Peter Cruddas has let himself down, he’s let the Conservatives down, he’s let politics down. In fact he’s let all of us down.
I’ve been watching this week to see what the fallout from the Sunday Times’ exposé on his cash for influence downfall would be. Fortunately for the Conservatives a fuel crisis/non-crisis has turned up at just the right time to distract most of the media’s attention from it all. I would suspect that the other parties have welcomed the distraction too, as this sort of scandal has a habit of dragging them all into it quickly.
Party funding and politics have always made for uneasy bed fellows. Funding is a necessary evil that allows the parties to operate, but can always threaten to be a master rather than a servant when those donating want something in return for their loyalty. Peter Cruddas was in a position of huge influence as the principal treasurer of the Conservative Party. It looks to be the case that this power went quickly to his head as he was only in the role for less than a month before he was forced to resign. His boasting of the access to the Prime Minister that he could provide, irrespective of whether it was true or not, was no way for any party treasurer to act.
The question we now face as usual when these things come around is just how much truth was in his words. If what he said was true then we have a real and deeply worrying scandal on our hands. If he was lying, then all he has managed to do is damage his leader’s reputation and further erode the public’s trust in politicians. We’ve been left wondering how much Tory policies are being influenced by big money and if corruption is close at hand. On Thursday in the Daily Mail, Lord Tebbit bemoaned the fact that previous structures that kept fund-raising on the straight and narrow in the past no longer exist. It is not the first time, he says, that David Cameron has blurred the line between party business and the affairs of government to his cost.
Of course, we’ve been here before. It’s not that long ago we had the cash for honours debacle under the previous government. It’s bound to happen again too unless the parties get to grips with this. Last year the Committee for Standards in Public Life published a comprehensive review on how to improve the funding of political parties in Britain. However, the recommendations were not implemented because the Conservatives and Labour could not come to an agreement on the details. Because they are funded in different ways with Labour mainly getting their income from the unions and the Conservatives from individual donors, they could not find a compromise that didn’t in their eyes give one side an advantage. You can read a more in-depth review of current party funding along with some suggested solutions at Make Wealth History.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear then that in a MORI poll, the only group of people less trusted than politicians is journalists. Over 70% of respondents said that they did not expect politicians to tell the truth. There is a serious problem with the perceived lack of integrity in politics that drags us all down. Nicky Gumbel, Rector of HTB in London, in his book, ‘The Jesus Lifestyle’ writes this:
‘We need to recapture a vision of an honest society where ‘our word is our bond’ and trust restored… King David said, ‘I know my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity’ (1 Chronicles 29:17). Integrity is something that pleases God at a personal level. But it is also vital for a functioning of wider society. Jethro told his son-in-law Moses how to share the burdens of leadership: ‘Keep a sharp eye out for competent men – men who fear God, men of integrity, men who are incorruptible – and appoint them as leaders’ (Exodus 18:21, The Message).
‘In fact, integrity is a key to leadership. We read in Proverbs 20:28 that ‘Sound leadership is founded on loving integrity’ (The Message). Dwight D. Eisenhower, former US president (1953-61) and supreme commander of allied forces in Europe during the Second World War, said ‘[The] supreme quality of leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on… the football field, in an army or in office.”
How many politicians can you think of that live up to this standard? Certainly Peter Cruddas has fallen a long way short, which suggests he should never have been allowed to become his party’s treasurer.
We expect a lot from our leaders and rightly so, for whether they like it or not they set a standard for public life. We can’t expect them to be perfect and we should be forgiving when errors are genuine and they say sorry. If any party really made a sincere effort to get to grips with this and put integrity at the top of its agenda, it would surely win favour with the public. We are desperate for honest accountable politicians that we can trust.
I challenge all the parties to do all they can to work towards making integrity and the restoration of trust with the public key policy areas. We need to remember though that you can’t just flick a switch and turn integrity on. For any individual, integrity of life, words and speech come from an integrity of heart.
And that’s what we’re constantly looking for; politicians with integrity of heart.