The continuing scandal of Westminster

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by Hazel Lewry

And now we have a phone hacking scandal.  The mainstream media are in an uproar, perhaps busily diverting attention from their own wrongdoings and trying to keep the public at large ignorant of the wider ramifications.

Is this present scandal really any different from the scandals past – certainly we all remember the MP’s expenses row, but what of all the others?  True investigative journalism in and around the halls of power would be screaming all the facts about the ongoing scandal of Westminster and demanding reform, sadly true investigative journalism appears to have a vested interest in avoiding these issues.

For the depth of Scandal at Westminster in our present era we need only go back to the waning days of the last Conservative government and begin working our way forwards. It would be unfair and inappropriate to simply focus on the present administration, or the last.  Patterns are nominally more informative. A greater timeframe would simply be too repetitive.

Do we remember the Westminster housing scandal?  That was also about protection of power, circa 1996 and followed on the earlier sex scandals of Major’s Conservatives.  It appears as good a place as any to use as a starting point to shine a little light into the apparent midden that masquerades as a primary government in these islands.

In 1997 we had the diversion of the Bernie Ecclestone drama, more cash allegedly changing hands and right (dis)honorable gentlemen appearing mired in the mix.  Yet the voters were again denied a full enquiry.  The call from the Speaker’s chair was an effective “move along now – nothing to see here”.

Entering 1998 Monica Lewinsky did Westminster a favour by grabbing, amongst other items, most of the headlines; she still didn’t manage to completely obliterate Peter Mandelson from the news. Mr. Mandelson brought the media a seasonal gift that year – the Trade Secretary was accused of a conflict of interest in having received a £373,000 loan from Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson, whom his department was investigating.  This wasn’t to be Mr. Mandelson’s last brush with scandal.

Who else remembers the Conservative MEP lobbying scandal of 1999, or the fact that we were requested to step in and help bail out the Euro that year?  What about Neil Kinnock’s scandalous proposal to regulate, almost censor the press?  As recent events require asking; would we actually have noticed a difference?

That lobbying scandal didn’t die in 1999 – irrespective of promises to the contrary it had barely started and lobbying problems were still creating cries of scandal in 2010.

A new millennium dawned in 2000, in the murky corridors of power and in the gentleman’s clubs of England’s capital nothing much changed.  Y2K came and went, with it  came scandals aplenty, one almost rivalling the Cambridge 4 as Britain was asked how it could continue to trust the EU Commission with trade if a senior official (ranking fourth in the organizational tree of Peter Mandelson’s department) was accused of handing over secrets to journalists posing as lobbyists working for Chinese businessmen?

Officially the 21st Century opened in 2001, and it proved to be the year the pigeons really came home to roost for Dame Shirley Porter in a scandal to reach the upper echelons of the Conservative party by 2003.  Dame Shirley was issued a £ 26 million bill the following year.

That was arguably eclipsed by Sinn Fein being cleared to collect expenses from a Parliament they weren’t attending, prompting David Cameron in a more recent statement [using it as an example] to state, “We’ve got to clean up the Westminster Parliament, we’ve also got to cut the cost of politics and a pretty good place to start is actually to say to people if you don’t come to the Westminster Parliament then you can’t claim expenses for the Westminster Parliament.”

That same David Cameron now refuses a thorough enquiry into the present scandal.  Clean up Parliament – by refusing to have full investigations?  The nations of these islands deserve more from an elected leader than apparent hypocrisy, Mr. Cameron.

Peter Mandelson found himself back in the news again – embroiled in yet another issue to lead to probable resignation.

2002 saw Tony Blair dragged into Jack McConnell’s accounts scandal, the great gold bullion sell off initiated at Westminster, and the Keith Vaz scandal that saw the Europe Minister suspended from the Commons.  Keith Vaz is currently a member of the House of Commons committee investigating the Murdochs.

Labour marched the troops obediently into 2003, ostensibly promising no more scandals and almost immediately failed to deliver as Chris Huhne got caught speeding, er, no he didn’t – it was his wife, no sorry – it was Chris after all, apparently he doesn’t remember clearly though.  2003 was also the year of Blair’s reshuffle scandal.  The Conservatives accused Mr. Blair of “tearing up” 1,400 years of British constitutional history “in a single press release”.  Shouldn’t that be English constitutional history?

2004 saw us approach the height of a UK boom period, we were even promised “no more boom and bust” in itself something of a scandal with the gold reserves now gone and oil production peaking.  2004 also saw the Mark Field / Elizabeth Truss scandal hit Westminster.  Interestingly Cameron would later vouch for Ms. Truss personally.

That was possibly upstaged by the scandal that required Blair to replace David Blunkett with Chris Clarke.  Let’s not worry about the Iraq war here – for Westminster that was business as usual.

With Blair firmly in charge, so appearances had it, 2005 promised to be rather dull.  It was brightened up by the documentary Sex, Lies and Politics, then Enron which stretched its tentacles worldwide.  Even the Lib-Dems did not escape unscathed this year after suffering the Oaten scandal.

2006 saw daggers unsheathed as Tony Blair was set up to be“offed”.  The Duke of Westminster fell from grace after falling from the pages of a little black book.  Enron continued with its tentacles spreading into Nat-West.   And the cash for honours scandal erupted.  Interestingly cash for honours only saw the light of day after an SNP MP raised a complaint.  The matter was investigated, thoroughly we are assured, by Yates of Scotland Yard.  That’s the same Yates who resigned this week over his links to News International and his – alleged – failure to investigate the NotW scandal properly.

