Christiana Figueres, who heads up the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, has said: “This is probably the most difficult task we have ever given ourselves, which is to intentionally transform the economic development model, for the first time in human history.
“This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for the, at least, 150 years, since the industrial revolution.”
Hold that thought.
Meanwhile, the big political story in Britain in the last week has been a new Cash for Access scandal which lead to the defenestration of two senior Parliamentarians: Labour’s Jack Straw and the Conservative’s Malcolm Rifkind.
Both are former Foreign Secretaries. Both were caught by Channel 4’s Dispatches program offering to use their positions as politicians to benefit a fictitious Chinese firm in exchange for at least £5,000 a day. And both will now be stepping down at the next election, bringing to an ignominious end two previously esteemed careers spanning decades each. The public are, of course, outraged, with poll after poll showing that they do not believe Parliamentarians should have second jobs.
How has this happened? Back in 2010 when David Cameron first became Prime Minister, he warned that lobbying was the “next big scandal waiting to happen”. He was speaking just after the expenses scandal had hit the papers, when day after day for months on end the ludicrous purchases paid for by taxpayers on MPs expenses – duck houses, moat clearance, lavish furnishings – swamped the media.
The Speaker of the House Michael Martin, and six ministers resigned thanks to the expenses scandal. Numerous backbenchers declined to contest their seats at the general election. Eight MPs and Peers were convicted of criminal charges in court and handed prison sentences, and wholescale reforms were made both to the expenses system.
Yet despite occasional cash for access incidents cropping up, such as this most recent one, no major scandal has yet taken place. No reform has taken place.
Indeed, Eric Pickles has just announced a yet another crack down on government lobbying government, saying “There’s nothing wrong with private organisations using their own money to hire commercial firms for advice, provided it’s done in an open and transparent manner. But it’s a wasteful, corrosive and zero sum game for the public sector to be using lobbyists, and just leads to higher taxes and more red tape. The public sector never lobbies for lower taxes and less state spending.”
He’s ‘cracked down’ on government lobbying itself every year since he came to power in 2010, when he also said “Local activism and localism don’t need lobbyists. […] Councillors can campaign for change at a personal or party political level, rather than throwing away other people’s council tax on the corrosive and wasteful practice of government lobbying government. These tough new rules will lower the cost of politics and increase transparency.”
Dodgy lobbying has not yet rocked Westminster, even though the public know it goes on, and when the odd person gets caught, no one is prosecuted.
The actions of Straw and Rifkind following their ensnarement are revealing. The two men have each referred themselves to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards insisting that they have not breached parliamentary rules and therefore have done nothing wrong. Indeed, Rifkind went so far as to vociferously defend himself and colleagues who both work in Parliament and represent business interests, saying that it was “unrealistic” for Parliamentarians to be limited to earning £60,000 a year.
“That sounds a lot to a lot of people earning less than that but the vast majority of people of a business or professional background earn far, far more than that. If they’re told they have to choose one or the other they won’t come to the House of Commons at all and Parliament will lose their skills,” he argued.
He may be right, but the public disagree. A YouGov poll found that 60 percent of the public believe MPs should work full time, and that taking a second job “risks conflict of interests or corruption”, while only 26 percent thought that a second job such as medicine, law or running a business kept Parliamentarians in touch with ordinary people. 54 percent would support an outright ban on second jobs, against 28 percent who would oppose such a ban.
So, what does the cash for access scandal have to do with Figueres’ comments on overturning capisalism?
Simply this: it proves that she and her colleagues ought to be very pleased with the progress they have made thus far, moreso as they have successfully brought the public fully on board. The solution to the cash for access scandal favoured by the public; that is, making the role of political office even more professional than it currently is, is precisely the sort of thing that Figueres has in mind when she talks about overturning the “economic development model”. Bravo her.
Further entrenching a political class well versed in what Ayn Rand called “Washington ability” – something which both Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind clearly have in spades, as they are able to charge a whopping £5,000 a day for it – is key to undermining capitalism and replacing it wholesale with corporatism, which is, after all, only a hop, skip and a jump away from socialism.
Just after the expenses scandal rocked Westminster, the prominent libertarian Parliamentarians Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell sat down to write a book. The Plan is essentially a sort of libertarian manifesto, and covers all sorts of policy areas, including parliamentary pay. In it, they write “In the longer term, we need to consider whether the current system – a full-time Parliament with full-time MPs – is the most appropriate one. The professionalisation of politics has been accompanied by a growing disdain for politicians, based on the sense that they are a breed apart.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Hannan and Carswell’s solution to the problem, and vastly favour it over that supported by the public. But libertarians must start to ask themselves honestly and frankly: is it enough simply to keep mildly and politely proposing libertarian solutions? When the enemy is at the gates, ought we not start putting some thought into how best to defeat them?