Boris Johnson returned to the Cop26 conference this week, no doubt hoping his trip could distract attention from the sordid allegations circulating around his party and government in Westminster. If so, he hoped in vain. Instead, under the gaze of the world press, the Prime Minister could not help but make a statement on the domestic crisis. In words that could possibly be repeated as often as Richard Nixon’s denial that he was a con artist or Tony Blair’s claim to be fairly honest, Mr Johnson said: “I sincerely believe that the UK does it is not a corrupt country at all. “
You don’t have to define corruption by the most extreme standards to recognize that it is both a thoughtless and grossly inadequate exaggeration. Britain is in a “could do better” position, ranked 11th out of 180 in Transparency International’s global corruption rankings. Yet, as an anti-corruption adviser to the government of Nigeria (ranked 149th) pointed out on Thursday, the UK is also a ‘tangential catalyst’ and London ‘the most notorious haven for looted funds in the world today’. hui â. British politicians and officials may fail to take office by making and accepting massive bribes. They cannot spend their careers salting millions in Swiss bank accounts. But these are not the only ways to define corruption. Polls show the public understands this better than the Prime Minister.
The lingering problem, as Machiavelli and others argued long ago, is that corruption is a permanent and organic threat to public life. It takes many forms, large and small, all of which require constant attention, in various ways, to prevent them from becoming systemic and intricate. It is quite typical of Mr Johnson that his remarks in Glasgow totally ignored these real dangers and offered no criticism or apology for any of the current cases which have caused such concern.
The contrast to Thursday’s interview on Radio 4’s Today program with Lord Evans, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, could not have been more striking. Where Mr Johnson said Britain was not a corrupt country, Lord Evans forensic explained some of the practical controls that need to be tightened if Britain is not to sink further into forms of political corruption that are anything but distant. In 2018, for example, Lord Evans’ committee produced a report aimed at strengthening oversight of second-job MPs, about which new allegations now arise almost daily, but the report has yet to be implemented.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak admitted on Thursday that the government must “do better” on standards. Mr Johnson, on the other hand, shows no signs of concern or willingness to act. Next week, the government will overturn the rulings its MPs voted for in the so-called Leadsom amendment a week ago. But the real priority now is stronger measures to control external interests. These include limits on second jobs and greater financial transparency. The agenda also extends wider, to abuses such as the attribution of peerages, including to conservative party treasurers. Writing in Lord Evans’ latest report, Sir John Major, who set up the committee in 1994, also calls for tighter controls on party funding, anathema to Mr Johnson.
Only a generation ago, Sir John stepped in to set a 21st century moral and regulatory compass for Britain’s security services, which was previously a law in itself. Ironically, given that Lord Evans was Managing Director of MI5 for six years, the boot is now entirely on the other foot. Today we see an honest former security chief attempting to set the compass of modern politics instead and educate a prime minister who often seems to be operating in a moral vacuum on what is needed to turn boastful words. into an indispensable and correctly applied reality. .