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How corrupt is the House of Lords?

The list of scandals is astounding, but many don't make the front page of the Sun on Sunday.

Putin still has plenty of friends in London

If we take a brief look back at our history of “getting tough” with Russia, we can see where our political and financial elites really stand.

Will Prince Charles' "heartfelt interventions" extend to arms sales?

The Prince of Wales and his family have a shameful record of collusion with the British arms industry.

Moses supposes....

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I love disagreeing with Iain Dale because he is usually onto something important and isn't frightened of his instincts, unlike most British politicians. He has just blogged the SFO/BAE case and criticised his own leader for supporting the government. But I think he has missed a trick here - along with the whole British media except, it seems, for The Sun and OurKingdom. There, I never thought I'd say that! Except that we two august organs agree from completely different points of view.

Conway affair obscures need for wider reform

Stuart Weir & Andrew Blick (Cambridge & London, Democratic Audit): David Cannadine recently wrote an interesting article for the BBC providing an historical perspective on the current scandals about corruption amongst MPs involving pay and allowances. He rightly points out that the introduction of salaries for MPs in 1911 enabled men (and later women) from less privileged social groups to become representatives. Then he puts forward three arguments: First, that MPs are not paid enough; second that their present allowances are more than sufficient; third that they should not be able to vote on their own pay and expenses.

MPsXs: That will be £249, I'm not a crook

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Call me naive. Go on! While I was away in New York it seems that the so-called Senior Salaries Review Body has suggested,

a tightening of rules to require MPs to submit receipts for all expenses claims above a threshold of £50 a month. The current ceiling is £250 per item or claim.

Postal slips

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The BBC tells us that it has taken the Council of Europe to draw up a full report (opens as pdf) which confirms it is "childishly simple" to forge postal ballots here and that the UK voting system is wide open to fraud.  For a summary of the links see the Jurist. Back in April 2005 Richard Mawrey, a Birmingham judge, compared Britain to a "banana republic" when he concluded that there had been widespread fraud in six council seats won by Labour. The BBC reported at the time,

Hain and sleaze

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I wrote what I felt was a kind of brief political obituary for Peter Hain, after reading about the think tank front that funded his campaign debts. It suggested a network of shady practice. Whether or not he resigned, his future career was blighted. Now it looks as if even in the short term his defiance will not be as successful as Sir Ian Blair of the Met (or Tony Blair of you name it). As Alex Hilton at LabourHome says Hain's position is untenable. Or just take a glance at Google's 638 "related articles" as I write this. It is not just coverage. Fraser Nelson, in Spectator Coffee House makes the neat and effective point that he is the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which has prosecuted nearly 29,000 people for benefit fraud in 2006-07 after they failed to fill in properly its long benefit forms. So he can hardly plead exemption because he didn't know how to fill in a straightforward form from the Electoral Commission.

The Perfect Storm

The New Statesman is carrying a striking piece on what the sleaze scandal tells us about New Labour by Jon Cruddas and Jon Tricket based on arguments developed by Compass. In effect they are saying that it is a terminal crisis for New Labour and that if the Labour is to recover it must re-establish itself as at the very least a social party with a democratic membership rather than an undemocratic machine putting the economy first. Here is a taste,

Further speculations on what they thought they were doing

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I've been asked, "Why was Watt not spotted as a liability?"

Answer, because they saw him as an asset, an opportunity, a possible fall guy indeed. Did you see the picture of Blair patting him on the head?

Mendelsohn seems sophisticated from all accounts. He was told in September of the illegal payments. The party is broke, election is looming, he tells one of Brown's boys (which one?) of some 'close to wind stuff' etc, ie he covers his arse. Or there is something else which secures the same. Not so much illegal as wrong (see my first post on this.) Hence he can't be fired now. Also he loathed Abrahams and enjoyed the idea of taking his money. They agree it was on Watt's spot. (But Watt not such an idiot he didn't tell Mendelsohn, to try and give himself cover).

What to think about New Labour corruption I - IV

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Four points on the scandal of Labour funding. A fifth on what the implications for the New Labour project will be a post on its own.

1. While it is tremendously revealing and could even bring Brown down if it continues, it is not as important as the threat of the database state. That is not just a passing story about missing discs. It is important that the corruption of party politics does not become a diversion from the more looming danger. More on this soon.

