Monday, March 22, 2010

Cash for contacts - it's a Byers market

Either Stephen Byers is greedy and boastful and his eyes lit up at the prospect of easy money or he was telling the truth in his interview with Channel 4's “Dispatches” programme.

He can’t, surely, get away with claiming he was merely full of hyperbole and actually he has never influenced anything.

But of course Byers and his fellow ex-Cabinet Ministers Patricia Hewitt and Buff Hoon are not alone in seeking to turn their contacts into cash.

Dozens of MPs of all persuasions will be on the jobs market on May 7 and many of them will be casting around for a way to replace their expenses with as little inconvenience as possible.

The price a commercial company might have to pay to change the law is probably small in comparison with the costs they might face if the Government is not talked out of whatever mad ruse or regulation it has got in mind.

A tame MP on the payroll is almost certainly money well spent.

The scandal here is as much about the idiocy of Government – and that means any Government of whatever party – as it is about the venality of our MPs.

Whitehall rarely considers the commercial consequences of its legislation or, if it does, it assumes that big business can somehow shoulder the financial burden without any consequences for the economy.

This is nonsense, of course. Every new law and regulation has a price. It makes this country less attractive and exports jobs, expertise and, in the long run, diminishes our shrinking economy still further.

There should be no need for lobbyists like Byers, Hoon, Hewitt and the dozens of others we don’t know about.

But “influence” is a valuable commodity in a corrupt political system where the simple expedient of asking our Parliamentary democracy to make the decisions has been abandoned.

Was Byers offering to take money for nothing or did he actually have valuable influence and contacts which could help companies buy their way to a better future? Was he being "economical with the truth" to the TV or is he being "economical with the truth" now?

Do we really think ex-Cabinet Ministers have no power to influence decisions in Whitehall? And do we really think they are not prepared to sell that influence to the highest bidder?

Lots of departing Tory MPs will be licking their lips at the prospect of a Cameron Government. Suddenly all those years in opposition will not have been wasted.

It’s significant that retiring Bromsgrove MP Julie Kirkbride, the expenses queen, was approached by “Dispatches” but turned down their offer.

She said she did not regard the approach as credible and duly alerted her Tory colleagues to the threat of a sting. Very clever, Julie, at least that’s one scandal you’ve managed to avoid.

She did not say she would have refused the work if it had been genuine. If the “Dispatches” reporter had been a bit more credible, would she have been so honourable? I wonder.

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