to enjoy yet another holiday in the villa of a close associate.
Zac Goldsmith was awarded a peerage shortly after Johnson came to office. Nurses were awarded a 3 percent pay rise that has already been eaten up by inflation. That is the kind of society you get when it is led by a liar and a cheat who routinely abandons his personal responsibilities.