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Our form of democracy is bribery, on the highest scale. Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, 2013
Chicago in the early twentieth century was already one of the most corrupt cities in the United States. One classic example of this was the 1919 World Series Baseball, when a New York gangsta Arnold Rothstein bribed the Chicago White Sox to lose. Police and politicians all took bribes. The Story of Al Capone
These obituaries were written in the sort of reverential tone which might have been reserved, say, for the prodigal son. The general theme was that here was a man who had strayed and should be pitied by all decent upper class people.
The real reason for the sympathy was, however, not that Poulson was a crook but that he was caught. Tories are always singing the praises of self-made men and John Poulson was certainly that. His background was the very essence of stout hearted English self-help.
... He was a Tory, but he noticed that Tories often charged more (and expected higher bribes) than Labour politicians, so he built his practice on the bribery of Labour councils in the north of England and Scotland.
Of course if a greedy Tory came his way Poulson snapped him up. He welcomed with open wallet a Tory cabinet minister, Reginald Maudling, and a prominent Tory backbencher, John Cordle, whose membership of the Synod of the Church of England in no way precluded him from accepting generous bribes from John Poulson.
Poulson built one of the biggest architectural practices in Europe by the simple device of bribing politicians, council officials, sheikhs and sultans.
No Labour chairman of committees was too lowly for Poulson. Vast inedible dinners in hotels were his speciality for Labour councillors.
There was no reason at all why John Poulson should ever have been knocked off his pedestal. The business world then (and now) was full of gangsters and charlatans who lived out their life in the full glow of their contemporaries’ high regard.
Poulson was done down by his own greed. Like Robert Maxwell in a later period, he became obsessed with obtaining riches which were beyond his grasp. He borrowed too much and spent too much.
When he finally went bankrupt, journalists who had honoured him and fed at his table turned on him to gloat at the ‘greatest corruption story of the decade’.
Poulson went to prison for seven years. Yet he did nothing more than what other more skilful ‘entrepreneurs’ have done.
In many ways he was a model for the ‘enlightened self-interest capitalism’ which became known as Thatcherism. He helped himself at others’ expense, grabbed what he could from his workers, sold his customers short with shoddy goods, built himself a palatial house and promised to do his duty to God and the Queen. Paul Foot, article 13th February 1993, ‘Bribery & Corruption’
Since he was elected Tory MP for Tatton in 1983, he [Neil Hamilton] has rested the extreme Thatcherite right, constantly baiting true unionists, the unemployed and the dispossessed. He flaunts the sterile wit and pervasive arrogance of all the Thatcherite Young Turks who grew rich and famous at the expense of others in the Golden Years of Private Enterprise. Hamilton denies being paid £2,000 a time to ask questions, but he does not deny a sumptuous weekend in Paris at the expense of the ghastly old liar and cheat Fayed, the chairman of Harrods. Dinner each night for the MP and his wife cost the Harrods boss £232. How that figure must have delighted ‘scrounger’ in bed: breakfast accommodation so often mocked by Hamilton and his ilk.
The media have discovered something they call ‘parliamentary sleaze’. Yet this is one the most time honoured institutions of our mother of parliaments. Many and varied are the ways in which corporate power in capitalist society cuts down all semblance of representative democracy in parliaments and local councils, but the most obvious of them all is buying the representatives. If MPs are paid more by an ‘outside interest’ than by their constituents, then it follows that they will consider the interests of the corporation before those of their constituents. The MP for Loamshire (£31,000 a year) prefers to be the MP for Blue Blooded Merchant Bank plc (£50,000 a year and rising). Representation plays second fiddle to corporate public relations.
Before 1975 MPs didn’t even have to declare which firms paid them. The Poulson scandal of the late 1960s and 1970s revealed a clutch of MPs using questions, motions, dining rooms and debates to promote the interests of the corrupt architect. One MP had to resign, and the Register of Interests was set up. No one took much notice of it, even during the 1980s as the number of consultancies, directorships and perks showered on MPs, almost all of them Tory, rose to obscene levels. One Tory MP was so bemused by the way in which his colleagues were growing rich that he actually advertised for a company to take him on as a consultant. The private dining rooms of the House of Commons – why are there private dining rooms there anyway? – became a huge commercial undertaking whereby corporations offered their customers the best food and drink, all consumed in an intoxicating atmosphere of democracy. How wonderful to drink a toast to the hierarchs of the Hanson Trust after a glamorous dinner in the ancient seat of parliament!
By the mid-1980s the buying of MPs had become a public and obvious scandal. No one noticed. On and on it went, with the blessing of both prime ministers. Thatcher and Major both used 10 Downing Street as another watering hole to pour booze down the gullets of generous donors to the Tory Party:
If parliament was indeed composed of representatives there should be no ‘outside interests’ whatsoever, MPs should, get their salary and not a penny more. Their perks and trips abroad should be ruthlessly wiped out, and their activities subjected to the most rigorous public scrutiny and disclosure. That is what the new House of Commons Privileges Committee should recommend. But since the committee consists of seven Tory MPs, all with business interests, sitting in secret, the chances of even the mildest restrictions on rampant sleaze are spectacularly low. Paul Foot, article November 1994, ‘Parliamentary Privilege’
I’ll stand up, look them straight in the eye, and offer them a bribe. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine s3e3: The House of Quark, Quark
Bribery: it’s a trillion dollars a year. Now there is an international crackdown and a pivotal case. Frontline: Black Money, PBS 2009
BAE aka British Aerospace is the world’s third largest arms manufacturer. ibid.
An $80 billion international arms deal: a fighter jet deal involving BAE, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. ibid.
In late 1977 Congress passed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. ibid.
The first investigation in the United Kingdom of oversees bribery. ibid.
Prince Bandar brought a letter from his father Crown Prince Sultan threatening to cut off cooperation on terrorism. ibid.
Since this programme was first broadcast in the US in 2009 BAE has admitted in the US to false accounting and ... guilty to a breach of duty to keep accounting records, and agreed to pay £30m in respect of separate wrongdoings concerning Tanzania. ibid.
Louisville Greys of the new National League mysteriously lost seven games in a row ... An investigation revealed that gamblers had bought off four players. Ken Burns, Baseball: Our Game ***** PBS 1994
Paying bribes was customary in nearly all business units of Siemens. Reinhard Siekaczek
Arms Firm’s £60 million slush fund: Police launch inquiry into allegations of gifts and payments to Saudis. The Guardian front page
Nothing to be done without a bribe I find, in love as well as law. Susannah Centlivre, 1669-1723, The Perjured Husband
The taking of a bribe or gratuity, should be punished with as severe penalties as the defrauding of the State. William Penn
For if I should be bribed too, there would be none left to rail upon thee. William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens I ii 241-242, Apemantus
Which buys admittance; oft it doth; yea, and
Diana's rangers false themselves, yield up
Their deer to the stand o’ the stealer: and ’tis gold
Which makes the true man kill’d and saves the thief;
Nay, sometimes hangs both thief and true man. William Shakespeare, Cymbeline II iii 72
Our form of democracy is bribery, on the highest scale. Gore Vidal
Judges and senates have been bought for gold;
Esteem and love were never to be sold. Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man IV:187
Alas! the small discredit of a bribe
Scarce hurts the lawyer, but undoes the scribe. Alexander Pope, Epilogue to Satire, Dialogue II:46
Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder. George Washington, Moral Maxims, Virtue and Vice, The Trial of Virtue