Scandalous level of public service corruption in Britain
Transparency International, TI, the creators of annual reports on corruption worldwide, define corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Unfortunately, TI only deals with perceptions, gleaned from public surveys etc., of corruption in national and local government and the judiciary of a given country. This means that the continual and multitudinous corruption facilitated by imperialist powers in foreign countries (whether those countries be their own satellites, those dominated by imperialist rivals, or generally anti-imperialist countries) are not really covered when they compare various countries, and this omission can even lead to corruption from an imperialist source being perceived as corruption emanating from the target country itself. Jason Hickel, in his book ‘The Divide’ (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 2018) reveals that the US research group, Global Financial Integrity, estimates that $1.1tn a year flows illegally out of poorer nations, stolen from them through tax evasion and the transfer of money within imperialist corporations. This practice alone, he believes, costs sub-Saharan Africa around 6% of its GDP.
Another problem with the listing of countries in degrees of corruption is that, because the information used is mainly from public surveys, the media, owned mainly by pro-imperialist representatives of either a foreign or local (comprador) bourgeoisie, often are the conductors of these surveys or where not, exert a very great influence over those answering the surveys.
The TI report released in 2020, we are told, identified in Britain sixteen recent legislative changes which increased the risks, as well as other trends – such as the decline in scrutiny by local press and the move to more private sector outsourcing – that were driving the UK towards greater corruption or, at the very least, creating a much more enabling environment for said corruption to grow and flourish.
The UK has dropped out of the world’s top ten countries supposedly fighting against corruption in recent years and it is almost amusing to read the TI report’s comments that “The new Government now has an opportunity to pull the UK back into the top 10. To do so it will need considerable ambition that will put anti-corruption front and centre of public policy both at home and abroad.” The new government referred to was that of Boris Johnson.
As we have explained, the rampant corruption committed and inspired abroad will not really count in TI’s index but just a quick look at home should be enough to convince anyone that the present Conservative government of Boris Johnson is not going to even pretend to put anti-corruption front and centre of either its policies or activities!
When Dominic Cummings single-handedly brought the first 2020 lockdown to an end by brazenly breaking the law (some prefer to say rules or even guidelines although enough people were prosecuted and fined under those rules/guidelines for very much lesser infringements!), he absolutely refused to admit that he had done anything wrong and was instantly backed up by the Prime Minister. He faced out the criticism and kept his job, with a 40% increase in salary, in a show of blatant cronyism and arrogance that virtually lifted two fingers to the public anger that resulted.
Martin Fletcher, writing in the New Statesman of 29 March 2021 exclaims “The David Cameron lobbying scandal is just the latest example of how the UK is becoming a corrupt country of the kind it once regarded with disdain.” We are sure that whoever sat in the UK government driver’s seat certainly didn’t regard any corrupt country with disdain as long as that corruption was useful to the UK, but, the correct point that Mr Fletcher is making is that, publicly at least, corruption was regarded with contempt both abroad and at home. In order to back his statement up Mr Fletcher points out further that “Gone are the days when David Blunkett resigned as home secretary for the relatively trivial offence of allegedly fast-tracking a visa application for his lover’s nanny, or when Peter Mandelson resigned as trade secretary for failing to register a loan from a ministerial colleague” (‘Corruption in Britain has reached new heights under Boris Johnson’s government’). In the case of both the corruption was fully intended but having been found out they both ‘fell on their ministerial swords’ (only to make a very quick comeback in Mandy’s instance).
From John Profumo and even before him, being corrupt was fine but if found out you had to pay the price and at the very least resign your ministerial position.
There are supposed to be seven principles of public service set out by Lord Nolan in his 1995 report ‘Standards in public life’, following an almighty sleaze scandal, that should be adhered to by those in political/public life. These are – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. That 1995 report seems so far away now and again reminds us that corruption (sleaze if you like) is not new but the easygoing reaction to it does seem to be.
The rules of the game have changed in recent years: can anyone imagine a Prime Minister 50-60 years ago having it publicly revealed that while at university as a member of a rich kids’ political group, he had performed some sexual deviance with the head of a dead pig? It would have probably been covered up quickly but only at the cost of said PM discovering a sudden need to spend more time with his family. Of course, David ‘Teflon’ Cameron managed to struggle on regardless and it seems that from there on the sky was the limit!
It does seem odd that Mr Cameron should also be involved in one of the latest cases of corruption as well. To quote directly from Martin Fletcher’s 29 March article: “With the prime minister’s support, a City whiz kid is secretly awarded privileged access to top civil servants so he can flog a dubious money-making scheme that diminishes the government’s obligations to pay contractors on time…after the prime minister leaves office, the whiz kid employs him as an adviser – and gives him stock options that are potentially worth tens of millions of pounds until the company runs into trouble. The former prime minister then privately lobbies the chancellor of the exchequer for hundreds of millions of pounds in taxpayer-funded loans to save the business from collapse.” To this day, no one involved is under any investigation or threat of legal action while the present Prime Minister dismisses the affair with a wave of his hand.
