How corrupt is Britain? – POLITIC

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LONDON – Boris Johnson: transgressive genius, slacker or simply corrupt?

It’s a debate that has simmered amid a steady stream of recent scandals that have seen rules broken, jobs and contracts handed over to cronies, Johnson’s allies protected and allegations of shady business by the British Prime Minister himself.

Exasperated officials have stop in protest their advice was ignored and the watchdogs gave the government a series of severe ticks, yet nothing seems to seriously harm Johnson’s regime, with its consistent strong result in polls.

But after a week in which n. 10 tried to block sanctions against an MP who broke the rules of lobbying, both Westminster insiders and voters have started asking if this government has finally pushed its light-hearted approach to the rules too far.

Downing Street was forced into an embarrassing U-turn after opposition parties refused to cooperate in an attempt to spare former government minister Owen Paterson from a proposed 30-day suspension for a “glaring” violation of the law. code of parliament on paid lobbying.

Paterson himself resigned as an MP after it became clear how badly ministers misjudged the mood of the public and parliament, but there was almost universal bewilderment as to how the government got carried away in the matter in the first place.

Britain likes to consider itself whiter than white when it comes to corruption – not a blot on infamous Southern European regimes or examples of hopeless cases in the poorest or most autocratic nations around the world. Just as the UK seeks to reassert itself on the world stage after Brexit, the current government’s actions have dented that reputation, leaving observers stunned.

“I sincerely believe that the UK is nowhere near a corrupt country and I sincerely believe that our institutions are not corrupt,” Johnson told reporters Wednesday. “We have a very, very tough system of parliamentary democracy and control, not least by the media.”

But in a week when Britain looked swampier than ever since then the parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009 resulting in widespread misuse of allowances, the fact that he felt compelled to say so raised his eyebrows.

Hovering on the edge

Among the numerous unsavory incidents, the government has outsourced public sector jobs to political cronies; awarded COVID contracts to VIPs; allowed ethics adviser to resign rather than accept his ministerial bullying verdict; appointed a conservative donor in the House of Lords against the opinion of officials; Other illegitimately accelerated a building project for a conservative donor.

Johnson himself has been the focus of several ethical inquiries, including beyond like a Caribbean island vacation it was paid; how he paid for the renovation of the Downing Street apartment; and if he abused his position as Mayor of London for the benefit of an American businesswoman with whom he was having an affair.

Investigations into his apartment renovation and holiday both came to similar conclusions, finding that they hadn’t broken any rules but noting that he should have paid more attention to where the money came from.

“If you talk to corruption specialists, some would say, ‘yes, he is already behaving corruptly’ and others would say he is not quite so,” said Robert Barrington, professor of anti-corruption practices at the University of Sussex. “My personal opinion is that it is poised on the edge.”

He painted a clear picture of the path Britain could take if the situation continues to worsen – arguing that the best country to compare is the United States.

“You can imagine what the United States would have been like if it had [Donald] Trump had a second term, in terms of social divisions; lack of confidence in the electrical system; people who resort to violence because they don’t believe that the political system represents them or allows them to express their voices, ”Barrington said.

“Corruption” can range from criminal to non-ideal. Britain rates well – eleventh – on Transparency International’s “corruption perception index” because its defect is judged to be the latter rather than the former. But too many transgressions could shift the dial to the next index update.

“Under the current government, there has been a noticeable change in the way things like the ministerial code are followed,” said Steve Goodrich of Transparency International. “Where the rules are not followed and there are no consequences, the lack of accountability can generate particularly striking behavior that could easily slip into outright corrupt practices that might be expected from less consolidated democracies.”

Professor Mark Knights, an expert in the history of corruption, believes there are similarities between the “old corruption” of the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, when government jobs were bought and sold, and that which defines the “new corruption” of the Johnson regime.

“There are signs that we may be returning to a Walpolean era where patronage, heritage and bias prevail,” Knights said, naming former Prime Minister Robert Walpole, seen as an architect of the old corruption.

