Direction of travel
2022’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), published last week by Transparency International, shows that the UK has fallen from the 11th cleanest country for corruption in 2021, to 18th in 2022 – its lowest ranking since records began in 1995.
The least-corrupt country in the world is Denmark which is often characterised by a common striving for broad consensus on important issues, both politically and within society as a whole. This is reflected in the public’s high level of satisfaction with its political institutions. No political party in Denmark has held an absolute majority since the beginning of the 20th century. This fact is worth keeping in mind when critics blame coalitions for delivering political stalemates.
So how would we compare the UK’s political institutions with those of Denmark? Corruption exists in all countries in some form. It weakens our democracies, damages our economy and leads to increases in poverty and inequality. But why is the UK so badly affected? And why now?
How did we get here?
In the UK we are used to the political compass moving quite alarmingly away from the centre ground. Despite their poor performance in the 2019 general election, IPSOS polling currently shows a forecast 320 majority for Labour based on current voting intentions and arguably shows that this government is experiencing amongst its lowest ever level of public satisfaction of any party in parliamentary history.
However, not for nothing is the Conservative Party known as the most successful election-winning party in UK politics. When things go badly for them, they change. In 1832, the Whigs beat the Tories with a 225 majority which led to the disbanding of the Tory Party only to re-invent themselves as the Conservative Party.
In recent times, and unable to gain the support of Conservative moderates, the party has instead chosen to close the gap between itself and UKIP to leverage more radical support. For the sake of balance, I would happily concede that Labour also went off in search of more support from the left. These are not honest attempts to better represent their constituents but cynical attempts to capitalise on emerging power bases – in the case of UKIP, inflamed by the careful stoking of a culture war.
The neo-liberals of the noughties – with a little help from their friends – started to see just what the possibilities were when it came to flexing the tolerances of our political system and leveraging new technology to influence voters.
For example, Matthew Elliott worked hard as founder of several organisations over years, determined to make the case for a new type of conservatism. Part of the Tufton Street furniture, he founded the TaxPayers’ Alliance (2004), Big Brother Watch (2009) and possibly the most clear red flag of all of his real intentions, the Conservative Friends of Russia (2012).
And – true to form – despite many senior Conservatives’ mysteriously close relations with dozens of Russia’s oligarchs, the Conservative Friends was just re-branded.
They all seem to share a common trait – lack of clarity over how they are funded. Each time a Tufton St associate appears on our screens or writes their next column, this lack of transparency can only lead to questions about the abuse of our trust in the institutions of our country; and each incursion into our democracy (whether as think tanks, research groups, trade groups or even cultural exchanges) creates a new opportunity for corruption.
With the political, business and romantic affairs of so many politicians mixed up with each other, it is difficult to see how we could ever be really sure that entrusted power is not being used for private gain.
What is the cure?
“The biggest disease in the world is corruption. The vaccine is transparency” – Bono
Whilst there is no magic remedy for the UK’s malaise, people power will ultimately save the day. Whilst the Arab Spring didn’t deliver the changes demanded by so many, it showed that technology can not only be used to manipulate but can also grow progressive support.
We can – and we need – to do more. We need to call out dishonest, self-serving politicians, we need to root out abuse of power wherever it hides.
We cannot afford to be complacent when the effect of the corruption in the UK today affects so many, so deeply.
Our media needs to hold our politicians to account, we need to ask the right questions and demand real answers. This video of a Dutch press pack should be required viewing for all British journalists:
Only by working together to increase transparency in the UK, only by exercising accountability ourselves, can we hope to ensure our politicians are held to account.