Writing about political corruption from the LRB archive by Peter Geoghegan, Paul Foot, Deborah Friedell, Conor Gearty, Eliane Glaser, Perry Anderson, Simon Jenkins, Jenny Diski, Uri Avnery and Sidney Blumenthal.

Cronyism and Clientelism

Peter Geoghegan, 5 November 2020

Kleptocracies are bad places to live. People die poorer, younger. The trains do not run on time. In Britain, a culture of cronyism has contributed to one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the world, from the failures of outsourced Test and Trace to the increasingly confused messaging provided by party political appointees.

In 1985-6, the word ‘sleaze’ appeared in British national newspapers 21 times; in 1994-95, 3479 times. The word still has no precise meaning. Often it refers to politicians’ sexual behaviour, which has probably changed very little over the centuries. The adulteries of a few, mostly junior ministers which led to what became known as the ‘back-to-basics resignations’ hardly account for the staggering increase in the public awareness of the dire state of British politics.

Dialling for Dollars: Corruption in America

Deborah Friedell, 19 March 2015

Laws governing how much money individuals and organisations could give to politicians were prophylactics, designed – however imperfectly – to prevent corruption by limiting how much money could change hands. Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court ‘effectively gave wealthy individuals and wealthy corporations the right to spend as much money as they wanted attempting to influence elections and policy’. The result, as Teachout sees it, is that the United States has almost ceased to function as a representative democracy.

Diary: Various Forms of Sleaze

Conor Gearty, 24 November 1994

The Tories are of course the party of sleazeocracy, and in their willingness to be bought there is at present a genuine moral difference between the two sects. How much this is specific to the Tories and how much merely a consequence of their having been too long in power is open to debate.

Beyond the Duck Houses

Eliane Glaser, 8 May 2019

From coffee spoons to dog food, many of the items claimed for were small enough for it to seem as if we were paying for MPs’ weekly shop. Mark Oaten was pilloried for claiming £5 for oven gloves. Other claims – for duck houses and moat cleaning, chandeliers and swimming pools – exposed a gulf between them and us.

The Italian Disaster

Perry Anderson, 22 May 2014

Corruption is not just a function of the decline of the political order. It is also, of course, a symptom of the economic regime that has taken hold of Europe since the 1980s. In a neoliberal universe, where markets are the gauge of value, money becomes, more straightforwardly than ever before, the measure of all things. If hospitals, schools and prisons can be privatised as enterprises for profit, why not political office too? 

Britain is not a very corrupt state but insofar as it is corrupt, the reason is the paucity of participants in public life, a paucity that state funding for political parties would encourage.

Mirror Images: Piers Morgan

Jenny Diski, 31 March 2005

I can see that if you are 28 and editor of the News of the World, then you are 30 and getting £175,000 a year for editing the Mirror, until nine years later when you get the sack and score a reported £1.2 million for your reminiscences, you might be inclined to advise people not to take life too seriously.

Why do these scandals always break when a leader takes a step towards peace, or pretends to take a step towards peace? The main thrust of the current establishment is towards occupation, expansion and war. Therefore, when a corruption scandal threatens a leader who is in any case moving in that direction, the scandal is hushed up.

Reckoning with Trump means descending into the place that made him. What he represents, above all, is the triumph of an underworld of predators, hustlers, mobsters, clubhouse politicians and tabloid sleaze.

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