Again, quoting the New Statesman article referred to above, we are told “Jennifer Arcuri told the Sunday Mirror that she was having an affair with Johnson, then London mayor, at the same time as he was including her on taxpayer-funded trade missions, and giving grants to her technology company. He will, of course, flatly deny any impropriety and move on.”
We now also know that Johnson’s government, last November, “…awarded £10.5bn worth of pandemic-related contracts without a competitive tender process, and that companies with the right political connections were ten times as likely to win them. Ministers have unlawfully refused to publish a full list, but we know contracts for personal protective equipment went to jewellers, pest controllers and confectionery companies. A contract for glass vials went to the former landlord of Matt Hancock’s local pub. An £840,000 contract to ‘test coronavirus messaging’ went to Public First, a company run by close associates of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings.” Has anyone heard any apologies, explanations or perhaps the ring of a single shot from behind a closed parliamentary office door?
What about Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, who was found guilty of bullying her civil servants in a flagrant breach of the ministerial code? Not only did she did not resign, but the prime minister’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, Alex Allan, who wrote the ‘ignored by the PM’ report on her did!
“Johnson gives jobs, as well as lucrative contracts, to cronies. Putting Dido Harding, a former business leader and the wife of a Tory MP, in charge of the NHS Test and Trace programme,” a programme that achieved very little in the way of testing or tracing but cost the public funds £37bn!
What of Kate Bingham, daughter of Lord Bingham and wife of Jesse Norman, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who was placed in charge of the vaccine task force?
We mustn’t forget the Housing Secretary, one Robert Jenrick who remains in post in spite of approving a Tory donor’s £1bn property development plan that had already been rejected by both Tower Hamlets council and then by the government’s own planning inspectorate? As luck would have it, Mr Jenrick approved the plan submitted by Richard Desmond, just in the nick of time for him to avoid a £45m levy payable to London’s poorest borough.
Moving on to honours and knighthoods for friends, A peerage for the Premier’s brother, Jo Johnson, seems almost mild compared to some. Take former Conservative party treasurer, Peter Cruddas, who was found guilty in 2013 of selling access to then PM, David Cameron, but managed to cop a peerage from Johnson despite the independent Lords Appointments Commission strongly objecting. Tory donors Michael Spencer and Aamer Sarfraz managed to get on board the knighthood train as did Evgeny Lebedev, who just happens to be the owner of both the Evening Standard and the Independent.
We now know that Michael Gove ordered officials to use an ‘emergency COVID contract’ (publicly-funded to tackle the pandemic) to conduct political research for Tory constitutional campaigning. He has been found to have acted unlawfully in awarding this £560,000 emergency COVID contract to a market-research firm which is owned by James Frayne and Rachel Wolf, who both formerly worked for Mr Gove. The High Court ruled that this “gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful” but, as ever, no apologies much less resignations.
Even the New York Times has shown an interest and they analysed a large segment of roughly 1,200 UK central government contracts relating to the Covid-19 epidemic worth $22bn (£16bn) that had been made public. It found that about half, worth $11bn (£8bn), “went to companies either run by friends and associates of politicians in the Conservative Party, or with no prior experience or a history of controversy” (Jane Bradley, Selam Gebrekidan and Allison McCann, ‘Waste, negligence and cronyism – inside Britain’s pandemic spending’, 17 December 2020).
Of course, corruption is what makes capitalism work and, as imperialism has brought the world into a series of even tighter strangleholds, the corruption has reached such a level that much of it cannot any longer be covered up. The UK government answer to this? – if found out just ignore the complaints and condemnations as it will soon be forgotten and lost under a new corruption scandal! That, or just point a finger at someone else, Russia and China are two of the usual targets, and scream Corruption! Making sure all your media puppets take up your scream with gusto!
We have over the years highlighted the corruption (call it cronyism, chumocracy, revolving doors, conflicts of interest, old boy’s network, sleaze, etc.) in all aspects of British life and a short search over back issues will reveal articles covering corruption scandals involving the police at all levels across the country, and the almost incredible rottenness running through the entire health industry both public and private!
Within hospitals and health authorities we have shown the corruption practised by managers and governing bodies it terms of PFI schemes, keeping wards understaffed and then using private ‘bank’ staff to cover; we have shown the way that chemists can rip off the NHS when asked to make a one-off medicine, usually by mixing two or more ready-prepared drugs and charging fees running at thousands of percent the cost of the originals; we have shown that GP and dentistry practices can generate huge funds from the simple addition or subtraction of some patients or have withheld NHS treatments in order to push private, more lucrative ones; we have shown the corruption involved in the giving of contracts worth millions of pounds to private companies by CCGs and NHS Britain; and, we have shown the largest leeches sucking funds from the NHS funding from the public purse are the big drug producing companies! This last grouping, the drug giants, or ‘big pharma’ as the Americans like to say, have developed further since we last spoke of them.
