The cost of transparency in politics is that we will all have to learn to distinguish between a genuine scandal and antics which, however diverting, do not affect the way we are governed.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a low-corruption country. This is not to say either that it has always been thus or that the UK lacks all forms of structural corruption: indeed we shall show that neither of these propositions is correct. In fact the process by which Great Britain transformed itself in the early- to mid-nineteenth century from a high- to a low-corruption country is a central theme of this chapter. We proceed by offering a brief historical analysis of changing patterns of corruption in the polity as a whole up to the mid-nineteenth century; there-after we consider issues of governance in relation to central government, local government and the Civil Service. From this analysis it should be possible to identify, first, the main factors associated with the decline in institutional corruption and, second, the areas in which, and the extent to which, the United Kingdom remains most vulnerable to a resurgence of corruption today.
Naturally the contemporary situation in the United Kingdom contrasts sharply with that of high-corruption countries such as China. There corruption permeates the structures of governance, and, because the primary aim of anti-corruption strategies is normally to eliminate targeted individuals in order to enhance the power of the ruling elite, such strategies are themselves usually symptoms of corruption, not potential cures for it. In high-corruption countries the instruments of governance typically lack transparency, accountability, self-corrective mechanisms, constitutional safe-guards and judicial independence. There is, as it were, no reliable political, judicial or bureaucratic thermostat to restore the polity to a functioning steady state following the exposure of corruption. Hence in high-corruption countries whistle-blowing is virtually non-existent, corruption symbiotic and, in the case of junior recruits, effectively compulsory.