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Britain is under the spell of lobbying affairs – but is British politics really corrupt?

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A lobbying dispute is gripping the United Kingdom. The opposition is hoping to finally put Boris Johnson in a difficult position in the future. London’s political scene has a legacy of clubbing, but there is a limit.

If you leaf through British newspapers these days, you get the impression that the House of Commons is a single den of sin. At first, Boris Johnson’s government triggered an outcry because it wanted to spare Brexit champion Owen Paterson from punishment by changing the rules – even though the supervisory authorities had proven that he was improperly lobbying. The daredevil maneuver turned into a blow and Paterson stepped back. Nevertheless, since then the media have been tirelessly screening MPs for tricky secondary occupations – and they have found what they are looking for.

Can former Tory boss and current MP Iain Duncan Smith work for a manufacturer of non-alcoholic disinfectants after a government task force under his leadership recommended the use of such products? Is it permissible for former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox to defend the Virgin Islands for around $1.3 million (£ 1 million) a year in a corruption case against the British government that uses the virtual procedure for lower house votes from the Caribbean and uses his parliamentary office for his legal work?

The downside of the militia system

Voters may turn up their noses, but very few of these activities break the rules. According to an analysis by the EU Parliament, Great Britain is one of the few European countries that generally regulate lobbying in parliament with binding norms. In the corruption index of Transparency International, which is based on the perception of the population, Great Britain lands in good eleventh place. Still, Johnson felt compelled to assert that Britain was “not remotely a corrupt country.”

Corruption index of Transparency International

According to Jill Rutter from the Think Tank Institute for Government, the debate about money and politics is regularly heated up. In the conversation, Rutter refers to the legacy of the Victorian era, when wealthy MPs naturally pursued other activities as well.

To this day parliamentarians work on the side as doctors, authors, lawyers or consultants. However, they must make their sideline activities transparent, whereby they are forbidden to raise issues in the House of Commons for a fee.

The lower house benefits from the experience of the militia politicians, but there are also delimitation problems. “We view secondary employment critically, but do not want to pay the parliamentarians better,” says Rutter. An MP earns just under $100,000 (£ 82,000) a year. In international comparison, that’s not great. But it is more than the $76,000 that Swiss national councillors earn and significantly more than the British average wage of just under $40,000.

Still, Rutter emphasizes that MPs could earn significantly more as lawyers or business consultants in the private sector. Therefore, generous expense allowances have become commonplace in Westminster, which also regularly cause waves of outrage.

Lord title for donors

The House of Lords also the headlines, hit with its unelected MPs appearing anachronistic anyway. The Sunday Times revealed that Johnson systematically rewarded donors with a seat in the House of Lords who had made the Tories happy with donations of over $ 4 million (£ 3 million). Similar practices certainly caused criticism under Tony Blair. Peter Wishart of the Scottish National Party smugly remarked that the price of a Lord’s title had tripled since New Labor.

Jill Rutter recognizes a certain hypocrisy here too. In Great Britain one rejects state funding of parties. At the same time, they refused to accept that the Labor Party was dependent on the trade unions and that the Conservatives had connections with business people.

Unwritten conventions

So there is a certain tradition of clubbing in Westminster. But as John Evans, president of the parliamentary commission for maintaining high standards in public life, noted, the British system is also based on the “good chaps” principle: one trusts that politicians behave with integrity and respect unwritten conventions. Major scandals are correspondingly rare, while in France, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, two former presidents were confronted with corruption scandals.

Conservative backbenchers are annoyed and fear that the lobbying affair deliberately started by the government could cost them lucrative extra income. The Labor opposition hopes to finally put Johnson and his Tories in distress, and draws hope from new polls. The Prime Minister openly flirts with the fact that he does not always take the rules exactly – because of the financing of a holiday in Spain and the renovation of his apartment, he himself is the focus of supervision. However, voters have so far always forgiven Johnson for such inconsistencies.

Image Credit: AP

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