Imagine yourself as Conservative Party Chair. What would you advise the government to do to deflate public outrage over a big, important issue? A good strategy might be to announce that the party is going to take it very, very seriously. You would then, perhaps, advise setting up an enquiry, putting an awful lot of money into it to show the public how very serious the party is. Some very expert, and very highly paid, people might be put in charge of the enquiry, maybe some people who might not be considered natural supporters of the government, people the public would trust to be impartial, retired judges for example. The important thing is that there is the perception of independence and impartiality, but that the government keeps hold of the reins.
Once investigation is underway, and some progress is being made, the government keeps a close eye on the potentially hostile enquiry. Progress is monitored, if possible behind closed doors, and ostensibly welcomed, but at some point the government will begin to talk about ‘limitations’, about how, in order to make any progress at all, the scale of the mandate has to be ‘realistic’, that costs are getting out of control, that the people will not support more expense, that austerity demands cut backs, that because public money is involved the government has a right to representation.
At risk of losing all funding, and some nice fat salaries to boot, the enquiry complies with government concerns and is thereby reduced to a long-winded puff of smoke. The public becomes frustrated with the idea of more enquiries, because, quite rightly, they see them as an instrument of government. They see that fat salaries are paid to establishment figures and the outcomes of enquiries are usually disappointing when they finally appear.
The Hillsborough enquiry took twenty-six years to exonerate the football fans. During that time many lives were damaged and reputations tarnished. It is many decades since the survivors of sexual abuse by establishment figures have had their legitimate allegations taken seriously. We are still waiting for Chilcot to report on lying to parliament about the case for going to war. These are but a few examples of disappointing public enquiries.
The electoral commission is finally taking up the cause of challenging the government on electoral fraud. It has to prove not just that accounting errors were made, but that these were calculated and deliberate. If it can prove this then it is a criminal offense that carries a jail sentence, by-elections would need to be called. The government could lose its majority in parliament. In fact the PM might even be implicated. Heads will roll. This is serious. Electoral rules are designed to keep elections fair. Breaking the rules is breaching democratic principles.
Recently so-called ‘private’ conversations with the Queen have been revealed to the public. They apparently show Cameron’s deep concern with what he calls ‘fantastic’ levels of corruption in Nigeria and Afghanistan. The Archbishop was conveniently close by to partially defend the current Nigerian President. The comments that appear to have been ‘accidentally on purpose’ made public are a jaunty way of informing us all of the upcoming anti-corruption summit in London.
In one fell swoop Cameron underlines his concerns, distances himself from overt corruption and exonerates at least one of his fellow summit members. Some might think these government’s summits are rather dull, but royal watchers will debate endlessly the issue of blue-blooded rights to privilege as well as privacy, conveniently twinned with a right-royal 90th birthday and young Prince Harry’s successful Invictus Games. It is hard to imagine a more effective publicity stunt by the PM.
How fortunate that the cameras were able to reveal to us the impish if impetuous impartiality of our leader’s enthusiastic resolve to do something about international corruption. Had we not ‘caught him on camera’ some might have doubted the sincerity of his mission. Seeing him working alongside the leaders of corrupt countries so politely might have led the public to imagine that all these leaders are cut from the same cloth, that they are only notionally determined to kill the goose that lays, for them, a golden egg with every new tax loophole and every new opportunity for financial secrecy.
The extreme failure to curtail corrupt banking practices since the 1980s has permitted and perpetuated rampant theft from ordinary working people right across the world, theft which has endangered the national security of many nations, including our own, by fuelling a widespread sense of outrage against the injustice embedded in neoliberal principles promoted by the western hegemony!
In his declared determination to take up the fight against corruption one might be somewhat selfishly concerned with whether the PM has also taken into account the fact that our faltering economic recovery is almost entirely based on the continuation of foreign capital inflows from some very dodgy and very secretive sources? At least this is what he has been telling the public for years. Has he also taken into account the reactions, likely to be very hostile, from some of the party’s most loyal supporters and major donors?
Some say politicians should be prepared to moderate their principles in order to achieve office. If Cameron attacks his party donors what will Tory party members think of it? I have heard a Tory supporter describe Cameron’s government as ‘socialist’, such is the level of dismay at the PM’s left-leaning tendency to do something about the industrial scale of international corruption. For these reasons, if not for reasons of direct conflict-of-interest, it might seem prudent to doubt the PM’s conviction on anti-corruption.
He who pays the piper calls the tune. Those willing to speak up with total integrity are few and far between. The pressure to kowtow to the establishment is immense, not least the extolling within one’s own party to do almost anything in order to ‘win office’, in order to ‘at least get something done’. The pressure to not be overambitious leads to a tendency to conform to the status quo even amongst the most well-meaning advocates of change. There are many ways of defeating a campaign. Sometimes an enquiry, or indeed a summit, is foremost amongst them.