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Published on June 19th, 2014 | by Charles Fleetham
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The Legacy of Expenses: Corruption in the UK

It has become increasingly apparent in UK politics since the turn of the new millennium that the UK has similar corruption issues as many governments across the globe. Whilst the British populace were mostly aware that nations in the developing world faced widespread embezzlement by their governments, it was not commonly known that their own Members of Parliament were also deceiving the taxpayer by claiming fraudulent expenses. The expenses scandal story broke in 2009, and has continued to plague politicians from across the party spectrum, most recently with UKIP leader Nigel Farage being accused of claiming more than he spent for MEP expenses. Since 2009 six MPs and 2 peers have been convicted, with a range of sentences depending on the severity of their crimes. The latest trial was that of Denis MacShane Labour MP for Rotherham in December 2013, Mr MacShane had been MP for Rotherham since 1994. That a former Cabinet Minister was involved is demonstrative of the scale of the expenses scandal. It is clear that the expenses scandal will have had a solid impact on public perception of corruption in politics.

There was a small positive consequence from the phone hacking scandal of the early 2000s, the revelation that there was systematic bribery ongoing within the London Metropolitan Police Service; the ongoing trial of Rebekah Brooks has highlighted the issue repeatedly. The 2010 Bribery Act can largely be seen as a result of the public’s belief that bribery was uncontrolled after the phone hacking scandal. Before the Bribery Act, prosecution for corruption would be built under a multitude of different acts, with few prosecutions under these acts leading to convictions.

Whilst the UK has often been favourably compared to other Western nations in regards to corruption, with public perception of corruption in the US usually higher than in the UK, it is clear that the UK still faces significant challenges. Although the UK government has attempted to combat corruption allegations with investigations into expenses, and the 2010 Bribery Act, new allegations keep appearing. For example, in the last two years there have been accusations of corruption in the sports sector, with focus on fixing in cricket and in snooker, and the use of illegal drugs in the Commonwealth games. Evidently the fight against corruption in the UK will be an ongoing struggle, with organisations such as Transparency International playing a crucial role in maintaining public awareness.

It is my opinion that corruption is inherent in government; it is a human condition that will never be completely vanquished. Yet, there are checks and balances that can be put into place that will allow for protection from large scale corruption. Unfortunately not all corruption is so easy to spot, it must be remembered that corruption is not simply a system of bribes, but can be informal favours in a quid pro quo style. The country’s elite, who often run in the same social circles, will have the chance to assist in some small manner, in return for the same treatment at a later date – this kind of corruption is much harder to prove than if a physical bribe were to take place.

For those who desire to further research the issue of corruption in the UK, please take advantage of the plethora of blog articles, statistics, and reports that Transparency International provide on their website. This of special use for students studying politics at University, think tanks like these are extremely useful as credible primary sources. However, if you do follow my advice remember that their Corruption Perception Index is just that – a quantitative analysis of the populace’s perception of corruption. Thus, a grain of salt must be taken with the results, the same caution that should be applied to all sources, primary or secondary.

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About the Author

Charlie is a graduate from the University of Kent, having achieved a Bachelor's degree in War Studies, and a Master's degree in International Conflict Analysis. He has recently concluded a research internship with the conflict resolution non-government organisation the Next Century Foundation, and is also a regular contributor to the political blog the Institute of Opinion.

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