Realpolitik (see also Political realism; from German: real “realistic”, “practical” or “actual”; and Politik “politics”) refers to politics or diplomacy based primarily on practical considerations, rather than ideological notions or moralistic premises. In this respect, it shares aspects of its philosophical approach with those of realism and pragmatism.
"Manchmal werden Leute den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht sehen."

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

032- Party Funding Scandal: British Corruption

This week, Britain has been treated to yet another revelation of political corruption, from yet another Government of the Day.

It seems that whether red (Labour) or blue (Conservative), both parties harbour an ingrained wilful ignorance of the people, and will continue to do so unless the mechanics of our system are changed fundamentally.

The Conservatives were quick to defend themselves by pointing out the degree to which the Labour party are bankrolled by various Trade Unions in the country. But on quick observation, it is plain to see that the equivalent of around 90% of the funding from Trade Unions to Labour, is provided by 'individuals' to the Conservatives, which I believe highlights the grand disparity of wealth between individual supporters of the two main parties.

Source: BBC News

That's not to say that Labour haven't had their moments of attracting funding from wealthy lobbies. We all know about Lord (why oh why...) Peter Mandelson playing guest of honour for Russian Oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, aboard his yacht back in 2008. And much more prominently than this, back in 2001, the same man resigned for having seemingly fast tracked the citizenship applications of two Indian businessmen (Hinduja brothers), in the light of their funding of the Millenium Dome, who had originally had their applications rejected.

Some claim that Labour are controlled by the dictat of Trade Unions, but conversely, it can be argued that these groups are a sensible counterweight to the parliamentary system, after all, only groups can prevail in our system...unless of course, you have a large amount of influence (wealth, economic prowess...) at your disposal, in your capacity as an individual. This might then serve as a convenient catch-all description of many Conservative funders.

Perhaps, some generous funder is behind the latest cut of the top earners' tax rate?

The fact is, this is an endemic problem in the British political system, and policy amendments and well-timed soundbites are not enough to change what is an age-old habit.

What is needed here, is to take a look at the heart of British political life, and to make the fundamental change that will be required for everything else to follow.

For you see, in spite of the fact that neither Lord Mandelson of Labour nor Peter Cruddas of the Conservatives were elected by the British electorate, yet have the power to influence policy, our media and by extension the repeating public, will spin the tail of inherently corrupt politicians, calling for less of them and by extension distancing their actions from the public, out of convenience. Convenience of not having to deal with the smut of politics and (some) politicians, but also, the convenience for those within the administration, for only having to deal with the electorate every five years.

The core of this habitude, to be frank, lies within the heart of the British constitution: the blame starts with our Monarchy.

It is the one piece of the mechanic of our system, which is never considered, beyond superficial amendments to primogeniture, as if that is enough to justify the presence of an unelected entity at the heart of our so-called democracy.

This corruption which we occasionally note from our elected representatives, happens on a daily basis with our Monarchy, yet we have been brainwashed into never questioning it, as if it is somehow above politics, in spite of being the glue which holds the corrupt and partisan practises together.

I dispair that our country is being readied to celebrate yet another 60 years of corruption, unaccountability and deference. (Otherwise called the 'Diamond Jubilee.')

The prime examples are Prince Andrew with his practices of associating with undesirable people or receiving money, which in turn compromises (the albeit grand myth) of his political neutrality. Or his relative Prince Charles, and his overstepping of political convention- a codified constitution's sickly relative- by interfering with the democratic process in favour of his own interests, which are often wrongly portrayed as in the national interest by certain media outlets.

The above links, demonstrate the extent to which even the assumed apolitical core of our system, is clearly riddled with vested interests, and is the lead example of corruption and unaccountability that the rest of the system follows.

An article from the ResPublica's blog, claims that "Monarchy protects the people from parliament." When you consider that the Queen granted Peter Mandelson a peerage in spite of his corruption, it makes you wander where her interests lie. Naturally, how could she oppose practices of which her family are the bastions?

If we are to emancipate our politicians from this cycle of malpractice; if we are to have the British people take a hold of their own political system, then the basis must be the dissolution of the monarchy, and the establishment of a democratic heart, upheld by a codified constitution and Sovereignty vested in all of the British people, rather than an unelected, unaccountable few.

The British people pine after transparency, control and a system which listens to them. This will not be achieved if we continue to criticise politicians without seeking the source. Our elected MPs are merely the buffer zone between the people and the unaccountable core.

Our executive (The Cabinet), which is conflated with the legislature, and which holds the original autocratic power of the Monarchy, wields too much power in the face of a despairing British public. So long as they wield this power, they will not consider a more transparent way.