No. 10 Downing Street rejects suggestions that the Johnson administration is corrupt. “Since 2010, we have significantly increased transparency on the functioning of the government, from extensive transparency publications on contracts, expenses and meetings, to a legal register of consultant lobbyists,” a government spokesperson said.

“The government will go further to review and improve corporate appointment rules and increase transparency in procurement to ensure that the highest standards are maintained in public life.”

Boris wants to be Boris

Johnson was not expected to run an administration as clean as a whistle and, to some extent, breaking the rules comes at a “price” for the way people think of him. Those who know him maintain that either he is too hasty or he believes he is above insignificant rules.

“He always had the idea that the rules didn’t apply to him,” said his biographer Sonia Purnell, who worked with Johnson when he was a journalist in Brussels, writing outlandish stories for the Telegraph. He got the job after being fired by the Times for making up a quote.

American businesswoman, Jennifer Arcuri, thinks Johnson has become less scrupulous in his adherence to public standards since the couple was an element. He told POLITICO Johnson that he has fostered “distrust” among the public and “at some point, the world will discover the truth about what happens when you sell your soul in search of power.”

Others, including those who have not had sex with the prime minister, are more reluctant to speak with C, with discussions underway among opposition Labor Party officials over whether to strengthen their language. Unofficially, a former minister said the Johnson administration was guilty of “rampant low-level corruption.”

But numerous conservative lawmakers POLITICO spoke to denied that the list of transgressions justified the term, arguing instead that Johnson was simply too careless to go into detail and that critics were capitalizing on it.

One said legal activists using courts to highlight procurement issues are fomenting a false perception of wrongdoing. “We will have to limit it,” the person said, adding that previous governments were no less bad.

A former minister said: “Corruption seems to suggest gaining a personal advantage, but I don’t think that’s what it is – I think it’s much more important that Boris is too lazy to deal with the difficult details.”

And the same person said Johnson’s refusal to go into the details while trying to get his agenda through the government was somewhat of an asset. “This is the essential torture of our situation,” they said. “Boring prime ministers with their meticulous attention to detail and professionalism are not considered our great prime ministers. The great ones are those who, in order to win, are willing to bend down and break rules and protocols “.

How bad does the sleaze hurt?

Normally, pro-conservative newspapers have rounded up the financial interests of lawmakers, while Johnson has lost goodwill among his foot soldiers. One Conservative said this “should be a real cause for concern … I can’t remember a moment like this since he became a leader.”

The usual rule of thumb is that Tory backbugs will stand up and shut up until they are ahead in the polls. The Labor Party has so far struggled to mobilize voter sentiment on the issue. “Sleaze” remains a somewhat amorphous concept, and the party has hesitated to shout “corruption” because it is a legally sensitive label. That changed since the Paterson scandal, with one Labor official commenting that their party leader Keir Starmer and his deputy Angela Rayner thought it “was important for them to be on the front lines in this regard.”

James Johnson, pollster and director of JL Partners, said: “The Paterson affair seems to have infected the Tories in the audience as well. There has been a small drop in the polls for Conservatives, and Boris Johnson’s ratings, in particular, have been hit. “

But he added that it may just be an obstacle on the road because he’s not as personal as, say, Johnson’s former adviser. Dominic Cummings en route to Barnard Castle during a pandemic blockade and because labor is not yet seen as “viable” in the eyes of voters.

However, a former n. Counselor 10 said, “I think this was the worst and they should be worried: it’s the perfect storm of the old guard with no prospect of promotion worried about losing a second job and the new guard worried that their best years may be spent. in the desert if it continues like this. “

Ben Gascoigne, Johnson’s former political secretary, has been brought back as deputy cabinet chief along with Simone Finn, something conservative insiders see as a step forward in tackling the Downing Street woes.

But another former government aide was more optimistic, suggesting no. 10 would not lose too much sleep with an oversized majority and three years before the next elections to stabilize their course.

Though Johnson can hold out again, his latest encounter with the scandal leaves a bad taste in the mouth that threatens to linger.

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