A political storm is raging in the UK over a lobbying scandal. The former prime minister and leader of the party in government, David Cameron, texted the health minister asking him to meet a client of his who was offering something to the health service for free.
No rules were broken. This was a free service so no issues of public procurement come up. The meetings were logged and procedures on lobbying were followed.
But as an analyst on TV put it a few days ago, it didn’t smell right. Politicians and their actions should not just be judged by what the rules prevent them from doing. They should be judged by whether their actions look and feel like serving the public interest or, in some way, their own interests, the interests of their friends and networks, and the cashing in on favours owed and received.
When Repubblika reported Carmelo Abela for his stupid full-page adverts last year, the criterion really was a smell test. It just is not right for Ministers to use public money to buy newspaper space just to show us their picture. Perhaps no one has bothered to write proper rules to prevent this.
But the failure is in not writing that rule, not merely in the fact that no rule was broken when it wasn’t followed.
George Hyzler’s report was published today after the Labour Party could no longer kick and scream in opposition. At some point, it needed to be published. Through the time it took the Commissioner to “investigate” and report on this and the time it took for the report to be published, other Ministers spent public money to advertise nothing more than their general appearance.
Lessons learnt today then.
First, that Repubblika has provided the public with a service. After the government itself failed to stop its own Ministers from wasting the people’s money, Repubblika took the time to insist the wasted money is paid back.
Second, that an inherent element of the effort to raise standards is in the transparency of those standards.
Third, if it doesn’t smell right, don’t do it. There’s going to be a lot more stench between now and the coming elections.