The Corruption Culture
Around eighteen months ago, I visited the Sinai. The bus taking me from the airport to my desert hotel was stopped by soldiers, at the entrance to the peninsula. Our driver jumped out, and after some protracted arguing, handed over a fold of notes to the guards and we were waved through. Exactly the kind of bribery we associate with the developing world, but fascinating to see, as it appeared so removed from Western conventions. I say ‘appeared’ because I’m not sure we can actually take that moral high ground. Granted, we’re not forced to proffer baksheesh when boarding the Isle Of Wight ferry, but on a larger scale duplicity is all around us.
Slightly overshadowed by the encroaching election, was the story of the MPs Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind selling their political influence to the highest bidders (actually undercover reporters). This certainly damaged their reputations, but didn’t attract the attention of the police and has largely been forgotten. What inspired their underhand offers? These men certainly didn’t need the money (despite assertions to the contrary, both were drawing healthy salaries from the public purse). It was simply the conviction that, as a prominent parliamentarian, this is what one does: fiddle the system for a bit of personal gain. In fact, just the sort of behaviour, if carried out by a member of the public, both former ministers would condemn out of hand. Slightly closer to polling day, Grant Shapps – then Conservative party chairman, was caught red-handed lying about his business affairs. He didn’t resign, just blustered through a couple of awkward interviews and was home dry. One rule for them, another for us? Yes, pretty much.
It’s worth remembering that in 1963, John Profumo MP was brought to ruin for telling the House of Commons he hadn’t had an affair. These days such an offence would garner little more than a gag on Have I Got News For You.
As many of them haven’t given us much choice, we don’t really expect better of our politicians. Had it not been for some leaked data, they’d all be flipping homes and claiming for moat clearances, to this day. However, it’s hard to find a region of public life untainted by roguishness. Last year it was revealed several utility companies, and at least one finance house, had invented firms of lawyers and were using these fictitious companies to send letters to late payers. Even the sainted Google invoices its advertisers from the Republic of Ireland, the better to avoid UK taxation on its profits.
Gaming the system is now the default pattern for those with power, money or both. It’s expected and generally sustained, if not encouraged. Professional football teams treat ‘diving’ as a legitimate tactic, while the suits controlling the sport accept so much dirty cash they rent apartments for their cats. The two scenarios are not unconnected. The measure of success in life has moved from what one has achieved, to what one has got away with.
We may complain, but we’ll only be assured we don’t really understand how these things work, and we cannot be too hard on these towering behemoths, lest they take their mightiness elsewhere. This may be a depressing state of affairs, but we can no longer be surprised. In truth, the rot is so ubiquitous, we actually have little choice but to play on a pitch sloping away from our goal at a steep angle. Sepp Blatter and his dubious chums are merely the latest iteration of a spectre haunting most corridors of modern life.