Again there were promises to clear the air and bring an end to corruption, assurances all would be well, and government would do all it could to “win the trust of the electorate”.  Profumo died in 2006, at least bringing closure to that particular episode.

So busy was Westminster in winning our trust in 2007 that seemed the year may be rather quiet, until the Lockerbie issues started up again, followed by Peter Mandelson walking back through that revolving door, the Labour Party donations scandal, and the German weapons’ sale kickbacks stretching back to the 1990s.

Big news in 2008 – the Speaker of the House is forced to resign as the expenses scandal begins to come to light.  Systemic fraud and corruption is all that can be used to describe this one as multiple MPs are forced to repay and many begin to look at potential jail time.  This largely overshadowed Hain and Osborne’s scrutiny over “donations” as we were treated again to a mantra of winning electoral trust by Westminster.  The public are to be presented with only “edited” accounts though.

During 2009 the expenses revelations continued, reaching Ireland, and the Commons again tried to stop the public being fully informed of the extent of the scandal.  Issues surrounding a £20 million plus in missing funds in the City [council] of Westminster were quietly lost to many during this furore.  At the same time as it was denying the public proper expenses accounting the government continued to preach “wining voter confidence”.

During the pleas for electoral confidence and voter forbearance, details of the dirty deals in the desert scandal began to emerge.  Tony Blair, so recently fallen from grace, suddenly becoming Middle-East Envoy.

With the expenses scandal of 2008 beginning to fade there began to come the full accounting of the Megrahi affair.  It became evident that it was to be used as a stick to beat the SNP and Scottish aspirations.

In time it transpired Westminster had approved privately of release and publicly attempted to crucify another administration for following its preferred path.  In 2010 the independent truth about the banking collapse and scandals of Westminster guided mergers and takeovers began to emerge.  Ties between “the City” and “Westminster” were proclaimed.  It is likely the surface was hardly scratched.

2011 and now we have phone hacking.  These are just a glossary of a few issues where Westminster has requested, or demanded our trust.  There have been very many more over the years.

It seems that with every crisis a clarion call for “voter confidence” rings out from some quarter of this privileged and invested [should that read infested] parliament.

David Cameron again promised action; yet David Cameron refused to answer valid questions, more than once.

David Cameron – that would be the same David Cameron who promised to “clean house” after the Expenses Scandal refuses to shine the light by expanding the scope of the present enquiry.  In his own words “We’ve got to clean up the Westminster Parliament”.

David Cameron, who so promises “respect”, apparently gives much of it to protect insiders, friends, supporters and cronies.  This is the appearance Cameron projects – these isles deserve more, so very much more from an elected leader.  This is not leadership Mr. Cameron, it is cronyism and cowardice.

With respect to this most recent scandal, David Cameron appears absolutely no different from Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown or countless other ranking officials at Westminster who came before him, or even now sit within those shameful halls.   All have direct ties to News International, personal and/or professional.  That is unacceptable.  That is a hindrance to democracy.  No matter who is in government.

If we have learned anything by the examples over the years it is that the halls of power in this often dis-United Kingdom contain revolving doors, where the corrupt support the miscreant and the miscreant supports those in power, yet few appear to support those they were elected to serve.

News International is the latest of many scandals to rock those grimy corridors of power in the heart of London.  Sadly it is simply another example of what “restoring the faith of the electorate in parliament” is now held out to be.

David Cameron has apologized – it is not enough.  But will the mainstream media demand more, that remains to be seen as the mainstream media itself has many skeletons.  This particular exercise in ”shining the light” appears set to enter its darkest closets.  Neither party may be able to afford the political or power capitol this might cost.

David Cameron’s apology is not enough, for the simple reason that much of this debacle happened on his watch – he is the prime minister.  It is proven he was intimate with Murdoch and principles of the News International empire.   Meetings were frequent, parties were attended, it is almost without question that confidences were shared.  Cameron refuses to answer fully, truthfully and clearly.  Anything else is hypocrisy from Cameron. Ancient nations and democracy both deserve better than that.

David Cameron has stark choices – issue a remit for an independent investigation that is without reproach – perhaps conducted by Holyrood?  Or an international body that is completely independent of both the UK media and Westminster.  The investigation must be without limitation.  He can resign.  In reality he should probably do both to preserve the illusion of “right honourable gentlemen”.  

Meanwhile those who gave David Cameron their trust, his electorate, are being violated.  The already wounded and vulnerable are having more pain inflicted.

Is this really that much different from foundation hospitals, from rising tuition fees, from rising VAT, from the NHS health reforms underway, from “austerity” and steadily increasing taxes.  All of these policies and acts hit the most vulnerable, the least able to cope, the disenfranchised among us.

David Cameron however is unlikely to do the honourable thing – he will not resign.  Having promised to “clean up Westminster” and now standing shamefully embroiled in the mire, restricting investigations and refusing to answer questions, he will hang on to power.  At least he will do so for as long as he can, for if he goes then Clegg becomes prime minister.

In Westminster not only reform often appears anathema, truth, honesty and honour seem casualties as well.

Who in their right mind can continue to support such a system?