The rip-off is basically the same as it always has been. Did you really think drug production (along with GPs and dentists) was left out of the 1948 nationalisation of a large part of the health service by mistake by the well-meaning cde Attlee and his Labour government? Anyway, the NHS needs drugs to treat its patients and, as it cannot produce its own, it must buy them. The drugs companies do not usually try to undercut each other as there is less profit to be made by all of them if a price war takes place, no! Although there are price differences, in general if one bloodsucker hikes up a certain product by a few thousand percent, the others tend to follow suit if they can. After all the NHS is a captive customer and, although various governments of different hues have often talked tough on reining in the astronomical pricing of drugs to the NHS, they rarely do. Any legislation they produce that on the face of it puts obstacles in the way of corruption tends always to be riddled with loopholes that let the drug giants carry on much as before.
Sam Blanchard, writing for the Daily Mail, reported back in 2018 that the NHS is still being robbed of about £200 million a year while drug companies are raising some prices by around 12,500 percent! He reveals that government officials in charge of overseeing price rises are doing no such thing as companies make use of a nice little loophole that means that ‘unbranded’ drugs do not have the maximum price limits that branded ones have. So, the drug giants slow down the production of the branded product to a trickle and ramp up both the production and price of an unbranded version that will have to be bought as the branded cheaper version is virtually unavailable. The Department of Health and Social Care were legally given the power to push down the retail price of over-priced branded drugs, but, at the same time, their legs were kicked from underneath them by parliament by taking the unbranded products out of the equation. Accidental, oversight?
The giant multinational drug companies having turned themselves into one of the most profitable industries in the world, are busy peddling the lie that they’re charging these immense prices for their often life-saving products because it costs a fortune to research and develop them. What they don’t tell us is that a very large part of that research is publicly funded in the first place. The government is quite aware of this but the share options, kickbacks in jobs, (not real jobs of course, those where your name is given a title and you are given very large sums of errr ‘wages’!), donations to a Party or the election expenses of some individual politicians, seem to blind our public servants to the robbery that is going on.
Just to back up that last claim there is a report, ‘Pills and Profits’, published by a UK independent campaign group, ‘Global Justice Now’ and the Aids charity, ‘STOPAIDS’, which has revealed that big drug companies are taking over research funded by British taxpayers and selling the resulting drugs back to the NHS to the tune of more than £1 billion a year thus showing that we are effectively paying twice for our medicines – once to research and develop them, and again to buy the finished drugs.
Unfortunately, many people think that this level of corruption doesn’t exist, while probably just as many people recognise that it does but are totally overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the problem to the point that they just ignore it. As we have said, wherever there is the capitalist mode of production, wherever imperialism can dictate to weaker states, or even where imperialists ‘do business’ with each other, there is rampant corruption! If you wish to see the end of corruption you must work to end imperialism! The apologists for imperialism will at this point be jumping up and down wishing to tell us that there have been examples of corruption within societies developing the socialist mode of production as well and to a certain extent this is true. But when in the Western imperialist world did you ever see lengthy prison sentences or even death sentences handed to people who have abused the trust that working people put in them? These things did happen in the Soviet Union, in China and other socialist orientated societies. Only in a socialist society can those in power, either within the government, a shop, a farm, a hospital or a factory, be required to be so open and transparent about their life and dealings with others as to reduce the possibilities of corruption to the very minimum, and only in that society are persons in those powerful positions so trusted and respected that an infringement against the interests of the people demands the strictest of punishments.
At this moment in time, despite a popular belief that Britain is little more than a third world country that just does as US imperialism tells it to do, there is plenty to back up the claim of Roberto Saviano, the author of Gomorrah (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2007), that the “UK is the most corrupt nation on Earth.”
The corporate tax haven index published by the Tax Justice Network (TJN) shows that the three countries that have done most to facilitate corporate theft, i.e., corruption or imperialist ‘business’, these are the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. All three of these are British territories. Closer to home, the seventh on this list of shame is Jersey. These places are financial satellites of the City of London. They are all officially ‘overseas’ which means that the City can benefit from all the unsavoury activities that see so much wealth flooding into them without either the City or the British government being linked when scandals arise, as they will from time to time.
The City of London’s exemption from the UK’s freedom of information laws creates an extra ring of secrecy around all the dodgy blood-soaked money sloshing into the City.
Oliver Bullough, a sometime Guardian journalist, revealed how easy it has become to hide your stolen loot and fraudulent schemes in the City. Apparently, “using a giant loophole in company law: no one checks the ownership details you enter when creating your company” (‘How Britain can help you get away with stealing millions: a five-step guide’, 5 July 2019).
You can call yourself any name at all, with a registered address anywhere on earth or, indeed any other planet, and get away with it. That is literally all you need to start money-laundering. The National Crime Agency estimates that money laundering costs the UK £100bn a year. But the City makes so much more than that from it. Britain is a major imperialist player in the world and has committed countless crimes against so many people, people we must stand up and join with if we ever want to see an end to UK imperialism and the corruption that flows from it!