Politics, like most things in our globalised capitalist society, has become a commodity for sale at market prices. The cash-for-access scandal is only the latest case in point.
Bragging by now ex-Tory party treasurer Peter Cruddas that a £250,000 donation would get you a place at David Cameron’s dinner table and a direct line into policy making at No.10 is par for the course.
But the question is, why would anyone want to waste their money when business access to government is guaranteed, whoever is in office?
We’re not talking a lunch or a dinner with a member of the cabinet but an overall stranglehold on what goes in government.
Every government for the last 30 years or so has been “business friendly”, to put it mildly.
Whether it’s shackling the trade unions, driving down wages, privatising or “outsourcing” public services, bailing out bankers, introducing markets in education and health, New Labour, Tories and Lib Dems have been at it.
The corruption of the political system, to the point where it serves the interests of corporations, property companies, financiers and the rich is the real scandal, the real obscenity.
With all the major parties increasingly cut off from their base, they feel they ought to benefit themselves.
Cash-for-access follows cash-for-honours, cash-for-questions, cash-for-amendments, MPs expenses-for-duckponds and other unsavoury episodes that reveal that the parliamentary process is more like a financial clearing house more anything else.
They are all in it together. Labour recently received a £100,000 donation from businessman Assem Allam, who wants the party’s backing for a multi-million-pound property development. Ed Miliband was recently guest of honour at Hull City Football Club, owned by Allam.
With Cameron seen by many traditional Tories as too wet and too friendly with the Lib Dems, the cash-for-access PR disaster could even unravel the government. Former friends like Rupert Murdoch have weighed in, calling – no doubt with tongue in cheek – for an independent inquiry. Murdoch’s Sunday Times broke the story and now the newspaper mogul is backing the Scottish National Party. The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, both right-wing papers who detest the Coalition, have joined the assault on the government.
With the economy in deep trouble, and in the wake of a Budget that went down like a lead balloon after favouring the rich as against thrifty pensioners, political instability is growing.
So too is the clamour to change the basis of political funding. Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, says: "It would be wrong to regard [the Cruddas allegations] as an isolated event. Events like it are inevitable as long as the main political parties are dependent for their existence on large donations from rich individuals or, in the case of the Labour party, a small number of trade unions."
Of course, there is no comparison. The trade unions actually founded the Labour Party at the turn of the 20th century and their funding is based on members contributing a small amount to a political fund. Paradoxically, while business types might get access and influence policy, the same cannot be said of the trade unions.
They poured large sums of money into the campaign to get Ed Miliband elected as Labour leader. It has turned out to be money down the drain as Labour spoke out against strikes in defence of pensions, supported a public sector wage freeze, implemented spending cuts at local council level and generally fell in line behind government policy.
The lesson of all these experiences is that the political system is an adjunct of the corporate world. This relationship is symbiotic rather than accidental. A democracy that works for the majority of the people has yet to exist. We must redouble our efforts to create it.