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Straw and Rifkind: do we want rules or principles?

Written by Robert Barrington on Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Following the latest lobbying scandal, TI-UK’s Executive Director reflects on whether the rules are up to scratch.


Is it any wonder people say they have lost confidence in our political leaders?​

A couple of weeks ago, we published a report that pointed out no fewer than thirty-nine loopholes in the related systems of lobbying the revolving door and political party financing.  It is therefore no surprise that Jack Straw was able to say with some confidence: “I have acted in accordance with the parliamentary rules at all times.”

Meanwhile, Lord King was able to say of his former colleague Malcolm Rifkind ‘Sir Malcolm is a man of perfectly good principle.’  There may be a hidden truth yet to come out – but as far as one can discern from the information available, the principles seem to have gone out for a walk.

You can’t really have it both ways.  If you have a self-regulatory system that depends on principles not on rules, you need those within the system to act with principle.  If you can’t assume that people will act with principle, you need tougher rules.  What does not work is weak rules governing people who don’t act with principle.

What principles do we mean?  The obvious ones: conflict of interest, putting personal gain above public interest and perhaps most of all the need for our politicians and government to operate to certain standards of probity.  Remember the Nolan Principles: they include Selflessness, Integrity, Honesty and Leadership.  They apply to current public servants, and not people who have left office.  But one would hope that if you have reached the position of Foreign Secretary, Prime Minister, or indeed Cabinet rank, you would take those principles with you into your life after holding office.   It’s frankly unsavoury to find former British Ministers willing and able to sell their services as a ‘cab for hire’, as one former Minister famously said.  I wonder how much our allies and interlocutors in global diplomacy value the thought that when they deal with a British Foreign Secretary, they are as much part of global networking on behalf of a future employer as they are part of doing the real work of diplomacy.

To end on a positive note: the political parties have acted more decisively in this latest scandal than previously.  Let’s hope that is how they always act in future.

To read  and download our full lobbying report click here

To read comment for the TI EU comment click here


Read 3101 times Last modified on Wednesday, 11 November 2015 10:07

Robert Barrington

Robert is TI-UK's Executive Director. You can view his full bio here, and tweet him @TIukED.

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