Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.
The good men (and women) are those of our not insignificant pounds 1
billion PR industry. The party is the UK’s body politic. The problem is
’sleaze’ and how it is driving a dangerous wedge between people and
politicians, producing cycnicism about government and threatening our
Over recent weeks PR professionals have shown a concern, in these
opinion pages, about their responsibilities to society. Well, we can
start to demonstrate it by coming up with some advice on how to restore
public life to the probity Mr Blair pledged to re-establish when he came
So far he has not made a very good fist of it because, even though the
Tories are painted as uniquely sleazy, New Labour is nowt to write home
about - as a number of commentators pointed out last week. No party has
a monopoly on virtue.
The current danger is that we shall get no further than the kettle
calling the pot black. This just compounds the problem. In my view, we
need to recognise at the outset that nobody can make men and women good.
All we can do is to make it difficult for them to be bad. If we accept
this, then we next need to recognise that the proliferation of watchdogs
over recent years has achieved only one thing: the proliferation of the
use of the word ’sleaze’ - real, imagined or manufactured. Politics is
becoming a cesspit, as the Mail’s Paul Johnson put it last week.
Instead, we need to establish a single, comprehensive and published
national code of conduct, covering among other things PR and lobbying
practice, for all those working in the public sector or dealing with it.
This should be drawn up and kept under review by an independent body,
appointed by the Speaker through Parliament (not the Government) which
would hear complaints to establish whether there was a prima facie case
to answer. Those involving criminal issues would be sent to the High
Court and ’moral’ issues - that is, breaches of the code - to the
independent body’s judicial branch which would have the power to
censure, fine or order restitution, and suspend from ever holding public
My code would bind politicians, political advisers, local, national and
quangoid public servants, lobbyists and journalists. And anyone
associated or dealing with public office would automatically be liable
to declare their interests, affiliations, shareholdings, perks and
freebies. Nobody would be free to report a complaint in the press until
the independent body had pronounced on whether a prima facie case
existed and detailed coverage would have to await the subsequent ’trial’
which would be held in public. I now look forward to you, gentle reader,
tearing this tough, but fair solution apart.