Byers, Hewitt and Hoon
New Labour attracted some particularly vile career opportunists, people driven not by principle but by greed and personal ambition. A generation earlier they would have been Thatcherite Tories, jumping on the political bandwagon du jour. Byers, Hewitt and Hoon have always seemed to be of that class – politicians who long ago sacrificed any sense of personal integrity, belief in anything real, or – to use an old-fashioned word as it is meant to be used, honour – for political expediency. These are the shallow people who will always be the first to salute a slogan, and the first to abandon a principle. Their record in office is dreadful: Byers made a shocking cockup of salvaging the Tory mess that was the privatised RailTrack; former Arthur Android Hewitt used the skills she picked up in her days with the Enron-protecting accountancy and consulting firm to “push through essential NHS reforms” and poor old Hoon got landed the job of defending and running his boss’s illegal war. The history books are hardly going to be kind to any of them, and rightly so.
So we should not be surprised that, having failed to secure their public political legacy in government, these individuals decided to secure their private financial legacy by venality, and then failed so catastrophically. Byers was as cack-handed dealing with the reporters as he was with sorting out RailTrack.
But if we think that the followers of the heir to Blair will be any better, we have only to look to history. Acton is up there with Darwin: the evidence supports the principle. So we need to put safeguards in place, and recognise that any proposed by politicians in power or about to get into power will not be strong enough. Here’s what I would do:
All holders of public office must, for the duration of their term of office and ten years thereafter, agree to put their financial affairs into the public domain. They must have one bank account, into which all their income, whether it is ministerial salaries, re-imbursed expenses, consultancy fees, income from corporate directorships or rent on their late grandmother’s is flat is paid. No exceptions. That bank account must be visible to the world on the Internet. We don’t need to know what they spend their money on, so they can make payments out of it into their private and personal accounts, but every penny of incoming cash must go through their public bank account. The same rules should apply to MPs, but for those who don’t get government jobs, the openness could be limited to five years after they leave Parliament; and all PPCs should do it from the moment they are adopted by their party, and if they lose for just a year after the election. A bit extreme? Perhaps. But isn’t it better for politics that it should put in place the most robust defences possible against the creeping corruption that Acton predicted in the first part his dictum, rather than relying on the complacent attitude that corruption is something only for furriners, and their pals in the Opposition?