But these are people who relish, who thirst for the little inside tip or contact that puts them in front of others who wish to get their hands on this enormous pool of money thrown up by trade and the taxes we pay.
Should we continue to allow the same government who decides where public money should be allocated, to actually spend that money? Isn’t this too much of a responsibility to leave in the hands of governments who may have friends, former colleagues – former prime ministers – petitioning them for a bit of the action? Are we not putting temptation in the way of people who may not have the moral fibre to refuse?
When I was a child the Minister of Transport would cycle past my parents’ council flat on the way to Parliament. He was obviously chosen to be minister of transport because he knew about transport. But when road and bridge contracts were handed out, was it wise for his own family company to get so many of the contracts?
When a former prime minister, or a minister, or even a well-connected MP, can to their benefit influence who gets the contract, then you are in the realms of corruption. The rot of public life. The rot of what politics means. The corruption of politics and the politics of corruption.
Yet the government seems to have largely absorbed, without further repercussions on the Prime Minister, that big display of corruption in Parliament last year, when it was advocated by government that the rules that would trap an Owen Paterson for lining his own pockets be rescinded and reformed, allowing the offender under the existing rules to be reformulated as snowy white. A more blatant piece of rottenness I cannot recall. And that it was turned into a big temporary fuss and allowed to slide from consciousness beggars belief. If you want to nail the nastiness of corruption, do it on big issues like public money passing wrongly into undeserving hands.
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But we of course have had bigger fish to fry. Not the corruption of government spending and the abuse of our precious taxes, but who is ‘celebrating socially’ while the rules prevent others from so doing? It reminded me of the posh West End hotels of the Second World War who were serving black market grouse and salmon to the wealthy, washed down with champagne, while the rest of the populace were on rations of an egg a week and a pork chop every second year.
This is corruption, but of a different stamp than that of former prime ministers and ministers and well-placed MPs feasting off public money. A corruption that could rot all that is good, and has been good, about our continuing passage through the saga of the pandemic. All those wonderful outbursts of kindness and social tenderness. Corrupted, yes, by some ‘ginning it or prosecco-ing it up’ in government gardens, but also determinedly undermined by the corruption of public money. And its abuse by those with the strings and the pulleys of power.
Let us separate those actually doling out public money from those that decide what the money needs spending on. After all, it is the role of our kind of political system to ask our leaders to decide where the next flood barrier, train line, industrial complex should be built. But should we put the poor, often silly, lovies in charge of who gets the big job and the big juicy cheque?
Let’s remove temptation from them so that even the hint of payola is simply not a possibility. How you separate that is a new can of worms, but one worth considering. We may need the modern equivalent of eunuchs, who guarded the harems of the ancient emperors – the incorruptible. That is, if such a sub-species of us exists.
John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Read more of his words here.
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