Ruth Turner: victim of institutionalised corruption

Honours inquiry moves closer to PM as aide arrested at dawnAside from a great little reader offer giving you the chance to buy an effective title, I’ve not been moved to write about the cash-for-honours scandal. But seeing someone you once knew quite well pictured on the front page of the Guardian marching down Downing Street seemingly recovered from a police dawn raid is rather novel.

Student politics seems rather distant and silly more than fifteen years on and the last time I bumped into Ruth Turner was about ten years ago at BBC Manchester. I was going on Allan Beswick’s mid-morning show on what was BBC GMR to plug a client and, far more impressively, she was going on to plug the Big Issue in the North, which she co-founded. Back at Salford University Ruth Turner was a leading light in the Blairite (before anyone had heard of Blair) Labour Club (along with Paul Richards who tried to recruit me several times, but I preferred to be the University’s far more radical Liberal Democrat). A decade may have passed, but I can’t imagine Ruth Turner as anything other than incorruptible or see a dawn raid as anything other than a desperate attempt at intimidation on the part of the police. Anger at her arrest is clearly genuine.

But the reason the honours scandal is so otherwise uninteresting is that the honours system, built on patronage as it is, is clearly institutionally corrupt. Established as a means for monarchs to reward loyalists and pay off dissenters, its basic function hasn’t changed at all. So when political parties use honours to thank those who do them favours, they’re only doing what the system’s set up to do. Why, after all, would the leader of Labour Party give a peerage to someone who wasn’t a loyal party supporter or the Tory leader give one to someone who voted Lib Dem? And true loyalists are always happy to demonstrate their support by donating wads of cash, so those who’ve been elevated are almost certain to be frequent donors to party funds.

Our political system is corrupted not by individuals like Ruth Turner, whose reputation has been damaged by helping to implement the rules of the game as they currently stand. Corruption is systemic – institutionalised – and that can only be remedied by making the House of Lords accountable to the people, rather than the political establishment.

8 thoughts on “Ruth Turner: victim of institutionalised corruption

  1. Salford University politics were quite fun in the year Ruth Turner was elected Deputy President Communications – we had Extraordinary General Meetings and stuff because of electoral irregularities that suggested a bias towards the Labour Students dominance at the time. But I don’t think Ruth did much more than pour a pint over my mate Colin on election night, upset that Labour Dermot Kehoe might not win the presidency. It does indeed all seem rather silly now but I don’t think she likes losing…
    Stephen, were you the LibDem voice of reason at Salford circa 1991…?

  2. Hmm, yes, I guess meant: the closest thing to political opposition to Labour Students at the time. I was involved with “Vote Colin DPC” and we failed to stop Ruth winning anyway (and not just because her better looks swung the majority-male electorate). I consoled myself with being a non-aligned NUS delegate the following year to see Stephen Twigg as Labour president…

  3. It was hard to see any radicalism in the Labour Club of the time (Paul Richards was the main man). But they did manage to wind up a few people. As I recall it was the Catholic Society, under the charismatic leadership of the single eyebrowed Steve Hill, that really put a rocket under it. They were upset because the Students’ Union had created a Women’s Officer position (one of the last students’ unions to do so), a Gay & Lesbian Society had been established and the Union concurred with NUS on abortion. (That last one might sound like students posing, but was one of the few issues we debated that really mattered as the Students’ Union had an important welfare role to play and needed to be there for students in trouble and to provide sexual health advise.)

    I really was the only active member of the LibDems at Salford (one more than the Tories, who tried organising from outside, but were denied a stand a freshers’ fortnight because they couldn’t find a single bona fide Salford student to put in the request). But I didn’t do too badly in the election for president. I think I came third out of six, mostly because of the work I’d done in the Anti-Poll Tax Union (which earned me SWP support, and so leafleters, in those bizarre days) Amnesty and the Anti-Apartheid Movement. In truth I bit off more than I could chew. I was also running for national chair of the Student Lib Dems (I was international officer on the national exec) and should have concentrated on that.

    The big controversy of my campaign was that I’d put out flyers saying ‘it’s a straight choice’ between Dermot and myself. They tried to make out I was homophobic, a charge I’m pleased to say was never going to stick. In the end it was a three way split between pre-Blair New Labourism, Catholic fundamentalism and a rather bizarre coalition represented by myself.

  4. Thanks Stephen for refeshing my memory of Salford student politics in my fresher year. I think I must have voted for you for President (surely the 3-split you present entitles you to at least some claim “voice of reason”?).
    Indulge me one more time, but what was the fuss about the electoral process, with astonishigly well-attended EGMs etc etc? I think some of us even tried to get an EGM motion in, to counter the shrill not-the-voice-of-reason CathSoc. But cuddly Dermot got in anyway, hinting at the New Labour that was emerging from the shadow of Thatherism.

  5. The Catholic Society made accusations of ballot rigging, which peaked when Steve Hill claimed that Midland Bank (now HSBC and suppliers of tellers to count the votes) had conspired with the Labour Club. Facing a Catholic boycott, the bank manager threatened Hill with an action for defamation and Hill was forced to admit that he had no evidence, except to say that ballot rigging was the only possible explanation for his losing.

  6. Cheers Stephen, the memories are flooding back now. Ah, the fun to be had with single transferable votes eh? I’ve been a bit of a political junkie ever since.
    To return to topic, I should state that Ruth Turner beat Colin Jackson (my mate, not the athlete) fair and square in the DPC election at Salford University in 1991. I’ve lost touch with Colin but at least it’s easy to know “where are they now?” with Ruth. I wonder if she regrets ending up at Number 10 at the end of a regime?

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