Does UK Corruption Even Matter?

From party donors being given a free ride in planning processes, to billions handed out in questionable Covid-contracts, is the public motivated to keep the UK clean?

More importantly perhaps, can the law do anything to help?

The Background

Government Minister Robert Jenrick used his power to help a Conservative Party donor get highly contentious planning permission for a major property development. He also helped the party donor to avoid paying the UK £45million.

At the same time as this emerged, a large number of Covid-related contracts were being awarded by the government. Many involved no competitive tender process and found their way to party donors, members and friends of people in the Government. Numerous “winners” of these contracts had seemingly no experience in things like PPE provision or test-trace app development – which may explain some high profile failures to deliver despite being paid vast fortunes out of UK coffers.

What Has Changed?

Usually in this series of articles, when we ask ‘what has changed?’ we ask it because without something seemingly new in play, there is unlikely to be a political impact. In this case, however, it is the something new that makes this less of a story in politics than it would once have been. 

In the past, politics was governed in large part by shame and honour. Rich and influential people have always had behind-closed-doors contact with the British government and there was thus always scope for extensive corruption. The change is that the honour code always saw people and parties spurned and reviled for crossing the line but no longer seems to.

Instead, a highly divided politics means the press now attack percieved corruption by their opponents but defend and ignore it among their “team”.

So Corruption Doesn’t Matter Then?

The UK has little by way of legal due process in the enforcement of anything in politics. Campaigns that breach election laws face fines that amount to loose change. Parliament has no power to sack members for taking back-handers and almost everything behind closed doors is impossible to prove anyway – allowing everyone to stand loyally behind their potentially corrupt team mates.

That’s politics. Business is different.

When political appointees awarded HS2 contracts to their own company, a high profile competitor called the lawyers and brought the whole mess down. As with HS2, such failures of probity by contractors lead to those involved losing their jobs and companies losing contracts.

Awarding public contracts is governed by enforceable law. Teams like the Good Law Project haves taken up the challenge in regards to the various contracts awarded to highly unusual companies.

If that proves successful – even though it will take a very long time – it could stop governments doing the same in future.

And that matters.

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