Alex Hilton: Cleaning up politics is not over yet

Britain has plunged from 11th to 20th least corrupt nation in Transparency International's annual corruption league tables. This is mostly attributed to the expenses scandal, but the implications go further than politics.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

The anger over political corruption has given way to a justification of MPs' behaviour and even sympathy over the way they have been treated. Respected columnists are defending their political friends. I even heard Lembit Opik say: 'No-one should have to resign from Government for the reasons that forced David Laws to resign.' What? For fiddling £40,000 of expenses? Of course he should have resigned.

When challenged over her housing allowance claim, Conservative MP Nadine Dorries said her blog entries couldn't be used against her because they were '70 per cent fiction and 30 per cent fact'. Labour has a collection of peers suspended for inappropriate allowance claims and MP Phil Woolas is waiting to see if his election in Oldham is to be annulled.

Compare this with the outrage expressed at Afghan President Hamid Karzai's cash handouts from the Iranian government. Karzai's defence is that it is just aid and a far smaller sum than is received from the US and other governments. Karzai's regime is undoubtedly more corrupt than ours, but it was a British prime minister who tried to block the BAE Systems bribery investigation and the double standards do us harm.

A company seeking to do business in Europe looks for a number of things, whether that be labour market factors or economic stability. Corruption equates to political instability, laws being passed for perverse reasons and pressure on judiciaries to apply those laws unfairly - and that affects the cost of doing business.

We're not competing with Afghanistan (176 in the league table) for inward investment, but we are competing with Germany (15) and other developed nations. Unless we promote Britain as a clean nation - and that starts with our politics - we're going to find ourselves compared to Italy (67).

- Alex Hilton is a political communications adviser and former Labour parliamentary candidate.

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