“I want to apologise on behalf of politicians of all parties for what has happened in the events of the past few days,” Gordon Brown said this week. “We must show that we have the highest standards for our profession.”
Notice that Brown apologised only for the events of the last few days.
He said nothing about the years of MPs scamming millions in expenses.
He did not apologise for the lobbyists and business interests who swarm around parliament and decide government policy over lunch, nor for the millionaires who donate to political parties and, apparently, get nothing in return.
And most importantly he did not apologise for the repeated attacks on workers’ rights and living standards.
The New Labour government is in terminal crisis. The revelations about the level of corruption by MPs says much about all mainstream parties.
When the next politician decides to lecture ordinary people about their behaviour or the need to make sacrifices, an angry mob should burn them out of their second home.
The Tories at least are aware of the damage done by the scandal. David Cameron has let it be known that it will make it more difficult for an incoming Tory government to attack public services and cut benefits.
This is truly a scandal for Labour. That rich Tories use our money for their moats or chandeliers is as unsurprising as it is offensive. But Labour is supposed to be different.
Over the years many a former left wing MP has ended up seduced by the perks of parliament. But this is more fundamental and systematic.
When one is in power one gets friends in low places. Because Brown and New Labour have been in love with business for so long, they don’t even notice when they adopt business practices – fiddling the expenses and feathering their own nest.
Behind the second homes and dodgy receipts stand a network of big businesses spending huge sums on lobbying for their interests. In fact, corruption is the logical outcome of the way that society is organised.
Business is presented as just one of many lobby groups that enter the political field as equals.
In reality, it is vastly more powerful because of its economic strength. Moreover, since payments are the way business is done, it is also the way business does politics.
The real victims of this are ordinary people. New Labour has normalised the fact that the unaccountable power of wealth and money is the deciding factor for everything.
The corruption is a sign of how integrated into the system Labour has become.
Every free lunch or networking opportunity means another city academy school, cut in services or favour to the bosses.
New Labour’s love of money is not simply an ideological commitment – deeper economic reasons lie behind it.
The bosses’ desired solution to the recession is to make workers pay for it. The political class agrees but it is unsure how far and how quickly to make this happen.
This is reflected in the developing turmoil within Labour. One wing of the party convinced itself that what it needed was to follow Barack Obama. This meant using the internet more.
In reality this web strategy turned out to be a grubby attempt to set up a website that used union money to make up stories about the Tories.
The discovery of this plan generated a new crisis for Labour.
Ministers are now positioning themselves for what will happen when Labour loses the next general election. Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee sums up the confusion at the core of Labour. She has gone from declaring Brown the best thing since sliced bread to utter disillusionment with him.
She declared last year that foreign secretary David Miliband would save us all and this week declared that health secretary Alan Johnson is the Labour Party’s new saviour.
The repositioning going on among MPs is about whether ministers should pretend to move a little to the left or to the right to save their skin.
In reality they have all followed the New Labour project.
It also reflects Labour’s growing impotence in the face of the recession.
The crisis may make sections of the government nastier. It also makes them weaker. Labour’s new scandals should be a spur to build a different sort of politics.
If Joanna Lumley can force a policy change out the government, what can the million members of the Unison union and the two million members of the Unite union achieve?
But in order to achieve anything, the union leaders have to encourage a fight against the government instead of slavishly following the Labour Party.