The resignation of the Tory MP for Newark, Patrick Mercer, from his party, following a sting operation by Daily Telegraph journalists (to be screened in this Thursday's BBC Panorama programme) has opened a Pandora's box. Within days, the Sunday Times pulled another sting operation out of its hat, leading to another resignation and two suspensions in the House of Lords. Was it conspiracy, or rivalry, between these two heavyweights of the Tory press? Who knows?
But the facts are there. Cash was paid for questions to be asked in Parliament. Ironically, these Tory mouthpieces are putting Cameron in a rather difficult position. After all, wasn't it Cameron himself who postured as "Mr Clean" by promising to "fix broken politics" in the run-up to the last general election? And, being himself a former lobbyist before going into politics, he should know what this requires. But did he do anything about it? No, of course not.
The fact that MPs make money on the side under all sorts of pretexts, is nothing new, of course.
Going back to 1923, Winston Churchill himself took £5,000 (a huge sum at the time) from the forerunner of BP, to lobby the British government on its behalf - and got away with it.
Every government has had its own share of parliamentary scandals. Just to mention the most recent, in 1994, there was the first "cash-for-questions" affair, under John Major's Tory government. Under Blair came the "cash-for-honours" scandal, in 2006. Then, under Brown in 2009, there was the expenses saga, and the "cash-for-influence" affair, in 2010. The attraction of money seems irresistible to many MPs and their impunity a permanent feature of British politics!
But why should it come as a surprise? Isn't sleaze built into the parliamentary system? In fact, there's nothing illegal in MPs receiving money from outside "interests" (meaning mostly businesses) so long as they declare it. So say the rules. The only reason why Mercer and the three Lords exposed by the Sunday Times are in trouble today, is that they failed to declare the cash they had received.
But there are many more sleazy goings-on in Parliament. For instance 600 so-called "all-party parliamentary groups" receive sponsorship cash from private companies. These groups use their sponsors' money to wine and dine their members, organise trips for them, and offer them all sorts of perks. And if MPs belonging to these groups happen to intervene in support of their sponsors' interests, it's perfectly legal - although it's clearly a form of corruption!
Workers' control, the only answer
The truth is that there's no red line between what is legal and illegal, when it comes to corruption in state institutions. It is their function to protect the interests of those who control most of the wealth in society - the capitalist class. And how do the wealthy secure the loyalty of their servants? Quite simply, by "tipping" them - which is what these bribes are really about.
In fact, much greater corruption lies in the foundations of the state - precisely due to its role in protecting the interests of the few against those of the many. So, there's a revolving door between state institutions and big business, ensuring that the former operates in the interest of the latter.
Blair is a glaring example of this today, with the £2m/yr fees he gets from advising US bank JP Morgan Chase. But the Financial Times also reported that over a dozen former senior government officials have moved into jobs with the "big four" accountancy firms over the past decade. Conversely, the same firms have permanent representatives working at the Treasury to "help" design tax laws - to better advise big business on how to use tax loopholes!
The list is endless. Hector Sants and Jon Pain, respectively former head and director of the FSA, the banks' watchdog, have joined the boards of RBS and Barclays. Both banks obviously rely on their connections at the FSA to by-pass regulations. Meanwhile HSBC hired a former head of the secret services, MI5, no doubt to figure out a way of avoiding a repetition of the £1.3bn fine HSBC had to pay for laundering drug money in America.
Of course, there's a way around this corruption - the direct control of the working class over every institution, from local level, to the very top. Imposing this workers' control isn't just the only way to stop this on-going corruption, it would also be a powerful lever against the capitalists' greed - that is, until the working class rises to get rid, once and for all, of this corrupt profit system!