Are our MP’s too open to powerful vested interests?

Catching MPs with their hands in the till might be becoming a bit of a pastime for circulation-hungry newspaper editors, except that in exposing Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind for discussing consultancy work with a fictitious Chinese company in a sting operation, perhaps what’s really happened is that the Daily Telegraph have again drawn attention to something most MPs do to supplement their income. It has however become a sore point with the public at large: 60% of people disapprove, according to a YouGov poll. The issue also however raises the question of how MPs make a living, to the ways business and other interests gain access and influence, and indeed to how we as a democracy pay for representative government. On the face of it, the matter makes some headlines, and yet there are much deeper questions behind the … Read more

Is there excessive influence by the wealthy and powerful?

We’ve had a week of negative reports about tax avoidance by wealthy individuals through Swiss HSBC accounts and large donations to the Tories by City of London and Mayfair people, particularly the latter in hedge funds. It raises several issues for the student of politics. Setting aside the question of the rules governing taxation and how they are enforced, we can look here at the funding of political parties and of politics more generally, the links between special interests and political parties, and that fine line between legitimate influence and corrupt influence through money. Do the wealthy and powerful have too much influence? Arguments by left and right So, the left argue, you donate to the Tories who build the ground on which you can grow your wealth and you can avoid being taxed on it through creative accounting. Meanwhile … Read more

The price of a free press can be uneasy choices

As the last-minute late night deal between political leaders and Hacked Off sinks in amongst publishers and people consider whether to sign up to the yet-to-be-finalised regime of press regulation, people have been pointing out the crucial confusion that lies at the heart of the proposal. The use of legislation to support the device of the Royal Charter to set up regulation seems to make no distinction between the various roles that the press perform, and in particular its essential role as watchdog on the political process seems to have escaped those that advocate state-backed regulation. The press as watchdog in politics The media have for long been the UK equivalent of the US “Fourth branch of government“, one of our “checks and balances” within our unwritten constitution. Two recent examples come to mind, both likely to be relevant to … Read more

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