We must strive for a real democracy for the British people, and that can only be achieved if each and every one of us, starts to take steps to ask for the end of our monarchy, and the beginning of a real British democracy. We must ask the British republican question.

When we remove the heart of the problem, everything else will follow.



  1. In theory I agree, and have oft considered the failings of monarchy.

    The problem is that the evidence doesn't suggest that changing to a republic would actually improve anything for ordinary people.

    The reasons behind this are complex, but one of the big players is that the electorate aren't sufficiently informed and don't have the skills to analyze/time to study necessary evidence.
    The result of this is that summaries/abbreviated versions from the press/media guide peoples decisions; basically is that the power merely shifts to the media.

    Whether this is better or worse is a debatable point, but it's clearly not ideal either way.

    I my opinion however, the current Lords provides more thorough scrutiny and benefits from greater expertise than the commons, who have to waste a significant amount of their times/resources on personal marketing to get elected, whereas the lords have no such burden.

    As such, I don't share any great desire to tear the current system down until there is a strong alternative, with evidence robust evidence to suggest it won't end up like the current commons, which would be a disaster.

  2. Hello and thank you for taking the time to comment.

    I certainly agree that much of the public's knowledge of the political systems in place, finds its origins in what the media wish to divulge.

    However, I must disagree with the perception that time spent on personal marketing to get elected is wasted time. If anything, this should form a decent proportion of their activities, if for anything, to keep their constituents informed.

    What I am curious about however, is whether you feel that the Lords draw their relative expertise from the longevity of their position, or some members' specialisms outside of their political role? Perhaps it's a combination of both?

    Only today have I been musing on Lords reform with some colleagues. I put it to them that the perceived failure of the Commons could be attributed to the distinct lack of separation of powers- for example, the manner by which parliament can force through contentious legislation- coupled with a voting system which doesn't allow for more variety of political groups.

    Finally, with regard to a republic changing things for ordinary people, we are of course talking about making changes to engines of the state, and not about reforms of the NHS. As such, indeed you are right, that the advantages of such an amendment are unlikely to be immediately felt on the ground.

    I would say that the prospect of having voting rights over all roles of government, however, would be a step in the right direction, for at least giving the perception of having a modicum of influence on government composition, and thus decision making.

    1. I accept the point that keeping the people informed is important, and wouldn't wish to detract from that. I don't think I quite got across what I was aiming to.

      The MPs in the commons are accountable, which is necessary. The problem is that they're accountable to a public who aren't in a position to fairly assess their performance, so tend to be swayed by social pressure/media hype, rather than sound reason. MP's have to play to these fashions in order to keep their position/protect their career etc, which is basically the introduction of a social bias.
      They also have the issue of the whip and progression within the party, as well as the limitation of accountability associated with safe seats, but that's a bit much to discuss in detail here.

      The Lords are barely accountable for anything. That's a failing which means they could, in theory at least, do really awful things with no immediate means of repercussion, although there are few if any examples. However, it also does mean they can make well founded but unpopular points without having to worry about the impact on them personally, resulting in greater a freedom of speech, and ultimately greater consideration of alternative view points. I don't believe the country would benefit from losing this.

      As for the source of their expertise, that's a difficult question and I don't claim to be an expert or have closely studied the issue, but it seems likely that the method of appointment must be a significant contributor.

      One of the possible explanations is that appointment is based on achievement and expertise rather than geography. You'd expect this to result in older, more experienced people being appointed, which is typical. The expected weaknesses of this approach are an inherent under-representation of the young, of those who have barriers to success, or those who's main activities aren't in recognized professions (eg. housewives/husbands [I suspect there are also biases towards particular industries, but I don't know enough to comment specifically]).

      I also accept there is opportunity for corruption, elitism, political interference and probably a whole host of other non-democratic contributing factors, but generally speaking the system appears to lead to reasonable results, and an able and trusted house. Any replacement mechanism must be able to at least match the quality of results (and try to be a bit more inclusive?).

      Understand, I'm not against reform, I just don't want anyone trying to force it though before the replacement is as good as it can be; I can't see there being another opportunity to change it for a long time.

    2. So what do I think we should do?

      Some of the recent proposals about a long, single term may offer a reasonable outcome to the issue of accountability vs freedom of speech.

