“A hundred grand is not premier league. Two hundred grand to 250 is premier league.” The language of the huckster employed by Tory Treasurer Peter Cruddas in relation to access to the Prime Minister is ugly and dispiriting.
The atmosphere of the mind is revealed through the mouth. Perhaps this is what Jesus was warning of when he reminded his critics to pay less attention to the requirements of Jewish dietary laws and more to the outer expression of inner integrity: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
To be fair to Peter Cruddas – caught out by a Sunday Times sting – he is by no means unique in the impoverished world view revealed by his spivvish utterance. To believe that everything and every person has their price and that nothing in the just management of our common life might lie above and beyond the power of individuals or corporations to purchase it, is the motive force of much of our current politics.
But what is perhaps even more revealing about the whole sorry tale was Cruddas' admission that he had indulged in “bluster”. The desire to appear influential, in the know, at the centre of things – to be a 'fixer' - is a temptation not confined to Tory Treasurers.
Derek Draper, once a researcher for Peter Mandelson and later a lobbyist, was caught out in a similar manner in 1998 boasting that he could arrange access to ministers. His self-promoting claim that "there are 17 people who count in this government ... [to] say I am intimate with every one of them is the understatement of the century" is almost impossible to read without a shudder of embarrassment. Infatuation with power – or delusions as to one's importance within its structures – has undone many. It also unpicks the weave of mutuality and co-operation which is essential for our common flourishing.
As long as power is perceived as a good in its own right and not as an enabler of justice and reform, it will draw to itself those who have no vision beyond self-aggrandisement. You might say it has always been this way and it would be hard to argue with that. But as the roll call of public goods diminished by this government’s obsession with marketisation grows longer, and as the very idea of altruism in public service is dragged down by the shabby behaviour of many of its practitioners, it has become essential to take stock of the situation and its possible remedies.
Peter Cruddas could only have acted as he did in offering access to the Prime Minister and the Policy Unit because the environment in which he moved gave him confidence that doing so to fill the coffers of the party for which he was the principal fund-raiser would be considered acceptable. Bad apples often rot because the staves of their barrel are tainted. Every individual and organisation responsible for setting a tone for others (and that applies to most of us in some shape or form) needs to question personal and corporate assumptions on a regular basis.
I was a local councillor for around 10 years and during that period, there was a steady increase in the number of disgruntled constituents who met whatever displeased them with “you're all in it for yourselves.” If we cannot, by personal and collective audit of our behaviour, motivation, speech and assumptions, re-establish the idea that disinterested and honourable public service should be the norm, we will have to admit that we will have played a part in letting the very concept of its possibility disappear from the consciousness of public and power alike.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger  You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen