The prime minister has insisted that Britain is “one of the cleanest democracies” in the world, after being accused of being at the “rotten core” of Tory sleaze scandals.
In what The Times’ Quentin Letts described as a “grotty” PMQs session, Labour leader Keir Starmer called on Boris Johnson to apologise for “trying to give the green light to corruption” by attempting to let Tory MP Owen Paterson “off the hook”.
“He led his troops through the sewers to cover up corruption, and he cannot even say sorry,” Starmer told the Commons.
Johnson argued that the “constant attacks” about alleged sleaze in the UK political system “do a massive disservice to billions of people around the world who genuinely suffer from governments who are corrupt, and who genuinely have no ability to scrutinise their MPs”.
The PM was echoing his claim last week that the UK was “not remotely a corrupt country” – a claim that from “a purely objective point”, can easily be confirmed, wrote John Humphrys for YouGov. Humphrys pointed to the most recent Corruption Perception Index (CPI) from Transparency International, which was compiled last year.
Denmark and New Zealand are placed jointly as the least corrupt nations on Earth, while Somalia and South Sudan are joint worst, at 179 on the list. Other countries at the bottom end of the scale include war-torn Syria, Yemen and Libya, as well as the hermit state of North Korea.
Britain comes joint 11th, “a pretty respectable position to be in”, said Humphrys. And with close neighbours including France and Ireland ranking lower, “we don’t have to compare Britain to the most unhappy basket cases of the developing world to console ourselves with our lack of relative corruption”.
Johnson has said that “we have a very, very tough system of parliamentary democracy and scrutiny, not least by the media”.
But Jonathan Evans, chair of the Committee of Standards in Public Life, has warned that the robustness of the system relies on constant vigilance.
In a speech earlier this month at the Institute for Government conference, he said: “We could slip into being a corrupt country and that’s why we need to be vigilant around these issues. It is also quite possible that we could slip in terms of international perceptions of us.”
After No. 10 tried to block sanctions against Paterson, who broke lobbying rules, “Westminster insiders and voters alike have begun to ask if this government has finally pushed its carefree approach to the rules too far”, agreed Politico.
Robert Barrington, a professor of anti-corruption practice at the University of Sussex, told the news site that “if you talk to corruption specialists, some would say, ‘yes, it’s already acting corruptly,’ and some would say it’s not quite. My personal view is it’s teetering on the edge.”
While Britain rates well on the CPI scale for now, said Politico, “too many transgressions could shift the dial when the index is next updated”.
The least corrupt countries
1. New Zealand
The most corrupt countries
179 South Sudan
174. Equatorial Guinea
170. North Korea
170. Democratic Republic of the Congo