In the Good Old Days, we had an impartial civil service. Then 'New Labour' came along and filled it up with cronies. The result was Fat Government and no separation between public servants and party hacks.
When he was prime minister, John Major was besieged by greedy, sleazy colleagues. One of their favourite tricks was to go and work as a highly paid 'advisor' for a private company and use insider knowledge of government decisions and intentions to help their employer to secure lucrative government contracts, especially defence contracts, by blatantly unfair means.
Eight years ago, Mr. Major tightened the rules for insiders. Former ministers, senior civil servants and military officers currently have to observe a 'insider knowledge cooling off period' before lobbying on behalf of a private firm to prevent that firm from gaining an unfair commercial advantage. But all that is about to change.
Tony Blair is becoming embarrassed by the number of times he is obliged to overrule the decisions of parliament's independent watchdogs; the advisory committee on business appointments (ACBA) and the committee on standards in public life (CSPL). Lord Mayhew of ACBA is particularly resistant to 'nodding through' appointments with no cooling-off period.
And so Blair is eager to abolish the waiting period and let the insiders get their noses into the trough right away without requiring his seal of approval. Which is why our prime minister is setting up a secret inquiry to find a rapid way of changing the rules which will result in the least political fallout on him.
The inquiry will be conducted by Sir Patrick Brown, an expert in privatization, who will gather his evidence behind closed doors and deliver his report directly to the prime minister. Brown expects to complete his review in October. His findings will not be published. [But they will probably be leaked. Ed.]
The government's anti-corruption watchdogs objected to any change of the rules and then to the idea of a secret inquiry. Sir Andrew Turnbull, the cabinet secretary, overruled their objections and prevented Sir Nigel Wicks, chairman of CSPL, from holding an open, independent inquiry into whether the rules should be changed. The watchdogs then had no option but to shut up, knowing that this government has a history of sacking regulators who insist on doing their job.
Tony Blair is quite content to let the 'insiders' hijack projects funded by the British taxpayer. He is also content to let projects worth billions be handed to foreign defence contractors which have employed 'insiders', and allow British jobs to go up in smoke.
Which leaves us asking why? What's in it for him?
We have only the lengthy history of sleaze in the Blair regime as guidance. Those who profit from the abolition of a waiting period before they take up a private appointment will be expected to offer bungs to the Labour Party (suitably, disguised, of course). There will be more and better freebies on offer to the prime minister and his cronies. Corruption in high places will thrive as apprentice fat cats rush to follow New Labour's agenda so that they, too, can take their places on the gravy train.
Waiving the rules is just another sleazy attempt to spare the prime minister the embarrassment of overturning decisions made by independent regulators. He is also buying votes and favours with public money. Is this the arrogance in office of a man who thinks he will be prime minister for the rest of the decade? Or is it just cynical planting of favours to be collected after his own party members reject him for inflicting on them an illegal war in Iraq based on dodgy dossiers and deliberate lies?
One thing is for sure if there was ever honour among thieves, there is certainly none left in New Labour and Tony Blair.