Dr David Whyte is a Lecturer in the University of Liverpool’s Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology. He is co-organiser of major ‘How Corrupt is Britain?’ conference taking place on campus today
“Media reports of corruption are now fed to us on a daily basis. Those headlines have fueled a growing public realisation that corruption is now a normal part of British public life.
Few now believe that British government and British business institutions are immune to corrupt practices.
We should remember that Labour’s election victory in 1997 took place following a major ‘cash for questions’ scandal in parliament. The profligate expenses fraud perpetrated by members all of the major political parties provided the backdrop to the 2010 general election.
The current government has been weakened by a range of scandals that have exposed its complicity in corruption in the banking sector, and in its relationship with Rupert Murdoch’s News International. Added to this, there has been a seemingly endless series of police corruption revelations in the past year or so.
We therefore need to understand what it is about British public life that has permitted the normalization of corruption.
This raises awkward questions that our current government will need to answer since they will almost certainly feature in public debate in the run up to the next general election.
First, the government needs to explain why so many figures who have been tarnished by questions about conflicts of interest remain as part of the government.
Government, finance and police
Why, for example, do we have a Trade Minister in post who was in charge of a British bank that was fined $1.2b by the US for its role in money laundering? And why, despite the revelations during the News International scandal, did the government promote the most tarnished member of its cabinet?
Second, we need to ask why the government consistently tries to block European regulation of the finance industry.
In February, the government strongly opposed proposals to limit the size of bonuses paid to executives in the banking sector, and last month stepped up its opposition to the financial transaction tax. This radical political stance has been scrutinised in relation to the Conservative Party’s funding relationship with the City of London.
Third, we need to ask why the government has consistently failed to tackle corruption in our police and security forces.
Last year a bribery scandal in the Met’s anti-corruption unit was revealed in a parliamentary inquiry. And in recent months there have been investigations into allegation of police corruption in the cases of Hillsborough and Stephen Lawrence, and in the Met’s Sapphire Command.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission has been consistently criticized for its adequacy in investigating a growing number of police misconduct cases. At the moment, much less than one in every 400 reported complaints of corruption in the police are likely to be investigated by the IPCC.
One day conference
Those questions, and many many more will be discussed and debated at ‘How Corrupt is Britain?’ a one day conference at the University of Liverpool on May 10 2013 which brings together campaigners, academics, key public figures and journalists to explore how we should tackle the corruption of public life in Britain.
To find out more about the conference and read blogs by contributors, visit the conference webpage here.”