Lord Levy's dinners were no secret

Ian Katz (London, Guardian): Dear Peter and Anthony: Maybe I overstated the notoriety of Lord Levy’s Friday night dinners by calling them "famous" in my piece about Ian Blair last Saturday, that you refer to here and here. But I’m a little surprised that neither of you – who know much more about the London political scene than me - have heard of them. I haven’t looked very hard but here are three articles, one in Peter’s own paper, that refer to them: in the Independent, the Daily Mail and the Times

Aitken, Levy, Ashcroft: tales of the political class

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): A central argument in Peter Oborne's book Triumph of the Political Class is that an elite of political-media-administrators is creating a 'new corruption', a self-regulating racket for whom the ordinary rules do not apply. When I read the book I wondered if the thesis was over-stated. But when you look around, it seems to explain so much. Jonathan Aitken could have advised the Tories on crime and rehabilitation, and why not, they need to hear from criminals, restorative justice involves engaging with causes as well as consequences. I'd have applauded this. But by making him chairman of their policy committee they are rehabilitating him, giving him a redemptive authority that would not be permitted to those outside the political class. (Max Hastings makes a similar point in today's Guardian). Peter Preston, who ran the original story in the Guardian that Aitken defied and lied about makes a simple objection in the Observer: we still do not know what he was doing in Paris as the guest of the Saudis when he was a Minister of the Crown. Aitken was let off by the utterly feeble questioning of Jim Naughtie on the Today programme. Instead of asking him the straight question and insisting on an answer, he was allowed the Tony Blair escape. What an old story, said the liar, it is time to move on. And he got away with it!

Ha! Judicial review of nixing the Saudi Arms deal investigation

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): BREAKING NEWS The post below by John Jackson could hardly have been more timely. It has just been announced that the application to the high court for judicial review of the decision not to proceed with investigation of the BAE-Saudi arms deal has succeeded. This is a decision of immense constitutional importance and in particular puts the spotlight on the nature of the position of the Attorney General as a political appointee. Don't forget, it was the Attorney General who closed down the investigation under pressure from then Prime Minister Tony Blair. For a start this is going to heighten the conflict between the judiciary and the executive, in plain speak between the judges and the government, and raise the question 'who is the guardian of the rule of law?'.

Below the law: New Labour and the return of sleaze

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): On Newsnight Michael Crick said that he thought David Leigh and Rob Evans Guardian story on how, in the summer of 2005, Labour peer Doug Hoyle who works as a lobbyist for the arms industry, took money to introduce his client to Lord Drayson the Minister of State for Defence Equipment was not a big scandal as nothing illegal took place. Your Lordships have got to earn a living you see.

The Downing Street Mafia

Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): Everyone in Westminster, and probably the country at large, knows that the trade in honours goes on. John Yates of the Yard knows it too but was not willing to say so directly when he gave evidence yesterday to the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC may have a boring title, but it is the most lively and effective select committee in the House of Commons). The Committee itself informed Yates at the start of his 16-month investigation into the sale of honours that everyone knew it went on in secret and that he would not get anywhere unless he had hard evidence (under the 1925 Honours Act) that was too elusive to pin down in our political black economy. There is a strange paradox in the current concern over political corruption. On the one hand, great effort has gone into cleansing political life of corruption; on the other hand, the political class still "don't get it". Politicians and their aides continue to practice all sorts of dodges, largely for party and personal political advantage and not pecuniary motives, and to take advantages of the manifold opportunities that present themselves in the porous structures of British governance. They also insist that it is they in the political sphere who should exert control over their practices, not judges, not official commissioners, and certainly not police officers. Elizabeth Silkin perished because MPs of all parties, and at the apex of the parliamentary system, refused to accept her judgments on their often improper conduct. John Yates came up against a "Downing Street" mafia that closed ranks, regarding his investigation as a political matter, and not criminal; and masterminded an outcry when one of their number was subjected to a comparatively mild form of dawn raid that is properly reserved only for "real" criminals and terrorists, real and not-so-real.

Blair did not invade Iraq

OurKingdom: Breaking News! We have learnt from a well placed source that after a massive international Interpol investigation the authorities have concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to charge Tony Blair with having ordered the invasion of Iraq. Asked how British troops could therefore today be in Iraq, a police official close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that, despite the fact that people who have no right to be in the UK's upper chamber are sitting today in the Lords after lending the Labour Party large sums of money, there is not enough evidence to conclude there is an official relationship between cause and effect. The key problem for both investigations, he continued, is that what is obvious is not considered to be evidence in British law. We understand that it is now likely that an ongoing investigation into the corruption of British public life will conclude that there is now not even sufficient evidence that Tony Blair was actually Prime Minister in the sense of being responsible for anything that happened between 1997 and this year. According to ePolitix "The sticking point has been the admissibility of evidence obtained by the police. The bar has been raised incredibly high because of the sensitivities." Nick Robinson of the BBC claims to have spoken recently to the alleged former Prime Minister who apparently nonetheless feels that the sensitivities were insufficient to shield him from a "witchhunt". It seems the alleged former Prime Minister is confident that a properly conducted investigation under a judge of his choice will conclude that there are indeed witches at work.

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