      The selection issue doesn't look to be going so well; current plans seem to be based on large geographic areas. Stratifying the population in another direction may better help maintain the specialist expertise. It would take time to work through all the implications, and it may not be practicable, but my concern is that those currently responsible are just using geography because it's what is used in the commons.

      eg. Stratify by industry (quick example, not greatly thought through and guaranteed to have failings):

      People "self declare" their industry. Seats are allocated to each industry are based on associated population. Any industry growing beyond a certain threshold is partitioned into narrower industries (or similars merged if too small). You only vote within your own industry.

      + industry experts selected by the industry, which hopefully means the industries interests and priorities are heard.
      + break down of the house can change over time, reflecting change in society.
      - focus on industry may mean neglect of other issues (eg. you vote as a doctor, not a parent, even if you're both).

      Possible extension:
      Where appropriate industries could based around professional bodies or possibly trade unions. Some industries (ie. law) already have established bodies which elected representatives, and provide appropriate forums for candidates to explain their views. They also offer a clear definition of who/what the industry considers to be part of the industry and what it doesn't. People not covered by such groupings, or not wishing to use them, may still self declare.

      Other stratification could be considered, such as age or social groupings. It may even be possible to do multiple in the same election, although excessive complexity could make that problematic.

      I'm not suggesting my example proposal would work, but I do think exploring other options before committing for the long term is a worthwhile pursuit.

  3. Thank you again for taking the time to comment. My apologies for this delayed response. I find your proposal for upper house reform, along industrial stratification lines quite interesting.

    This of course, would ensure that decision-making takes into consideration the needs of those who drive the economy. Nevertheless, I would not- as you also have not- underestimate the potential shortcoming of certain issues being neglected in such a system.

    Perhaps I do not know how "radical" a reform I would be comfortable with of the upper house, but I do feel that geographic representation should not be overlooked. If someone deems themselves/is deemed to be of exceptional expertise in a particular field of use for a national interest, then I feel they should put themselves up for election via the usual means. Perhaps the scope for incorporate industrial representatives, could be achieved in a type of AV+ system, as proposed by the Jenkins Commission in the late 1990s.

    This would preserve geographic representation, whilst industrial specialists could be incorporated into the list vote element of that particular suffrage system.

    Short of this, perhaps a parallel assembly of industrial representatives could be set up, as a national lobby for industry upon the national administration.

    Perhaps the same could be said for a parallel body of experts in other fields,

    The possibilities and options would be endless. Perhaps a fruitless exercise for the lay person, a debate of political semantics which would be downright irritating for most, so in the light of this, whichever system might ensue, should be as simple as possible for people to understand it's purpose. Do you feel people understand what the Lords carry out and why? Do you feel that people consider their legitimacy, or simply do not question it?

    On a final point, I am not sure about how to strike a sufficient balance between accountability and freedom of speech. I feel that the long terms being proposed (15 years?) is extremely excessive. i don't believe that accountability should ever be sacrificed.

    Again, like you, it is hard for me to draw upon a concrete example of the Lords delivering a seemingly contentious decision, but again, I feel that this can also be considered a detrimental point. I feel that this is less a question of because they a liberated from the burden of self-marketing and elections, and more to do with self-preservation: namely, the current crop are selected by the government of the day, and I suspect they can remove them just as easily.

    (OK, so strictly speaking, peers are selected by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, but I judge them as "independent" as the BBC.)

  4. I agree it would introduce additional complexity, and it would need to be both well managed on the implementation side and presented in a simple manor to the electorate, neither of which can be taken for granted.

    Selection of a suitable stratification would need much consideration, but I think it'd at least be worth someone with expertise in the area taking a look at.

    I haven't thought through all the issues of alternative stratification patterns, but I'm on the assumption that all systems have weaknesses and disadvantage some group or other. That being the case, by ensuring the systems used in the two houses work differently, the intention was that the same people not be underrepresented both times, resulting in a more event distribution of "net influence", even if some can impact one chamber more than the other. Someone would probably need to do some serious research work to consider the realities of that suggestion.

  5. As far as what I think people know of the Lords: no, no and recently, although I've no specific evidence to back that up, just a gut feeling.

    I get the impression significant numbers of people barely know the lords exist or have only a vague recognition of the name. I suspect only the strongly politically interested know anything about the significance of the decisions they make or how they come to be appointed.

    Recent media hype about lords reforms plans has pushed legitimacy questions to the fore, so it's probably the highest it's been in a while, but I suspect still a minority.

    The best guess I have as to why this is the case, is that it doesn't get the exposure of elections to raise discussion about it, and that it's the secondary power, so ultimately if you've aren't going to spend the time considering events in both, you've more to gain (from some points of view) thinking about the other one.