Something Rotten in the State
|9 June, 2021||Filled under Uncategorized||
From the Greensill lobbying scandal to Covid procurement, the whiff of corruption permeates public and political life. At the centre of government, Boris Johnson is beset by rumour and gossip, following his bitter fall-out with Dominic Cummings. While journalists speculate on rumours of private donations for the lavish redecoration of the prime ministerial flat, government inspectors are sent to run parts of Liverpool City Council’s operations, amid allegations of fraud, bribery, corruption and witness intimidation and the arrest of prominent political figures,
Fears of rich, powerful and parasitical elites have long haunted British politics. Before Cameron and Johnson’s chumocracy, there were Tony’s Cronies, cash-for-questions and Tory Sleaze. Before the Poulson and Profumo Affairs of the 1960s, there were the 17th and 18th century lickspittles and placemen. While there has never been a golden age, Britain has traditionally scored reasonably well in global anti-corruption rankings. Now, it seems, we live in an era when public figures are no longer held to account for their conduct, no longer feel shame or contrition, and simply brazen scandals out. The public may express indifference, but the power of the wealthy and well connected to exert undue political influence strikes at the heart of democratic ideals of accountability and trust. As corporate profits spiral and inequality grows, it’s no surprise that many citizens turn their backs on politics, feeling that the system is rigged against them in favour of an elite few.
Does the widespread public acceptance of corruption and cronyism in political life suggest that a fundamental change has occurred in the relationship between the citizen and the democratic state? Referring to the seven principles of public service – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership, the 1995 Nolan Report linked today’s culture of impunity to a growing disregard for “the norms of ethics and propriety that have explicitly governed public life for the last 25 years”? Is this a consequence of poor political leadership, public apathy or a symptom of deeper, structural decay? If something is rotten in the state, what can citizens do to stop the rot?