‘Where deep fried truth was invented; the place where integrity pie is a great British tradition.’ If you have travelled extensively, you’ll know that is how the majority of the world sees us. Yes, really! We are comparatively well-trusted.
Corruption, we tend to think, happens (according to the UN listings) in places like Nigeria, Indonesia, and India, not here in the UK. You probably thought that what you ate and fed to your family was wholesome bovine meat. You had good reason to believe that the Hillsborough Disaster was caused by drunken Liverpool fans, the same reasons you believed that Jean Charles de Menezes (a Brazilian man of clearly Brazilian appearance) ‘leapt the turn-styles’ at Stockwell Tube Station and was thus shot dead as an Islamic terrorist.
For similar reasons you believed that no British politician would fiddle their expenses, nor would you think for one moment that British Aerospace had been involved in ‘cash for contracts.’
‘Cash for questions,’ during the Major Government, was obviously just a political smear, as was ‘bungs for gongs’ during the Blair Government.
Each of the good reasons you had, came from someone you trusted, and should have been able to trust; they gave you every cause to believe that they were telling the truth. Instead, they were acting corruptly; serving their interests at the expense of yours.
Is corruption when a lawyer, carrying a few too many horse lunches, advises their client in such a way that serves the lawyer and harms the client? If you’ve commissioned a lawyer at any time in your life you will almost certainly have experienced or suspected the same. (Have you noticed that the words liar and lawyer sound alike, and, communicate similar points?) Are liar-lawyers an example of corruption? According to Transparency International, which annually publishes the Corruption Perceptions Index, (CPI), corruption is: ‘the misuse of public power for private benefit’. We publicly authorise and give lawyers the power to practice, so a solicitor advising in their own best interest is corrupt.
Surely such near universally shared experience of some lawyers as self-serving liars is one isolated example of British corruption. Compared to our European neighbours, we are perceived to be more trustworthy; that’s what most of us think, or would like to.
Alas, there are 11 European countries that have much less corruption than we do. Looking further, when you learn that places like Hong Kong and Barbados are less corrupt than the UK, you know we have a serious integrity problem.
By comparison, how corrupt are we? In India, a country where our ancestors put in place the systems of law and government over a 200+ year period, around a third of politicians have outstanding criminal charges against them. In some Indian states more than half of all politicians have criminal convictions.
The idea that a politician in the UK would be committing criminal offences or involved in any form of deceit while in office is completely out of the question. We would like to think so. Reality forces other thoughts.
If we started a ‘C list’, for corruption, of British politicians who have been involved in – how shall we say it diplomatically – ‘alternative forms of integrity,’ it would be thicker than the best-selling book, The Politician’s Principles of Integrity.
Not a difficult challenge, since such a book has, unsurprisingly, never been written. Alleged or actual cases of ‘alternative integrity’ include: Huhne (perverting the course of justice), Archer (perjury), Major (Curry), Aitken (perjury), Morley, Chaytor, Devine, Hanningfield, Moran and many others (false accounting): just a tiny number from the ‘C list.’
Immediately that the expenses corruption was uncovered, the entire government machine moved to address the problem. If memory serves, Harriet Harman proposed a motion in the House of Commons that MP’s expenses would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. The first law of corruption was invoked: where there is no possibility of scrutiny there can be no corruption. Like the tree falling in the forest, if nobody hears it, it makes no sound. Kill the scrutiny and the corruption ceases to exist. Fortunately, what may have come to be known, had it passed, as the ‘MPs’ Corruption Charter’ was defeated after a huge public outcry.
Equine Beef Are Us and similar companies have benefited from the first law of corruption, probably for decades. There has been no scrutiny; amazingly no-one ever conducted DNA tests to check whether what was being sold was beef, dog, cat, or worse, and when tests were belatedly conducted for the first time, corruption was uncovered.
Back to our corruption recipe: actually it is so useful as a method that it works on things other than food. Take our preferred, very British, corruption modus operandi: deceit (a willingness to lie about something, anything in order to promote our best interests at the expense of others), and add a little of our much used locus operandi, (any location devoid of scrutiny), and prepare to enjoy our tasty proceeds.
There is one final ingredient to be added, with a note of caution: the recipe creates a sour outcome if any form of conscience is present while cooking.
To avoid inadvertently rustling-up an otherwise unappetising treat, choose one or more from the following tried and tested conscience repelling incantations:
- ‘No-one will care if a few elderly people are left on trolleys to die, at least we’ll meet our targets and keep our jobs.’
- ‘Who is going to blow the whistle if we bolster party funds in exchange for an MBE? Certainly not the recipient, and who else would know?’
- ‘Who will know how Hillsborough was caused, particularly if we change the testimonies and destroy the records?’
- ‘It’s only a white lie about some petty speeding points?’
- ‘Clients are muppets.’
- ‘Well, if we don’t pay a little sweetener to get the arms contracts, someone else will.’
- ‘Who will ever know that my legal advice was designed to serve me?’
- ‘Well, with my salary being so low who can blame the master of the house for making up a little on the side?’
- ‘No one will notice if we re-label something bovine as equine; most of them don’t even know what the words mean!’
There you have it; deceit with lack of scrutiny, some conscience repelling incantations, and you can eat well on corruption, for life. Happy cooking!
Professor Nigel MacLennan runs PsyPerform, a leadership coaching practice. He is a visiting professor at the University of Bolton.
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