Sleaze, corruption and COP26

7th November 2021

Commentary on climate change progress in Glasgow

Former Tory Prime Minister, Sir John Major, has criticised the government of present British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, for being “un-Conservative” and “politically corrupt” due to its recent attempts to change the rules governing standards for MPs in the House of Commons.  Major’s comments have been given prominence across all BBC News bulletins and been elevated to the status of insightful comment on this aberration within the Conservative Party.

The reality however is that Johnson and his cronies are not an aberration at all but are simply behaving, albeit a little more flagrantly, in the same way as all representatives of the ruling class Tory Party before them, and no doubt more after, should they be allowed to continue.

As a Prime Minister who presided over a period of significant sleaze, from 1992 – 1997, having inherited the Tory Party leadership from the politically corrupt Margaret Thatcher, Major is in no position to assume the moral high ground.

The current subject of the row, former MP Owen Paterson, was found by the House of Commons Standards Committee to have broken the rules by accepting over £100,000 a year from two companies who were paying him to lobby on their behalf.  In total Patterson is estimated to have netted £500,000 from the two companies, Lynn’s Country Foods and Randox Laboratories.

Nice work if you can get it for sure.  A care worker, nurse, or low paid worker claiming Universal Credit, would take 20 years to earn £500,000 if they managed to scrape together £25,000 a year.  Paterson was rightly taken to task by the standards committee for having his snout in the trough.  The response of the Johnson gang was to try and get him off by proposing to change the rules and lift the 30 day suspension imposed upon him.

That this decision was reversed in a screeching government u-turn, followed by Paterson resigning as an MP, was some justice but is hardly the whole story.  The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is yet to investigate the refurbishment of 10, Downing St, including the now infamous £850 per roll gold wallpaper, and how that was paid for.  Paterson is also implicated in his £8,000 per month retainer with Randox Laboratories, who went on to ‘win’ two Covid testing contracts, worth £480m, without any competitive tendering process.  

With the Tories it is never a case of one bad apple but the whole barrel being rotten.

Johnson’s arrogance was further underlined when preaching that the planet was at one minute to midnight in relation to the climate emergency at COP26, before taking a private jet from Glasgow to London to meet his former boss at the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore, at the men’s only Garrick Club.

The protests in Glasgow and across the world this weekend, at the lack of meaningful action from world leaders on the climate crisis, was the most hopeful sign that pressure will continue beyond COP26 to deliver on easily made promises.

At present the rich countries of the capitalist West are still keen to equalise the requirement to take action, rather than recognising that they have benefitted from the burning of fossil fuels and need to do more to support those countries who they have exploited and had their development suppressed as a result.

The position of China, routinely characterised as the bad guy in relation to emissions, is a case in point. At present China is responsible for 28% of new global emissions as it embarks upon its programme of development and poverty eradication.  Looked at historically though Europe has contributed nearly 35% and the United States 25% to the stock of greenhouse gases, in order to build the wealth of a relatively small number of individuals, families and corporations.

It is little wonder that the world’s developing nations are calling upon those who have built their abundant wealth upon burning fossil fuels to shoulder more of the responsibility for tackling the crisis.  Imperialist exploitation and the destruction of resources in the developing world has left many nations ill equipped and under resourced to tackle the consequences of climate change.

Real change will come through a revolutionary shift in the ownership and control of those resources in the developing world, combined with the reversal of the grip of capitalism worldwide.  In the short term some immediate demands still need to be made. The financial obligations promised by Western nations at Paris in 2015 have yet to be met.  They could do so sooner rather than later.  The West could provide debt relief for countries struggling to adjust to the impact of climate change.  Trade deals could be structured to help benefit those nations striving to adapt to climate change.

As COP26 moves into week two the issue of adaptation will be high up the agenda.  United Nations General Secretary, Antonio Guterres, has pointed out that 4 billion people have suffered climate related disasters in the past decade alone.  Guterres has called for greater investment in adaptation measures to prevent vital infrastructure in developing countries from collapse, resulting in irreversible damage.

The hollow rhetoric of Boris Johnson and other leaders, keen to talk up their commitment but slow to take action, will not be enough address the realities of the climate emergency.  Mass popular action, street protests and boycotts of firms not committed to addressing the climate emergency, will need to be stepped up.  That is the only way that the current world leaders can be made to take meaningful action.  It may also be the first steps towards their removal, making way for real commitment to real and lasting change.

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