Dear Evening Standard

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
29 May 2009

Josh at the Standard suggested I write a letter about Xsgate, which I did. Here is the longish version I sent. I'll link to the neater version  that was run when I can find a link to it.

Anne McElvoy is quite right to praise David Cameron’s Blairite capacity for speedy positioning - and to prescribe a large pinch of salt while absorbing the Conservative leader’s declaration that he passionately wants to give “power to the powerless”. This is surely one of those moments when his being seen as the giver overshadows the gift. I note that at the same time as he was praising transparency and condemning corruption, Mr Cameron was reportedly lobbying to have the ceiling on undeclared donations to constituencies doubled from £1,500 to £3,000 under the Political Parties and Elections Bill. As the same person can give to many localities, opportunity knocks for friendly businessmen.

Lashings of salt are also needed before consuming the Prime Minister’s declarations of his support for Charter 88 and other constitutional reform camapaigns. Two points should be borne in mind. We have an uncodified system that rested on the people's trust. Finally, the long-suffering public have withdrawn their trust. Not in this or that venal politician but the whole political elite. We therefore face a fundamental crisis of legitimacy. Second, for legitimacy to now be restored we need a new constitutional settlement created by an open process that engages with politicians but with citizens in charge. No list of parliamentary reforms will be a substitute for this.

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