Last week we had Barack Obama and ‘Hope’… this week it is four Lords on the make and despair. There can hardly have been a more stark contrast. 12 years ago New Labour, Blair and his sticky-out ears and pearly white smile, were greeted with the same sort of euphoria and optimism that Obama managed to inspire in the American people last week. But if it is to end sometime in the next 16 months it looks like being more with a whimper than a bang.
George Monbiot, one of those Trots from a good Conservative family, who would prefer a Tory administration to another term of New Labour, does a real hatchet job in today’s Guardian, in which he draws the contrast between the Obama administration’s ‘new deal’ America with that of our ‘four Lords for sale’.
Earlier this month, the public administration committee proposed a series of anti-corruption rules. They’re a reasonable start, which would take us more or less to the position the United States reached in 1946, when the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act was passed. Since then the US Congress, which admittedly has even graver cases of corruption to contend with, has passed a series of further laws, culminating in the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. Anyone can now see, with a quick internet search, who is lobbying whom, how much they are being paid, and whom they represent. Lobbyists who fail to comply with the rules can be imprisoned for five years. Last week Barack Obama signed an executive order banning everyone working for the government from participating in any matter relating to their former employment for two years after leaving office.
But Britain even the public administration committee’s timid and dated proposals have been received with horror by ministers. Tom Watson, the Cabinet Office minister, told the committee that “we have a pretty good system in the UK” and demanded that it show him evidence of a systemic problem within the lobbying industry.
Some of us believe a major scandal every few weeks is as much evidence as anyone would need, but Watson’s Fork is a cunning device. Without the regulations the committee proposes, whose purpose is to open the system to public scrutiny, it is impossible to accumulate the comprehensive evidence Mr Watson demands. Without this level of evidence, he won’t introduce regulations.
So what else should the government expect? The sleaze scandals, as they did during the dying days of the last Conservative government, will now emerge thick and fast, as disillusioned officials risk their liberty by leaking documents that should have been freely available, and journalists, scenting blood, close in. Labour will be driven from office with the same howls of execration that saw off the Tories in 1997. But this time there will be no bonfires, no bunting, no dancing in the streets: just the tired shuffling sound of a million more voters turning away from politics.
It is the sound of those million more voters shuffling apathetically to join the other disillusioned hordes on the political margins that should be far more worrying than the prospect of Cameron, Osborne and co. Let’s face it, they are only promising us another term of New Labour lite anyway. The Tories, whatever their rhetoric for public consumption, are as committed to the ‘European Project’ as the New Labour/Lib Dem crew, even more so since Clarke climbed back on board the deck of the Starship Free Enterprise. The reason they have offered so few alternative solutions to the ones being advanced to get us out of the current economic mess… is that they are equally committed to the same measures to prop up the same corrupt and inefficient regime. All we can expect from the Tories is more of the same, but with a slight change of direction to divert money away from the public sector towards the private. But New Labour have already greased the pole for them there anyway.
For those of us doing our bit for people in our local community, whichever political party we are members of, the actions of the ignoble Lords Moonie, Snape, Truscott and Taylor represents a slap in the face with a wet fish. No-one in their right mind, surely, believes this is anything other than the tip of the iceberg? Articles like this in today’s Times, The House of Lords: the perks, the pay, the pomp may be aimed at the House of Lords, but the impression given to everyone is… “they are all at it”. When we knock doors urging people to vote for us, or our Member of Parliament, the blank stare that comes back, accompanied by the sneer that “you’re all the same” will be difficult to deny. The fact that we are not, and that lots of people work bloody hard for very little reward, won’t matter. We will all be tarred with the same brush.
My term of office is up next year, and even in a relatively safe Labour seat, on a safe Labour council, I have to ask myself… why? After the events of the last week… over the next six months or so I will be giving that a lot more thought.