Over the last few weeks the position of money and influence in politics has come under scrutiny. The Charity Commission announced its investigation into the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). It has led many to question the validity and position of democracy in the UK today. Is it right for politicians to attack minority groups for their own political leverage? Or indeed for supposedly independent think tanks like the IEA to be accused by some of influencing politics?
Any sane person would answer that it is not right for politics to be influenced by seeking office or attempting to influence others with money.
The IEA has been accused of offering potential donors access to ministers in the UK government as it attempts to raise money for research that would support free trade deals that hardlined Brexiters’ demand . Amongst the names thrown around are high profile figures such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davis and Liam Fox . As well as potential access to donors, the IEA chief Mark Littlewood suggest that the donors could shape large parts of the research into free trade deals and Brexit.
Visitors from ‘E Foundation’ for Oklahoma – a US based think tank – met the then Brexit minister Steve Baker in May 2018. The think tank, which serves the interests of American farmers, promised to help raise money for the IEA. American farmers are keen that any post Brexit deal will include the lifting of restrictions on some US products .
At the moment the sale of beef from the US, which has been treated with growth hormone and also chlorine-washed chicken, is currently banned in the UK. However, favourable research carried out by the IEA could have a huge influence on the future of such bans. Add this to the ministerial access and it is clear to see that the donations have strings attached, strings which the IEA seems in no rush to cut.
In fact, the man leading the IEA’s trade unit is Shanker Singham – someone who advocates the dropping of the EU’s precautionary principles which underpins much of the legislation around food and environmental safety .
The CEO of E Foundation for Oklahoma Michael Carnuccio, suggested to undercover reporters that his strategy to get money out of potential IEA donors was Singham’s direct political access and influence.
Camuccio said “If they don’t know them, then we just explain they’re the free market organisation that is the private sector trade advisor right now through working in that capacity with Singham, so they have the access, they have the influence.”
Further speaking of Singham, “I’m telling you, that dude has access” .
Speaking about the issue Shadow Cabinet minister Jon Trickett said:
“When big money uses underhanded ways to influence political decisions, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that democracy is being severely undermined.”
The real concern should be that no matter how repugnant these things are, they have become a part of political life all across the globe. Democracy only makes this worse and not better. In the days of old in England, the king would rule his dominion with an iron fist, it was clear who was in charge and that he would do anything to keep his position safe. This never stopped those who wished for power and influence to attempt to undermine and ultimately overthrow the king, the disease in-fact would be most rampant within the king’s inner circles. There is something about power that drives some men insane in their quest to acquire it, with their moral compasses (if they had any to begin with) becoming corrupted.
The advent of modern day democracy in the form today, on the face of it, allows power to be transferred to the people. In reality it just opened a circus of influencing the ruling elite to a wider audience.
By putting the label of lobbying onto what essentially is the buying of votes, one cannot hide the fact that where there is politics, money seems to be lurking in the shadows. Why else would it be that the IEA, an organisation registered as a charity, is now coming under scrutiny for the influence it can put on those in decision-making positions vis-à-vis Brexit?
The influence of money in American politics has long been something the world has scoffed at, with many multinational companies being often accused of funding both candidates to the tune of millions in order to assure they will have the ear of the President once elected. In the Muslim world, the likes of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari in Pakistan have long been accused and convicted of corruption and usurping government funds.
Some would say the latter example of Pakistan shows a banana republic and not a functioning democracy, however when both these examples, and that of the IEA, are examined together there is a common thread of those with money attempting and the most part succeeding in influencing decision making democracies.
That basic instinct for power and money that every human being possesses is simply left unchecked.
Despite their abundance of regulatory committees and regulations put in place by Parliament, political lobbying and dinner dates with MPs costing thousands of pounds are still the norm in Whitehall. Once MPs and cabinet members leave office they quickly find non-executive directorships at commercial businesses. Not because they have an unrivalled ability to change the fortunes of companies around, but simply for their contacts in positions of power.
None of this can be stopped via returning to a purer form of democracy, free of corporate meddling like many would have us believe. In reality, those in position of power should themselves be free of being influenced by others. In the privacy of office any ruler can be open to corruption which can go undetected by the checks and balances the system has put in place, whether that be democratic or Islamic. The only thing that stops the vultures circling, is a political system and politicians who are answerable to something other than those who would corrupt them.
 Rightwing UK thinktank ‘offered ministerial access’ to potential US donors [https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/29/rightwing-thinktank-ministerial-access-potential-us-donors-insitute-of-economic-affairs-brexit]
 Mark Littlewood: ‘We do not want for connections … He’s able to get into ministers.’ [https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=32&v=xyiX5K6W2mc]
 A leading think tank brokered access to ministers for US donors looking to influence Brexit [https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/07/29/iea-hard-brexit-think-tank-access-ministers/]
 How the IEA teamed up with US donors to push for environmental deregulation post-Brexit [https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/07/30/iea-brexit-shanker-singham-mark-littlewood-us-donors/]