I have stayed away from writing too many blogs recently about politics as I was getting feedback from some readers that I was writing far too much about politics rather than about business. I think that was a fair point, but it is hard to ignore the events going on in England at the moment.
My parents were from India and the thing that you realize very early on when you try to get anything done in India (even trivial things like getting a phone connected or a driving license issued) requires the greasing of palms (or bribes being paid). It is accepted in countries like India that corruption is a way of life. And it is not a ‘third world thing’ either. Italy celebrates its corruption. The size of the black economy there is estimated to be a staggering 30% of GDP. There is honesty to this approach though.
What I have always found disconcerting is the British approach that we are somehow above reproach when we ask ‘do male cats spray’. With the publication of the MP’s expenses in the British media this week, we have found out exactly how greedy our politicians have been up to this point.
It is simply disgraceful that the politician in charge of law and order thought it was OK to have the taxpayer pay for pornographic movies, or for her sister’s house to be paid for as she claimed to have been living there. The Minister in charge of the Police was claiming to be living at his parent’s house (when his own home was only 12 miles away) so that he could claim a second home allowance. The whole thing stinks. What about the Foreign Secretary who thought it was OK for the state to be paying for his baby’s pram?
The defense that all politicians have jumped to has been that what they were doing was within the rules. How many of these same politicians were lambasting Sir Fred Goodwin for doing the same thing? The other difference is that somewhere along the line, something must have kicked in which made the politicians realize they were doing something wrong.
The Inland Revenue has a good and robust test for allowing business expenses. You have to demonstrate that your expenses are wholly, exclusively and necessarily for the purpose of your business. For example, a barrister can claim the cost of a wig, but not the cost of a black suit as that can be used for other purposes other than wearing in a court of law. I would like to know how Keith Vaz MP felt it was in the interests of the taxpayer to purchase leather chairs worth £2600 at their expense.
There is a business point here. It is about moral leadership. You cannot respect a CEO or an entrepreneur who is cutting back on staff pay or numbers whilst enriching themselves at the companies expense by for example having moles removed from their garden (yes – it is true!). How hard will it know be for the government to ask us to pay more in taxes and ask us for restraint in the public purse when they themselves have been showing no such restraint.
I have always had a very low regard for politicians and this episode of how to cure cystic acne has done nothing to change that opinion. There are some notable exceptions such as Hillary Ben and David Cameron (you may argue that he does not need to because of his private wealth – but the richest MP in the Cabinet still felt compelled to claim £1.09 for a Pizza)
What this episode has demonstrated is that although business people make a good target to attack for politicians, we as a group can rightly claim to have a higher ethical code that the one that has been demonstrated by them over the last few years.
Britain is a great country with a very generous and liberal people, but do not think there is no corruption here. There is – it is just a very British version of it – legal, organized but still utterly wrong.