In June 2017 I stood as an independent protest candidate in the general election. I never seriously expected to win or even to particularly worry the front runners. My aim was to raise awareness of a £10M public sector fraud which I blew the whistle on, which I have been trying without success to bring to public notice since Jan 2014. When I first submitted my nomination papers along with my £500 nomination fee, I had no expectation other than the embarrassment of the officers and councillors at Leeds City Council who were behind the fraud I sought to expose. However, as the process developed, I began to realise that the political process afforded opportunities to address core issues underlying the fraud and corruption I had experienced, and that the election in particular allowed me to raise those issues in ways not normally available to the ordinary citizen.
Although arising from my own personal experience of whistle blowing on a public sector fraud, I wanted my campaign to offer solutions and not just to be a platform to moan about the problem. Initially, I developed a full manifesto outlining all my 'policies' on key political issues, from housing, health, education, to defence and immigration policy – one of my key manifesto pledges was to seek the introduction of a national universal basic income. In the end though, I reasoned that as I had no real chance of election I should pare my manifesto down, so I cut it to the single issue of better support and protection for whistle blowers.
But the link was made. On the campaign trail and in the hustings, I referred repeatedly to Universal Basic Income as one potentially very effective counterweight to corruption. I am not an economist or even particularly knowledgeable about the nuanced arguments in favour of UBI, but as a whistle blower I could see that fear of losing a job and the catastrophic consequences that that would entail for most ordinary people is one factor that makes otherwise good and decent people turn blind eyes or even to collude in corruption and fraud and other workplace abuses. If we had a guaranteed safety net, how many more of us would feel empowered to speak out about workplace malpractice?
In my own case, I was one employee in a service of two hundred people. We all witnessed the mis-spending of a £10M grant of public money, but I alone blew the whistle. As is very common for whistle blowers I was harassed and victimised by my colleagues at the instruction of the senior officers behind the fraud, eventually leading to my dismissal. As I have gone on to become active in the whistle blower movement, I have learned that these elements of my story are far from rare. Whistle blowers speak up despite the threats and intimidation, whilst colleagues and managers collude to conceal wrongs which might put livelihoods at risk should they be exposed. This is true in my case, in the Rotherham sex abuse case, in Mid Staffs Hospital Trust scandal, in Savile, in HSBC and the financial crash, and now in Grenfell.
Of all the many arguments in favour of UBI, I personally believe that its potential to disrupt corruption could be one of its biggest selling points. According to a 2014 EU study, corruption costs the European economy an estimated £99 Billion a year – I suspect that that is a woeful understatement, as much of the cost and impact of corruption remains hidden from view. In my own case, the £10M fraud I sought to expose would not be possible were it not for an established culture of bribery, corruption and financial misuse in two major public institutions which are responsible between them for the expenditure of billions of pounds of public money a year. The Establishment has closed ranks to ensure that the fraud I encountered will never form part of official statistics, and I do not doubt that many more misused billions are secreted in a similar manner.
The other lesson I take from my experience is that the political process, particularly during a General Election, affords the best opportunity for new ideas to make it into the national discourse. For my £500 deposit, I was able to have my campaign leaflet delivered free to 45000 households in my constituency, I was able to speak at numerous hustings about whistle blower rights and the cost to the public purse of failing to properly protect us, I got my message onto regional television and the local press, and I got other politicians talking about whistle blower protection – if only for the weeks of the campaign.
My message to anyone seriously interested in promoting a Universal Basic Income is to prepare now for the next general election – either by standing as UBI independents, or by forming a party and putting forward candidates. As the Tory deal with the DUP shows, strange things can happen at election time.