Aside 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.