Centre puts a forensic focus on rot at the heart of power

Sussex unit to investigate ways to keep politicians honest. Matthew Reisz reports

March 15, 2012

"Corruption is part of our DNA," said Daniel Hough, reader in politics at the University of Sussex. "You are never going to get rid of it, although you need to find ways of controlling it - and not all anti-corruption measures prove effective."

Dr Hough was recently appointed interim director of Sussex's new Centre for the Study of Corruption. Based in the university's School of Law, Politics and Sociology, it was set up largely in response to the recent MPs' expenses scandal.

"It was one of the key catalysts," Dr Hough confirmed, although he said the episode also illustrated some of the challenges of addressing and even defining the subject.

"Only four people went to prison," he said of the scandal, while most "paid back money they had acquired perfectly legally because it came to be seen as not in the spirit of the law. Yet back in the 1980s, (Margaret) Thatcher said the allowances could be used more or less as a second salary."

He added: "If I wanted to make a lot of money quickly, I wouldn't go into politics, where you have to work 80-hour weeks and smile all the time."

Dr Hough has been researching corruption for more than a decade, starting with a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council on corruption, trust and the role of the media in Germany. He will publish a book on the topic, Corruption, Anti-Corruption and Governance, later this year.

His colleagues at the centre are experts in subjects ranging from judicial bribery in the post-Soviet republics to grass-roots anti-corruption movements in India.

Although Dr Hough already teaches a third-year undergraduate module on this theme, the centre is introducing an interdisciplinary one-year MA in corruption and governance. It is designed to explore what corruption is, from petty misdemeanours to systematic abuses of power; how definitions vary in different disciplines and cultures; where and why it flourishes; and what can be done about it.

Politics will be the central focus, but the course will also touch on corruption in business, international development and perhaps even sport.

Those signing up will have the opportunity to carry out an internship for three or four days a week during the spring term with Transparency International - an anti-corruption non-governmental organisation - or bodies such as a regulator, business or lobbying firm.

Students will then be assessed on the basis of a 5,000-word report in which they will analyse their experiences and link them with theories of corruption, anti-corruption and/or good governance.

The course's optional modules range from The European Union: Justice and Home Affairs to Business and Ethics in Anthropology.

For students outraged by what MPs got up to, Dr Hough aims to "provide a context and useful comparators".

He said: "We sometimes look back to a golden era of politics in the 1950s and 1960s, although that was a time when MPs largely followed the whip. Now they are far more rebellious and yet are seen as lapdogs. I hope the MA will help people decide when they ought to be outraged."


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