Those with an attention span longer than an average Twitter trend may recall the far off days before David Cameron was not actually elected as Prime Minister when he said that he would shine “a light of transparency” into the dark world of political lobbying.
Opposing a jaded Brown government beset with corruption scandals coupled with obsessive paranoia, Cameron`s advisors spotted a vote winner and offered salvation from self-serving fat cats on the gravy train. With greedy Labour peers being suspended from the Lords, Stephen Byers` describing himself as “a cab for hire” and government policy on tobacco advertising being reversed after Bernie Ecclestone bunged the Labour government a cool million, the days of Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken had clearly returned. It might be illuminating to spell out word for word what Cameron said in February 2010, three months before the general election, even as the then shadow cabinet were actively engaged in identifying chickens now coming home to roost. In a speech that promised to mend Britain`s “broken politics, he said:
“Now we all know that expenses has dominated politics for the last year. But if anyone thinks that cleaning up politics means dealing with this alone and then forgetting about it, they are wrong. Because there is another big issue that we can no longer ignore.
“It is the next big scandal waiting to happen. It’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.
“I`m talking about lobbying and we all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in the ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisors for hire helping big business find the right way to get its way. In this party we believe in competition not cronyism. We believe in market economics not crony capitalism. So we must be the party that sorts this out.”
He added that he would be the one to ensure that politics “comes clean about who is buying power and influence.” Sounds great, doesn`t it? Who wouldn`t vote for that? Strangely, we didn`t.
Instead, we ended up with a coalition determined to continue the politics of backhanders and self-interested greed. Within days Liberal Democrat David Laws was exposed as a fraudster and told to go away a hide for a while. He is now back and in control of the education of children. Within weeks that marvellous example of British entrepreneurship the Bell Pottinger “PR company” where offering “dinner” with the PM or other senior ministerial freeloaders for a tiny donation of £250,000 to the Tory Party. Past and present clients of Cameron`s old chums at Bell Pottinger include the governments of Bahrain, Sri Lanka and Belarus, president Ali Abullah Saleh of Yemen, Boris Berozovsky and the charming, avuncular but sadly late General Augusto Pinochet of Chile.
Murdoch man Andy Coulson had to go when it was discovered that he might have been, in some way, notionally, possibly and in no way guilty of some slight misunderstanding involving illegality. Chris Huhne was banged up over some minor misunderstanding and Liam Fox, Peter Cruddas and Tim Collins decided to spend more time with their families and off-shore bank accounts. Undeterred by these individual bad apples who had fully grasped the relationship between politics, government, business and money, Cameron appointed Wonga loan-shark Adrian Beecroft to “advise” on employment rights. No…really…it`s true. More recently, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry by the name of Lynton Crosby is “advising” Number Ten on government policy. Do you remember what happened when the government insisted on introducing plain packaging on cigarettes? It turns out that Mr Crosby also acts for some “businessmen” unhappy with the government of an obscure country in the Middle-East that is not Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. This peaceful backwater rarely makes the news and is called, I believe, Syria.
At about the same time that Cameron said he was determined to lift the lid covering the sewer of lobbying, election posters started to appear that declared the NHS was safe in Tory hands. Three years on, with cabinet ministers profiting from their connections with private health providers, the NHS has all but gone. With energy policy dictated by serial carbon burners, education in the hands of medieval zealots, transport run by Jeremy Clarkson and an entire species being culled on the whim of wealthy landowners, it is good to know that Cameron is coming clean about who is buying power and influence.
Ever true to his word, Cameron attempted to introduce legislation to curb the excesses of “crony capitalism” but the Bill was so flawed that it had to be abandoned as an embarrassment in the same way that a child is left behind in a pub after a photo opportunity to prove man-of-the-people credibility goes horribly wrong. However, a promise is a promise so some very devious “advisors” have come up with something new. People of the United Kingdom; stand back and be amazed by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013 – 2014.
The first part of this bill, which had its second reading yesterday, seeks to establish a statutory register of consultant lobbyists. So, shining a light of transparency to root out corruption will involve making a list. They could make a start with a register of old boys from certain English public schools and the membership list of exclusive London gentlemen`s clubs. Interestingly, this new bill has a second and third part not previously mentioned in the battle against crony capitalism. Part two intends to deny the freedom of speech to charities and part three will impose further punitive sanctions on Trade Unions.
Part one can easily be sorted out over a few drinks at Chequers but part two will silence charities who wish to speak on behalf of the homeless, the poor, the unemployed, carers, vulnerable children and adults, people with disabilities and the families of those that have committed suicide as a result of having benefits removed. For a Prime Minister who measures success in the increasing number of food banks, silencing his Big Society will be most convenient. Part three will result in the Trade Union`s Congress being declared an illegal assembly and then rigorously dispersed by G4S.
Having sold off everything else, the unelected coalition is now selling off democracy itself to the highest bidder. Money now buys not just influence and policy, but also actual legislation. Cameron spoke of ex-ministers and ex-advisors for hire; he has certainly changed all that. Under his premiership, ministers and advisors are available for hire.
The first word in the title of the dangerous and nasty bill sums up the irony and deception. Transparency means we can see right through what this bunch of crooks are up to.