Capitalist ethics

TWO FORMER foreign ministers have been disgraced for offering to take cash for favours. Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw were filmed by undercover reporters from the Telegraph and Channel Four offering to use their contacts and experience to benefit a fake Chinese company in exchange for thousands of pounds.

Rifkind, who argued for British intervention against Syria and chaired the intelligence and security committee in Parliament, claimed he had “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world. Straw, the minister in Blair’s war Cabinet that helped US imperialism invade Iraq, boasted he had worked to help change EU rules on behalf of a firm which pays him £60,000 a year.

The two grandees involved in the latest cash for access scandal have now finally departed from the political stage. Sir Malcolm Rifkind has been disowned by the Tory Party and he will leave Parliament at the next election. Jack Straw, who was retiring anyway, has been suspended from the Labour Party.

Both men claim they had broken no parliamentary rules and were doing nothing wrong. Technically this may well be true. What they were asking for is nothing compared to the tax evasion of the rich which goes on unhindered on an industrial scale.

Though MPs get at least £67,000 a year they say it’s still not enough for most of them. Some 30 MPs have doubled their income through second jobs. A dozen more take more than the Prime Minister, who gets £142,000.

But the prospect of another scandal, in the run-up to the general election, involving well-heeled MPs lining their pockets while workers queue for food-bank hand-outs was too much for even our jaded political establishment.

Back in the old days bourgeois politicians resigned at the slightest hint of scandal to avoid enraging the mob they have feared since the days of the French Revolution. Nowadays they view their corruption as a badge of honour and only go when exposure in the media becomes unacceptable to the class they represent.

It’s an old story. Bribes, influence peddling and insider trading have been a feature of capitalist relations in Britain from the start.

Past monarchs like the Stuarts and the Hanoverians regularly bribed MPs to try to get their own way in Parliament. The purchase of officer commissions in the British Army was brought in following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and it continued until 1871. Generals regularly took back-handers from contractors like the great Duke of Marlborough, who was accused in the 18th century of taking a commission from suppliers of bread to the army and by deducting pay from the wages of foreign soldiers.

But one capitalist’s bribe is another capitalist’s misfortune. In some countries, like feudal Saudi Arabia, bribery is still the norm for winning contracts. But in the developed capitalist world the concept of “unfair competition” has brought in a tranche of laws to regulate greed and exploitation. Bourgeois law and bourgeois ethics exist simply to provide a level playing field for the capitalists to compete amongst each other while regulating the oppression of the working class they exploit.

Rifkind and Straw have been sacrificed on the altar of public opinion not for what they did but for being caught out in an embarrassing media sting. No one is going to miss them, least of all the ruling class that no longer needs their services. Unfortunately there are plenty more willing to take their place in the Tory and Labour ranks.