Tag: london

The British establishment corrupt? That’s not cricket, old bean

By Daniel Margrain

A year ago last week (30 July) the then Prime Minister David Cameron met with Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia to talk about corruption in the wake of allegations that nearly US$700 million ended up in the latter’s personal accounts. This followed on the heels of Cameron’s stated commitment to clamp down on corrupt money in the UK.

But on the same day he was lecturing the Malaysian’s about corruption, British corporations claimed that the Bribery Act effectively made it difficult for them to bribe people as part of their ‘normal’ export business practices. Thus, business leaders subsequently appealed to Cameron to reverse legislation that is ostensibly intended to prevent corruption.

The then business secretary, Sajid Javid, invited companies’ to comment on whether the ‘tough anti-corruption measures’ are a ‘problem’. Letters sent by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills invited industry leaders to comment on whether the act has had an impact on their attempts to export. Does the government invite you to comment, dear reader, about regulations that prevent you from making more money? No, I thought not.

Widespread international criticism of the failure of the UK to reform its ineffective anti-bribery laws – which is regarded as one of the most controversial pieces of legislation passed by the last government – soon followed. The coalition boasted that the Bribery Act was the world’s toughest piece of anti-corruption legislation. But the CBI led fierce criticisms of the bill arguing it would restrict business growth at a time of economic recovery.

The potential impact of the legislation is likely to be felt primarily, but not exclusively by, businesses. Why? Because bribery and corruption is an inherent part of big business deal-making.

On Wednesday’s (August 3) edition of the BBC HARDtalk programme, host Stephen Sackur interviewed Nigeria’s Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola. During the interview Sackur repeatedly alluded that the Nigerian government was systematically corrupt. At one point Sackur related an ‘off mic’ incident in which Cameron was said to have berated Nigeria, describing the country as one of the two most corrupt countries in the world.

Apparently it hadn’t occurred to Sackur and Cameron that big business in the UK lobbied against the Bribery Act which was intended to undermine corruption, the implication being that corporations would rather be scraping around in the sewer if there was some money to be made among the filth. For the likes of Sackur and Cameron, corrupt practices are something restricted to what African’s and Asian’s engage in. By contrast, the British establishment thinks of itself as occupying the moral high ground.

Three years ago, Cameron visited one of the most corrupt and authoritarian countries on the planet, Kazakhstan. The leader of that country showered him with gratitude and praise. Kazakhstan’s former police chief is linked to the ownership of £147m-worth of London properties which forms part of the UKs status as a safe haven for corrupt capital. Then there was the Straw and Rifkind affair, the ongoing MPs expenses scandal and the long-running PFI saga that’s crippling the NHS.

Simon Jenkins summarized the malaise and hypocrisy at the heart of the British establishment

“The truth is that hypocrisy is the occupational disease of British leaders. They lecture Africans and Asians on the venality of their politics, while blatantly selling seats in their own parliament for cash. I hope some insulted autocrat one day asks a British leader how much his party has garnered from auctioning honours. The government suppresses any inquiry into corrupt arms contracts to the Middle East. And when does lobbying stop and corruption start? The Cameron government is the most susceptible to lobbying of any in history.”

Given these corrupt practices, the fact that the UK is widely perceived to be the world’s 14th least corrupt country in the world would perhaps come as a surprise to many. The gap between perception and reality is clearly indicative of the distorted way in which the media under report the subtle forms of ‘hidden’ systematic corruption that is embedded in the very fabric of the British state, camouflaged by legislation and cushioned by ‘gentlemen’s agreements’.

In bringing together a wide range of leading commentators and campaigners, David Whyte shows that it is no longer tenable to assume that corruption is something that happens elsewhere; corrupt practices are revealed across a wide range of venerated institutions, from local government to big business.

As Penny Green of Queen Mary University of London, contends, “the network of egregious state and corporate corruption in Britain rivals any in the developing world”. By observing our ‘impartial’ corporate-controlled mainstream media, it’s unlikely one would have arrived at the conclusion that one of the most advanced capitalist countries on the planet is also inherently corrupt.


Holding On: London

The final eulogy from the BBC’s ‘Holding On’ aired in September 1997. Written by Tony Marchant, is one of the best British drama series ever produced.

“Leave town and after a bit you just can’t wait to get back again – in the thick of it. London casts that sort of spell.There’s nowhere like it for meeting old friends and making new ones. The possibilities just multiply every time you walk down the street. If you let it, London will open up for you like an oyster, throw your head back and swallow it all down. Sometimes not everything you experience here will agree with you but you can object. Speakers Corner ain’t just in Hyde Park, you know, It’s everywhere.

There’s still that frightening division between the haves and the have not’s, and I certainly wouldn’t dream of waving my Gold Card at people who live in Newham – well not anymore. Anyway, in the world of work, job insecurities have become a way of life and you can throw your year planner away because you may not be needing it. What’s ’round the corner these days is usually a nasty shock. After the brash and confident ’80s, the ’90s have been a time of insecurity and uncertainty. After the ball is over – you know what I mean? Negative equity, downsizing, credit debt, black Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday. There’s no shortage of ways to come a cropper. But while some people are scratched from the urban rat race, some pull up lame or just drop out quietly, voluntarily. No one minds. Cities are too busy to be judgmental – just do your own thing

In our crime-infested, decaying and paranoid capital, it’ll come as no surprise to know that most of us are Mr and Mrs Average trying to keep ourselves to ourselves, trying to get by doing nothing more reprehensible than moaning about our car insurance. We lead pretty simple lives really, even me, in a complicated city. You have to. Boil things down to their essentials – love and the mortgage – otherwise it all just gets too much. Sometimes it’s all too much and you need a helping hand. In a city like ours, there’s plenty of helping hands. We’ve got the best emergency services in the world.

There’s a few ways London can make you breathless. One is the sheer size of the place. Another is just environmental. Be careful where you breath. Asthma, pollution, lead poisoning, traffic fumes – I’m afraid so. But outdoors isn’t all bad. Healthy pursuits abound and I’m no stranger to a pair of trainers myself. Forget the great English countryside for a bit of recreation – it’s all carved up by the National Trust and the farmers anyway. In the London parks they let anyone in, which is probably just as well. This city is very democratic here and there.

Look, I know there’s nothing more boring than one of those urban eulogists who start droning on about how you can get anything from a bagel in Brick Lane to a bruchetta in Balham; how on the way to the Purcell Rooms you can hear ragga tunes coming out of a Y-reg BMW. But you have to admit, it’s a pretty rich canvas; and unlike the shires and the green belt you don’t see ‘No Trespassing’ signs anywhere – not in black and white anyway. You want nature? Look outside your window, there’s probably a tree in your street. Anyway, I ended up in the country once. Couldn’t get a cab anywhere.”