On a scale of one to very, approximately how unstunned would you be if you learned that Honourable Members of Parliament were taking money to have their opinions swayed like a Fijian palm tree in the breeze? Panorama has uncovered this unsurprising truth. It used to be a serious current affairs programme that educated its public over the course of an hour. It now lasts for about 27 minutes, most of which has a background musical accompaniment and continuously moving presenters, in what appears to be a desperate bid not to send an audience of toddlers to sleep. It looks like the worst MTV video ever. This once august institution has allayed itself with that venerable organ the Daily Telegraph, which has made a habit of uncovering the dastardly deeds of corrupt politicians and various carefully selected tax avoiders.
It was one of those stunts that papers pull off when in a slow news week, like wandering around an airport unchecked and snapping themselves in the cockpit of an empty 747, or offering cocaine to a soap star and secretly filming them with a straw up their hooter. Promising an MP a wad of cash to ask some questions, rally some support and prod the political machine in the required direction is right up there on the scale of difficulty as shooting fish in a barrel, finding a coffee shop on the high street or depressing teenagers. Of course they are going to go along with it. For £24,000 a year of free money, wouldn't you?
That is partly why this all seems so comically grubby. Relatively speaking, it is such a minuscule amount of money we are talking about here. At least in Russia, entire billions of pounds have gone missing during the building of the venues for the Winter Olympics. In dirt poor African states, the rulers can syphon off enough money to buy much of Paris and put a decent down-payment on the bits of London that the Qataris don't already own. Our own scrabbling, acquisitive lot seem like small beer in comparison.
In political terms, it was about three million years ago that David Cameron said that the next big scandal to break would be lobbying. Almost as thought he had said it accidentally, he uttered not a single syllable on the subject since. Perhaps he was drunk at the time. Desperate Dave is now positioning himself on the side of those with no money to influence politicians: us. We do not earn the kind of money that pours in to the tobacco business and the oil refiners and the arms manufacturers. These people are sitting under a waterfall of cash, but having more than enough is never enough, they want more than more than enough. To that end they throw what to us is massive amounts of persuasion at those that can do them some good. It is spare change to them.
There are "conference trips" to far off exotic five star resorts to hear a "presentation" on whatever it is that they are selling. These trips amount to little more than a free holiday for the MPs and their spouses. Just kidding, they take their youthful and pert researchers, in case they need to take anything down. There are also endless lunches and dinners and lunches that last so long they turn into dinners. There are gifts and rounds bought and promises offered and most of all there are jobs. These are not really jobs at all, but when an MP leaves or is pushed from their position, they take up a directorship or advisory role with a bank or hedge fund or energy conglomerate or shady foreign government and earn a tidy five or six figure sum for doing nothing at all other than lending their name to the organisation's headed notepaper. Take a handful of those together and they will be earning more in retirement that they did when in Parliament. All it takes is a nod and a wink, a persuasive argument proposed here or a collection of signatures there and they are set for life.
How is that all this is being received as though it is a surprise? Lobbyists aren't doing it for the love of it. Companies that turn over billions don't pass on a few quid to our representatives out of the goodness of their hearts. Here is the news: our representatives don't actually represent us. They firstly represent:
A) themselves, just like everybody else, and
B) they represent anyone who pays the most, which is the same as A).
To pretend, as we have done, that this sort of thing only happens in other less advanced and sophisticated countries (which we like to think is ALL of them) is naive, bordering on stupid. It is the way the world works, because it is the way people work. We are all available to the highest bidder. We are all just doing it for the money. We are all just prostitutes in the end. Let me rephrase that - we are all just prostitutes when it comes down to it - yes that's better. I'm not saying it is right, just that it is rather predictable, unless you had never met a human being before.
In other unsurprising news, the City and every other financial centre lives on insider trading, companies that say they obey the spirit of the law when they fill out their tax forms don't, it is no coincidence when a minister takes up a position in a company from an industry that (s)he once held sway over, and things do not always do exactly what they say on the tin.