Putting dictators to shame

One key aspect of British imperial nostalgia is the argument that most former colonies from the 1950s onwards were mired in corruption.

Whilst countries like Kenya and Uganda saw wealth from natural resources and loans from western banks syphoned off into the accounts of presidents and generals, the purpose of this article isn’t to offer an explanation of African corruption; it is to explore the implications of British grift.

On Friday, the Good Law Society, a U.K. based not for profit organisation won a pivotal case against the government. It established that Health Secretary Matt Hancock had acted unlawfully when he did not reveal the details of Covid contracts worth tens of billions of pounds.

Spending watchdog, the National Audit Office highlighted the lack of transparency in November last year, but it took until February for a court ruling to confirm what many already knew.

So far, with the help of a sympathetic right wing media in Britain, Hancock has remained in his job, despite the fact that the contracts in question were frequently handed to party donors and friends of ministers, and in some cases faulty PPE equipment and other essential items were delivered.

Long after the virus has been brought under control, essential aspects of British soft power will struggle to recover.

Historian David Edgerton in his book The Rise and Fall of the British Nation said that the Iraq invasion of 2003 demonstrated that Britain had lost any capacity for sound policy judgement.

Brexit cemented suspicions internationally that the Britain many remembered as a reliable international partner was long gone. However the scale and scope of covid looting has demonstrated a deep rot in the heart of civil society.

The kinds of financial malfeasance normally associated with Berlusconi’s Italy is now connected intimately to Britain. This will have long term costs in terms of future inward investment opportunities, and more intangibly in how Britain in perceived.

It will be harder for British political figures to lecture other countries on probity and good governance, and this will accompany other Brexit related threats to the U.K.’s world standing.

The sums of money handed out to friends and donors are historically unprecedented in Britain. It is safe to assume that the consequences of this, and the lack of any intention to punish the guilty parties, will also have long term and profound consequences.

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