Multiple political scandals have taken their toll on the public’s confidence in the UK’s institutions, according to new findings by Transparency International.
The most recent data, from Transparency’s investigation into the public perception of corruption in countries around the world, places the UK at 18th place in the global ranking of 180 countries. That marks a decline of seven places since last year, to the lowest spot the country has ever occupied on the index—an indictment of the Conservative Party that has presided over the fall.
Historically among the top ten countries, the UK has been slipping down the rankings since 2017. But its tumble this year is particularly dramatic. In a press release, Transparency said that several key scandals involving the Conservatives made a big dent in the confidence expressed by the people it surveyed in the 12 months leading up to October 2022.
These included revelations that, during the height of the covid-19 crisis, companies with links to Conservative politicians had been fast-tracked into multimillion pound government contracts. Michelle Mone, a member of the House of Lords, for instance, received £29 million ($35.7 million) from a preferential contract to supply protective equipment to care homes and hospitals, according to a recent Guardian investigation.
Transparency also pointed to concerns that money for urban development wasn’t being awarded fairly, that generous donors were rewarded with political roles, and that government ministers broke their own code of conduct over 40 times during the past five years in ways that were not investigated by the party. This week—and therefore likely outside the purview of Transparency’s findings, but potentially impacting next year’s report—the Conservative party chairman Nadhim Zahawi was sacked for “serious breaches of the ministerial code.” Zahawi had failed to reveal the true state of his tax affairs and the penalties he had had to pay for inaccurately declaring his earnings.
“The underlying data clearly indicate that business executives and other experts are concerned about insufficient controls on the abuse of public office and increasingly view corruption and bribery as a real issue in Britain,” said Daniel Bruce, chief executive of Transparency International UK, in a statement. “This is the strongest signal yet that slipping standards are being noticed on the world stage.”
To create a score out of 100 for the country, Transparency International collated information from eight independent sources in the UK, including the Economist Intelligence Unit and the World Economic Forum, which surveyed experts and business people.
While 18th place is a historical low for the UK, which was at 7th as recently as 2016, it’s still high compared to many other rich countries. The US rose two rungs in the rankings year-on-year, to 24th place, for imposing more transparency over democratic processes and taking “meaningful and appropriate accountability actions...after the January 2021 attack on the US Capitol,” Transparency wrote.
Denmark gained the top-ranked spot with a score of 90 out of 100, followed by Finland and New Zealand in joint second place. Russia was way down the rankings at 137th place. South Sudan, Somalia, and Syria—all countries with ongoing internal conflicts—came at the very bottom of the list.