How corrupt is Britain?

Will McMahon
Friday, 27 March 2015

Liberal thought contends that the United Kingdom is a mature parliamentary democracy, with a House of Commons elected by universal suffrage that is subject to scrutiny and revision by a second chamber, with both chambers underpinned by a powerful unwritten constitution that ensures that neither become too overweening.

Over time Parliament itself, with the assent of the electorate, has created a host of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary bodies, with trusted appointees who hold to account the judiciary, the police, the security forces, the corporations and other powerful organisations in society.

In sum, those living in contemporary Britain are the beneficiaries of a model liberal democratic social order with checks and balances evolving over centuries ensuring everyone, rich and poor alike, lives in a law-governed society in which the corruption of the powerful is an aberration, a threat to the system, and not to be tolerated.

The collection of essays in How Corrupt is Britain?  fundamentally challenges this contention. The essays emerged out of a conference of the same title that the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies co-sponsored with University of Liverpool in May 2013. The conference brought together some of the leading experts and campaigners on state and corporate corruption in Britain. As the day progressed a picture was drawn that contrasted sharply with the view that Britain nears the end of an inexorable march towards a transparent liberal democracy.

How Corrupt is Britain? demonstrates that, rather than an aberration, corruption is endemic in powerful institutions in contemporary Britain, both public and private, andis sustained by a culture of impunity that has emerged over generations. Indeed, the main bodies that are supposed to bring the corrupt to book, Parliament and the police, are implicated in corrupt practices to such a degree that it is difficult to conceive how they might be able to hold others to account.

It is a common refrain in contemporary politics that those in power no longer have the trust of the ‘the people’. Much of the material source of this distrust can be found in How Corrupt is Britain? The breadth of corruption detailed is remarkable and the lack of accountability of the powerful in British society palpable.