Tuesday 28 October 2008

How the other half live

The Independent on Sunday carried a very good and lengthy analysis of who did what, where and when on certain yachts off Corfu in the summer. For what it's worth, I tend to accept that Mandelson probably didn't do any favours for the Russian oligarch, and Osborne probably didn't actively solicit donations - although he might well have been more than willing to pursue the point once the subject got raised.

Notwithstanding the truth of the matter, Labour and Tory alike seem determined to demand ever more detailed explanations of each other, keeping the story alive a little longer.

What seems not to be in dispute at all however, is that Mandelson for Labour, and Osborne, Feldman, and Cameron himself for the Tories all accepted what can only be described as lavish hospitality from a range of very rich and powerful people, all of whom could stand to gain significant sums of money from changes in government and EU policy. I remember when I was doing business with other companies on behalf of my then employer, that the rule was never to accept any gifts or hospitality which I would not be able to reciprocate. It was a simple and clear rule, which led to a nice collection of cheap diaries each year.

These politicians all claim to have done nothing wrong, and in the sense of keeping within the limits set down by the letter of the law, I'd be prepared to accept that they're probably right. What continues to stagger me, however, is that any of them could consider this sort of hospitality to be normal and acceptable, just because it isn't actually illegal. They really do not seem to understand that being flown in private jets to stay in billionaires' yachts and villas – the sort of one-sided hospitality which they could never reciprocate – is always going to look like a conflict of interest, no matter what the detail of the law says.

They may not have done anything which is actually illegal, but they seem to be completely detached from the real world in which the rest of us live; and the whole story raises serious questions about the judgement both of the individuals concerned and of those who are trying so hard to defend them.

No comments: