“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn”. The Bible said it long ago. It might serve as the text for Tory MPs who now bellow their outrage against Lord Nolan and his committee of inquiry into sleaze at the top in politics.
Why should Tory MPs not be outraged at any proposal to muzzle those who have used 16 years of Tory rule at Westminster to bestow vast riches on their class? They have made Britain a paradise for spivs and speculators, enshrined greed as the highest human virtue. They have turned society into a vast grouse-moor for moneyed predators, and erected conspicuous consumption by the idiot rich into a religious cult to celebrate our paramount God, who bestows all things, good and bad, The Market. They have thrown down the barriers and let their class loot the public wealth to an extent not known since the Enclosures of the 16th-18th centuries bestowed millions of acres of common land on the rich.
Why should this crop of ministers at the tail-end of the long Tory innings be stopped from going straight from office to commercial work in their recent field of ministerial responsibility? Many Tory ex-ministers have done it, throughout the ‘80s and the ’90s. And why should MPs, as professional men and women, not be able to charge the rate for the job of raising questions in the Commons? Why should the business of politics not be a business like any other, responding to market forces?
According to figures presented to the Nolan commission, some 64 per cent of voters believe that MPs improperly make money from their position. Yet what enrages Tory MPs is that they do not make enough money! Alan Duncan MP spoke for them, furiously accusing Nolan of wanting to “obliterate the professional classes in the House of Commons”. None of the “professional classes” would become MPs, declared Duncan, if they had to do the job at the official rate of £32,000 plus ample expenses. To these Tories, a £4-per-hour minimum wage for the people they represent is an outrage; so is the idea that they themselves should be limited to a wage in the top ten per cent of the range. Such is their view of the relation between governors and governed.
If politics is to be so closely and openly linked with the rich, and MPs and ministers to be so unashamedly dancing to the bidding of the rich and the lure of wealth, then democracy is hollow and fraudulent. If lucre and the personal interests of MPs and those who can buy them dominate politics, then those who, according to bourgeois democratic theory, should dominate politics, the electorate, serve only as makeweights in the bargaining of the moneyed classes.
Yet that is how things are, and everyone in politics who is not a self-deluding hypocrite knows it. Politics is a business; Tory politicians have their price, and so do many Labour MPs.
The Tory MPs who are now so indignant that they may be muzzled as they sup from the brimming trough, know how things are and how they will continue. They know that a new quango to police MPs will do no more than gloss up the reality, and they think it unfair that they should have to sacrifice rich up-front pickings in order to serve the hypocritical pretence that mainstream politicians are not in the pockets of the rich.
Nolan proposes no very tight muzzle. An ex-minister will still get a good rate for joining the boardroom of those he used to deal with even after the proposed couple of years’ gap Nolan proposes. MPs will still be able to get large fees as consultants provided they identify themselves. That such modest proposals create self-righteous outrage in the ranks of the Tory party is an indication of how corrupt they really are. But then, why should, how could, official politicians escape the contagion of the world they regulate?
Not the least objection to the “Blair project” of divorcing the Labour Party from the labour movement is that it means immersing the party in such corruption and thus further disenfranchising not only the working class but also the mass of the British people.