...but it can buy you influence. I shall begin with an admission which in certain circles is quite controversial. I like capitalism. I like the high standards of living which come with it. I don’t accept that it is oppressive. However, I am not uncritical. I think that we should always be on the lookout for the abuses of the power which are associated with wealth. It is my view that the market functions best when it is regulated by an independent state. The state should be controlled by the voting public alone. We should be very suspicious of market actors exerting or attempting to exert influence over the state.
After the last expenses scandal (which frankly hasn’t been resolved), David Cameron said that corporate lobbying, the practice of companies influencing governments, was “the next big scandal waiting to happen”. Sadly, apart from a couple of minor incidents, he was wrong. Corporate lobbying is hard-wired in to our political system, allowing established firms beneficial access to policy makers, at the expense of both consumers and other firms. This should offend people on both the left and the right of the political spectrum, because it is detrimental to both the public at large, and also to the proper functioning of the market. Funny then, how nobody seems to care about it.
Let me give you some publicly available, and I should stress perfectly legal, examples.
Ed Balls is the Shadow Chancellor. That means that if Labour wins the next election, as the opinion polls currently indicate that they will, he is the man that will be in charge of the nation’s economic policy, including all tax law. According to the Register of Members Interests, the huge accountancy firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers supplied him, for free, with “the services of a research assistant/analyst...for 4 days a week on a 22 week secondment from 4 January 2012 to 1 June 2012, value £72,576”.
Why would they do a thing like that? What possible interest could an accountancy firm have in the politician who could end up writing tax law?
Let’s take a different example. William Hague is the Foreign Secretary. He is in charge of Britain’s network of embassies across the globe. He received a political donation of “£6,545.90, for reception” from a company called Project Associates UK Ltd. A glance at this company’s website tells us that they are a PR firm which governments across the world can hire to help them communicate with the press and NGOs.
Do companies just give out four figure donations without expecting anything in return? Because if so, I’d like some of that. What was being brought here? Why would a company specialising in international governmental PR make a personal donation to the Foreign Secretary?
The idea of a company making a political donation is ridiculous. A person can have political beliefs, and they can choose to donate to a politician if they agree with them. Companies are not sentient beings. They cannot believe in things. A company director cannot just spend company money on whatever they want; the spending legally has to be in the interests of the company. But if a donation is in the interest of the company, then the company is buying influence over the state. As I've tried to show you, that’s not OK, regardless of your politics.