The Fox and the Henhouse

An article on page 6 of The Times on 6th June 2015 appeared under the following title: Cameron to rally G7 leaders in global fight against corruption“.

The article opens with a reference to a recent scandal about corruption in how world football is managed, and then continues:

Mr Cameron flies to Germany for the two-day annual meeting [of the G7] determined to use the Fifa scandal to highlight the fight against corruption.

In particular, he will press other leaders to link aid to the poorest countries to cleaning up corruption, with a pledge to start with a review of Britain’s own development budget. He will cite World Bank estimates that corruption adds 10 per cent to business costs worldwide, with $1 trillion (£650 billion) paid in bribes every year.

Mr Cameron’s apparent concern about corruption is truly heart-warming, but given that the City of London is widely recognised as the global centre of dirty money-laundering, and given that the City of London is rather influential in who occupies 10 and 11 Downing St, one has to wonder how deep Mr Cameron’s concern really is. If the long-awaited Chilcot Report into the illegal war in Iraq is anything to go by (and why shouldn’t it be?), I’m guessing that we shouldn’t hold our breath for the results of the “review” Mr Cameron is supposedly keen to start.

On the very next page of the paper (page 8) appears an article titled “British aid ‘paying for foreign armies'”. It opens with the following words:

Billions of pounds of British overseas aid is helping to subsidise the defence budgets of developing countries, MPs have claimed.

There cannot possibly be any area of global trade that is more cynical, grotesque and corrupt than the trade in weaponry and war machinery. Seymour Melman’s classic Permanent War Economy, Time Weiner’s superb Blank Check and George Thayer’s old but excellent The War Business all shine dazzling spotlights into this otherwise dimly-lit and murky world. Surprise, surprise!  One of the world’s leading exponents of the art is none other than the UK, which until very recent times was second only to the US in arms sales.

The article lists several countries whose “defence” budgets increased at the same time as receiving sizeable amounts of British “aid”. Tanzania, for example, increased its spending on weaponry by 20% after receiving £224m in British “aid” in 2012. We do not learn how much of this “aid” finds its way back to British arms makers, but it seems unlikely that the UK would give money to a country to spend on arms purchases from anywhere other than Britain. All NATO countries are supposed to commit 2% of their GDP to “defence” spending — something which Britain has apparently not yet done.

The curious link between Britain’s “defence” budget and spending on overseas “aid” is revealed:

Sir Gerald [Howarth – a former “defence” minister] is one of several MPs who believe that the government should commit to defence spending at 2 per cent of GDP rather than siphoning the cash into overseas aid. (My emphasis)

Now why would Sir Gerald think there’s a connection between Britain’s “defence” spending and overseas aid? I mean, why should he mention overseas aid for “siphoning” defence money into rather than any other possible areas of government spending — such as policing, say, or prisons? Could it be that subsidising British arms makers via “aid” to third-world governments could continue to support the arms makers without the nuisance of accurate accounting records — which is presumably the situation when the government pays “defence” contractors directly?

Surely there can be no other sector of the economy that is so completely subsidized by the taxpayer (and protected by government) than arms making which, given the supposedly total commitment of western governments to “market economics” — where only market forces operate — is ludicrously ironic.

One of The Times’ most committed Tory champions is the columnist Matthew Parris. His column in this same edition of the paper is not unconnected to Mr Cameron’s apparent concern about corruption. Under the title “Tories aren’t playing fair on party funding”, Mr Parris opens with the view that the “funding of political parties by huge private or trade-union donations [is an] outrage.”

I actually agree with Mr Parris’ general point which he clearly expresses:

It is utterly inappropriate for political parties to solicit and accept enormous donations, private, corporate, or trade union. The practice has only to be stated to be dismissed as abhorrent.

But that is, of course, exactly what we have – an abhorrent outrage at the very heart of our political system.

I even agree with Mr Parris when he writes that,

This is not to imply that the money that our politics gets in this way is all tainted. Good people give parties their own or their companies’ money out of a sense of public duty, seeking only a benefit (as they see it) for their country.

That has to be correct: not ALL money received from donations is tainted; and it must also be true that some people genuinely think that the money they donate to political parties is for the best interests of the country.

But this suggests that corruption of politicians is not much of a problem, and practices such as the example given by Mr Parris of banks and pension funds getting preferential treatment in the £1.5 billion sale of Royal Mail might have nothing to do with Tory chumminess with fund managers”.  Indeed, it might not, but as Mr Parris himself points out,

Were you unlucky enough to be at the Conservative Party’s Black and White Ball this February, you would have found yourself in a ballroom wall-to-wall with fund managers plus virtually all the Tories in the last cabinet. People don’t pay eye-watering sums to attend these balls to dance.

No, indeed they do not. Perhaps they do it in the best interests of the country.

However, I think Mr Parris and I basically agree with each other that “donations” to politicians must stop. He seems to be uncomfortable with the notion that the state should fund political parties, but I don’t understand why. After all, democracy should be a public service; therefore it should be paid for by the public. What we have instead is a political system paid for by the super-rich, so it’s hardly surprising that it favours the super-rich.

It’s interesting that an article that opens up with a reference to corruption in football is seamlessly linked to corruption in global trade — but not too closely linked, for that article closes:

The prime minister will say that the kind of scrutiny being applied to Fifa should not be restricted to the football body, but applied more widely. However, he is not expected to name organisations and businesses which he would like to see put under the spotlight.

I bet he isn’t.

John Andrews is a writer and political activist based in England. His latest booklet is entitled EnMo Economics. Other Non-Fiction books by John are: The People's Constitution (2018 Edition); and The School of Kindness (2018 Edition); and his historical novel The Road to Emily Bay Read other articles by John.