A boring post on codes of conduct

by Chris Bertram on March 2, 2006

The “Ken Livingstone”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4758246.stm affair and the “Jowell/Mills/Berlusconi”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4761194.stm business have both focused attention on various “codes of conduct” which set out what public officials may or may not do, when they should declare an interest, etc. These were all brought in after the “Nolan committee”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Nolan%2C_Baron_Nolan , which was UK central government’s response to scandals such as “cash for questions” (a scandal involving central government). I won’t go so far as to say that the various codes make interesting reading, but there are some notable differences between them, especially as concerns what constitutes a relevant “interest”. Basically, if you are a parish councillor, with the power to do just about nothing, then you should recuse yourself if your niece’s live-in boyfriend might be affected more by a decision than someone else in the parish. On the other hand, if you are a member of the Cabinet the circle of persons in whose interests you are taken to have an interest is drawn much more tightly.

The codes for local government are on the “Standards Board for England”:http://www.standardsboard.co.uk/TheCodeofConduct/IntroductiontotheCodeofConduct/ website, the ministerial code is at the “Cabinet Office”:http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/propriety_and_ethics/ministers/ministerial_code/ site.

UPDATE: Specifically on Jowell/Mills/Berlusconi, this “Guardian profile of Mills”:http://politics.guardian.co.uk/labour/story/0,,1716785,00.html makes interesting reading.



Jack 03.02.06 at 5:43 am

MPs of all stripes were yesterday shamelessly wheeling out “innocent until proven guilty” as a criticism of press coverage of the Berlusconi/Mills/Jowell affair.

Presumably the newspapers should just have detained them in their homes on the basis of received intelligence. If such behaviour is perfectly legitimate that would explain why Ken’s remarks were deemed so egregiously offensive.


Jasper Milvain 03.02.06 at 6:47 am

That seems true – although higher tiers of local government still have powers worth corrupting. I’m glad the tougher rules apply to planning committees, for instance.

By the way, you could be missing a word from the end of your fourth sentence: “…a decision that someone else in the parish.” A decision that someone else in the parish makes?

[should have been “than”. fixed now. thanks. CB]


Backword Dave 03.02.06 at 6:52 am

tehgrauniad profile is interesting, but not complete. It mentions Mills’ involvement with Benetton, but forgets this gem:

Controversy surrounding the exemption was quickly followed by revelations Tony Blair had met a deputation from Formula One, including chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, before the decision.
It also emerged Mr Ecclestone had made a pre-election donation to the Labour Party of £1m, which was returned along with a second donation to avoid accusations they had prompted a change in policy.
Further controversy surrounded the revelation that Tessa Jowell’s husband, David Mills, was a former director of Benetton, a chief racing sponsor.

At the time, Ms Jowell was Minister for Health.


Michael Mouse 03.02.06 at 7:13 am

Blimey. I’ve been wondering about going on my local Parish Council to do my civic bit for my village, but having just looked at the model code of conduct for parish councils, they can whistle.


Backword Dave 03.02.06 at 7:16 am

The Telegraph has more detail on the Iranian thing too:

The closest Ms Jowell came to being implicated was when it emerged in 2003 that Mr Mills, as the representative of an Iranian trading company, used a dinner party to ask the then foreign trade minister for advice on a £125 million deal to sell British Aerospace passenger jets to Iran. Baroness Symons duly wrote warning him to “tread very carefully”.

There’s a noticeably different, and to me more plausible, emphasis than in tehgrauniad’s version.
And I’m sure Chris, and many other footie fans, would like to see the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport asked if she expects to still be in the government when Wembly Stadium is finished. If it ever is.


soru 03.02.06 at 10:58 am

MPs of all stripes were yesterday shamelessly wheeling out “innocent until proven guilty” as a criticism of press coverage of the Berlusconi/Mills/Jowell affair.

I have to admit to being a bit suspicious of any ‘court’ that has a 100% conviction rate. Is there an example of a UK minister, post-Thatcher, becoming the focus of press attention and remaining in office?

Having the careers of the people who run government made entirely dependant on the whims of the editors who write ‘execute all paedos now’ headlines is not exactly the kind of feature you would design into a consitution.

Of course, a 100% acquittal rate, as in a certain other two-letter country, is hardly ideal either.


Maria 03.02.06 at 11:27 am

Thanks, Chris, this stuff is absolutely priceless:

“4. Ministers of State and Parliamentary Under Secretaries of State will be given by the GCS the choice of a Rover 45, Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Vectra or Nissan Primera with an engine capacity in the 1.8 to 2.0 litre category, with a comfortable but not extravagant level of fit, for their allocated use.”


Maria 03.02.06 at 11:28 am

sorry, that’s to be found here.


Robin Green 03.02.06 at 9:08 pm

Of course, a 100% acquittal rate, as in a certain other two-letter country, is hardly ideal either.

That probably has something to do with the fact that both Labour and its Tory predecessors in government, had to seriously worry about being electorally hobbled, if not defeated, by a whiff of sleaze (it was partly years of sleaze which brought down the Tories in 1997). Our pro-government media machine does exist, but it’s relatively small and ineffective compared to the pro-government forces in the US media and “think tanks”. So voters actually take these things into consideration.

Whereas in the US, it seems that Bush can be caught red-handed doing nothing about Hurricane Katrina for days, caught red handed lying about his own intentions in the State of the Union Address (although people who only watch Fox News will probably never hear about the latter or will rationalise it away if they do hear about it), can repeatedly be shown up as a liar who took the country to war on false pretences on Iraq, on 9/11, etc. etc. etc. and he will still get a solid 25-30% of the electorate supporting him. The type of people who blather on about how they believe Bush is keeping the country safe or how he’s a strong leader, without any evidenciary basis for these assertions whatsoever, and whose real reason for voting for him is “He’s not a Democract and I hate Democrats”.

He could probably urinate on the Constitution on live TV (he’s been doing that figuratively for some time, anyway) and still get a large chunk of the hick vote, if term limits were abolished and he was up for reelection.

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