This week the UK has been hit by the latest in a series of political scandals, all of which only add further weight to the argument that the influence of corporate power upon the system is an inherent and inevitable consequence of democratic politics.
Jeremy Hunt is the British minister responsible for judging whether or not Rupert Murdoch’s News International could take over a controlling share in British Sky Broadcasting, in what would be the largest takeover bid in UK history.
Yet a series of emails revealed to the Leveson inquiry, which is responsible for examining the excesses of media activity, have revealed that his office appeared to be advising Murdoch’s company on how best to secure the deal and confirmed Hunt’s well-known bias in favour of the bid.
He has been dubbed the ‘Minister for Murdoch’ in some areas of the UK media; whereas others have said he is simply emulating Prime Minister David Cameron, whose own relationship with the Murdoch empire included private meetings and social dinners (he spent Christmas day with former executive Rebekah Brooks, even borrowing a horse from her).
The endless debate to define the boundaries between ‘ethical’ use of money to influence politics and unethical or illegal use entirely miss the root causes as to why democracy always and inevitably leads to the toxic mix of money and power, examples of which we see across the world and in the headlines with alarming frequency.
Only a few weeks ago Britain’s last political scandal was the revelation that the co-treasurer of the governing Conservative party was caught on camera apparently offering access to the prime minister and chancellor for a ‘donation’ of up to £250,000. He cited examples of how donors had been invited to private dinners with David Cameron and his family and Cameron was forced to declare details of the names of millionaire donors who he had dined with.
The sheer number and scale of these scandals has been such that people have become desensitised to stories about sleaze. It is almost expected by the public that politicians will behave in a corrupt manner, and not just in the UK. Across India, Russia, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the common theme seems to be that corruption and democracy have become synonymous – and that ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’ actually means government for the richest and most powerful people in society.
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It is in this context that calls for democracy in the Middle East should be viewed. Those who support this call should be careful what they wish for. For if they are calling for a voice in society, a chance to elect their rulers, hold them to account and for the rule of law, this is fine. Indeed, Islam defined these elements of government long before modern democracies existed, so the implicit claims by supporters of democracy that the western model of government is the only path to achieve these things do not tally with historical fact.
But if they want democracy as it is today, they should not merely look to the overtly corrupt politics of Russia, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. They should look to the hidden and manifest practices in mature democracies across the world, and ask themselves if this really is the future that so many people fought and died for, or if we have something better to offer the world.