There is much talk about capturing the state and skeletons are rattling around in several ministerial closets, says Terry Bell in his latest Labour Wrap.
However, he points out that there is nothing new in business seeking and buying favours from the political elite. Bell said it is also not only politicians who are the targets of patronage. So to are trade unions and campaigning groups, some of which may be set up as clients of business interests. Patronage, therefore, has a long and largely dishonourable history.
Bell quotes Milton Friedman, the “father of neo-liberal economics” as having said that any company director who prioritises social responsibility — a form of patronage — should be sacked on the spot.
He also maintains that, for a business group to capture a state, to be able to influence all policy decisions would be the acme of patronage, of a disease that “rots the social fabric from within”. Patronage — bribery and corruption — is therefore inherent within our social and economic system. It needs to be countered.
However, Bell says it is no answer to creeping corruption to deal with it by “robust discussion” behind closed doors; that it is a symptom of the disease that matters that concern us all are hidden from us. A further symptom, he says, is that many of those who speak out against corruption are afraid to do so publicly. We should ask why this is so.
The only antidote, he maintains, is transparency. If all is in the open and openly declared then everyone involved can be held accountable and the rot can be excised.