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Old corruption and New Labour

Stuart Weir
28 January 2009

Stuart Weir (London, Democratic Audit): Guy Aitchison's very interesting post on Nick Clegg's speech to mark the publication of Unlocking Democracy, part history of Charter 88, part re-visiting Charter's themes today, focuses first on the dominant rhetorical themes that the ruling classes have used to submerge and disparage those of us who have been seeking democratic reform for half a century now. There is of course the notion of the 'chattering classes'; there is the idea that what we 'chatter' on about doesn't matter 'north of Watford'. There is the self-defeating insistence on the great merit of a flexible constitution, even though it is only the executive that benefits from this vaunted flexibility in amassing overweening powers that allow our governments to blunder on through political, economic, industrial and social disasters. As Nick Clegg pointed out forcibly, constitutional reform is vital to finding ways through the consequences of the series of blunders that have led the country through a new period of gross inequalities and greed to economic and industrial collapse.

Helena Kennedy also touched on one of the sub-themes of the culture of denial, an unpleasant aspect of Old Labourism that Mandelson, Blair et all saved for the purposes of New Labour. It is Labour's corruption of the ideal of solidarity, which has diminished over the years into a rigid party loyalty than transcends all debate, ideas and ideals that do not fit into its conformist norms. And of course that very corruption - and I use the term in its widest and proper sense - that leads on to the corruptions that have defiled Labour's conduct in government nationally, in Scotland and Wales, and locally - among them the pigs in the trough mentality of the 'cash for legislation' scandal. Helena pointed out that Labour peers, heaped into the House of Lords for their loyalty, are especially susceptible to advances from private business because their very loyalty gives them a purchase on the policies and legislation of the governing party, and in the House where most of the amending and fine-tuning of legislation now goes on. Such loyalists, she said with humorous asperity, were those who booed and hissed when she spoke up for civil liberties and due process in the House of Lords, but she would continue to call for due process in the investigation into the conduct of the four peers fingered by the Sunday Times.

This leads me onto a policy proposal. The parties are vying with each other to facilitate the expulsion of proven miscreants from the House of Lords, now impossible - in part because our ridiculous constitution still relies heavily on the monarch and royal prerogative.  But that leaves the central issue untouched - and that is that it is almost impossible to police the rules that now exist.  These rules are infinitely 'bendable'.  Why can't we have a simple rule - that members in both Houses are prohibited from any paid lobbying activity within or outside Parliament or Whitehall, or being employed in or holding directorships in lobbying companies or in a self-employed capacity. I would add to this a requirement that they log every approach that they receive as members that touches on the business of Parliament.

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