Political corruption, them and us

Political corruption, scandals and double standards, and the rise of populism.

Political corruption – them and us

This year has seen a fair bit of political corruption, scandals and double standards, and one wonders if there is a different rule for holders of political office and the rest of us.

In September Keith Vaz’s scandal hit the headlines with recordings of his rendezvous with rent boys in his private love nest. Keith Vaz has been the subject of a few unethical behaviours during his time as an MP, but he always managed to survive. This time there was no escape. He resigned his post and one hopes that he is now consigned to the dustbin of history where he truly belongs.

But when the scandal broke, some in the media were quick to come to his aid. They reminded us that soliciting for rent boys was firstly not illegal and secondly was his personal affair and publishing the material constituted a breach of his privacy. That breach we were told trumps any questions we may have about his judgement notwithstanding his chairmanship of the House of Commons Select Committee that was looking at vice and drugs. It was therefore not surprising that Keith Vaz even contemplated the possibility of setting his lawyers after the newspaper that published the recordings.

And in October, another scandal broke. Baroness Scotland, Secretary General of the Commonwealth since 1 April 2016 was faced with questions about paying some consultants exorbitant fees for services rendered. This comes less than 10 years after her ‘maidgate’ when she was fined £5,000 for employing an illegal immigrant as her housekeeper. No one knows if she even paid the poor woman anything near the going rate, or whether she was just thoroughly exploited by Baroness Scotland who was then the Attorney General of this great nation. She paid the fine, apologised and continued as the Attorney General. No doubt she will survive this one, as there does not appear to have been any laws broken, it could be unethical, but who cares about ethics these days? That is for the little people.

Across the pond, things are no different. The two presidential candidates have skeletons jangling in the closet, allegations abound about the Clintons’ foundation, paid speeches, Bill Clinton, deleted emails etc. And Donald Trump’s unsavoury views about women, questions about his business dealings and his university remain in the air. But no laws have been broken, not yet anyway. And the show goes on.

Private citizens on the other hand are held to higher standards, lives are ruined by the simplest infraction. Professionals lose their right to practice or have been seriously censored for deleting or misplacing documents. Ordinary people have been sent down for life for a third felony, and lose their rights to vote for convictions for the lowest criminal offences. And yet we have two people with questionable records standing for the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth.

Is it really a wonder that the vast majority of people feel disenfranchised, frustrated and far removed from the system? Is it a surprise that, in this climate, populist politicians who have stepped into the breach with their extreme views successfully hijack the confidence of the people while promising things that they cannot deliver? Is it a surprise that people feel ‘what the hell do we you have to lose by trying something new?’*

Brexit? They tried something new.


*Donald Trump in Louisiana, September 2016

Image courtesy of Susan Walsh / Associated Press