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E-cyclopedia Wednesday, 23 December, 1998, 14:34 GMT
Cronyism: The new sleaze
Cronyism, the new watchword in political mud-slinging, has claimed its first major scalp.

And while Tony Blair will mourn the parting of Peter Mandelson from his cabinet, Tories will delight in having turned the tables to effect.

For when it comes to soundbite slurs, Labour perfected the art in opposition with "sleaze". The word became a favourite a stick with which to beat John Major's government.

Since then the Tories have learned their lesson, coining "cronyism" as the insult of the moment.

Soundbite slur

It is a slight that William Hague's shadow cabinet has been voicing much in recent months.

To name a few other examples:

  • The "cash for access" fiasco in July in which Labour lobbyist Derek Draper claimed he could get access to "the 17 people" who run the country.
  • Claims, in August, that Labour Party donors were being rewarded with peerages.
  • The Alan Meale affair, in which the environment minister was accused of helping a friend in a planning deal.
  • The claim that Tony Blair unfairly appointed his close friend Lord Falconer to a number of influential government committees

Derek Draper
Derek Draper: Sparked cronyism claims in July
The aim, says Sion Simon, associate editor of the right-leaning Spectator magazine, is to tarnish New Labour's squeaky-clean sheen.

"It's the cleverest and most useful thing William Hague has done since becoming party leader," says Mr Simon.

"When he says it slowly with that Yorkshire accent, it can sound like the most damning charge.

"What they're trying to allege is a kind of 'jobs for the boys' thing. It's a culture that chimes in well with the problems that Labour has had over the past 20 years of corruption in local government.

Varnish tarnished

"And it contrasts nicely with New Labour's claims of being a people's party."

But sleaze it is not.

"There aren't any brown envelopes stuffed with cash, " he said. " I don't think people really believe cronyism is a profound evil, which they did about sleaze."

Alan Duncan: Coy about coining the term
Alan Duncan: Coy about coining the term
MP Alan Duncan, who has been credited with coining the term in its current fashion, would probably disagree.

The man Conservatives hope will be their Mandelson-style spin master, refused to be drawn on whether calls of cronyism are revenge for Labour's charges of sleaze.

"They have made their bed, now they must lie in it," he said gleefully.

"They dump on the world to win, the world will dump on them," he went on.

But perhaps the problem for Mr Duncan and his colleagues is that we are all, to some extent, beneficiaries of cronyism.

Close friend

"It's inevitable," says Mr Simon. "We are all members of families. We all live in communities. If two people of equal ability are up for the same job and one is beautiful and the other is ugly, we all know who will get the job.

"We don't expect our government to be different."

Indeed, the word crony was not always a pejorative term. Deriving from the Greek word "khronios", which means long-lasting, "chrony" was a slang term among 17th Century Cambridge University undergraduates, meaning close friend.

Given its harmless origins and New Labour's renowned powers of spin, it can't be long before cronyism is re-branded as networking.

See also:

11 Nov 98 | UK Politics
22 Oct 98 | UK Politics
23 Dec 98 | UK Politics
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