Already the cracks are appearing. Every now and then, the hint of a scandal appears and then swiftly, almost eerily, it disappears. Enormous sums of money are at stake, often more than the GDP of small countries, so it’s hardly surprising that this should be so.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that politicians are once again complicit in these scandals. They have enormous influence, whether it be formal or informal, just knowing the right person can be worth diamonds.
Sometimes it’s pretty direct, like David Geffen’s meeting with Peter Mandelson being followed, by the most amazing of coincidences, with draconian new anti-file-sharing legislation appearing on the horizon just weeks later. I’m sure nothing as vulgar as money changing hands was involved. But Mr Geffen now owes Lord Peter a decent favour, and Mr Geffen knows lots of media types, which might be handy if Lord Peter wanted lots of media visibility for something in his future. It might not even ever be collected, but it’s there. Maybe it will be traded for something from someone else in the future.
But more often the dealing is much less overt. Nondescript firms with anonymous names like Bell Pottinger or Bergmans or some arbitrary collection of letters like PLMR spend years hovering around the political process, acting as “Special Advisors” or bag carriers for MPs, building their networks of connections, buying people drinks and getting ready for that all-important move out into the private sector, where they can sell their relationships with key players and “nudge” politicians in the “right” direction.
Worryingly, some of these people dip in and out of the political system, working to ensure an ever greater degree of influence over the political process. Three names have already appeared in the coalition government as being very close to the edge of probity: the first is Caroline Spelman, who narrowly (and quite inexplicably) escaped serious censure over her dealings with her nanny has already attracted some attention for the fact that her husband is a lobbyist in the agricultural sector, headed up in the government by … Caroline Spelman!
The second name to attract attention was Gerald Howarth, an MP with a long list of “generous” interactions with arms lobbyists who was in line for head of … Defence Procurement! Mercifully, he got shunted aside, but he’s still in the MOD.
And then there’s the enviro-crusading MP Tim Yeo, who, purely by coincidence, has directorships in any number of “green” companies.
But these incidences of self-interest or “mates’ rates” are a mere bagatelle when compared with the lobbying of, say, the pharmaceutical companies. As recently as this week, it was revealed that the authors of the WHO report that incited the swine flu scare had all made money off the manufacturers of Tamiflu and Relenza, the main anti-flu drugs. The UK alone stockpiled £1billion of totally useless and unnecessary drugs. We’re still trying to get out of the contract, because our civil servants were led like lambs to the slaughter by these “experts”.
And defence, long an area of incredible “spend” by governments around the world. Insane amounts of money are poured into defence procurement, yet somehow our troops are not properly equipped, our ships are late and over budget, we’re spending vast sums on a Eurofighter that is already obsolete and it hasn’t even been delivered yet! Why should this be? It couldn’t possibly be because lobbyists are suggesting that the MOD has to “buy British” and because the people paying the lobbyists want complex, big-ticket sales with extraordinary cancellation conditions. Could it?
But even these two examples are quite tame compared to the one that truly does get my goat: “third-sector” lobbying. In the old days, this would have been called “charity”. You know, you took your old clothes to Oxfam, and a team of volunteers would sort and sell your clothes and the profits would go to helping needy people abroad. At some point, that all got badly corrupted. “Charities” have now become “the third sector” of the economy, much like quangos but with the appearance of being totally independent of the government. However, most of their income is actually derived from the state, either directly or via other “third-sector” sources.
Ultimately, when Don Shenker, Deborah Arnott or some other killjoy appears on TV or in the national press telling you how you have to live your life and advising the government to “do something”, they have taken your own money from you to do so. At least when BP lobbies for piffling fines for any oil spill that may occur (say), they are doing so with their own money. Third sector “charities” take your money, spend it promoting their beliefs and values and just to put the cherry on top, are exempt from paying tax as well.
Mark my words, when this boils over it will make the MPs’ expenses scandal look like cheating at Scrabble. There will be blood.