Tony Blair and the Unusual Case of Campbell’s Law

When sociologist Donald T Campbell came up with his eponymous Law, one wonders if he expected it to be of theoretical or practical use. Campbell’s Law states that “the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” Originally intended to measure crime rates and other social phenomena, it has been in also in use in corruption studies. Tony Blair, as Prime Minister of Great Britain, is exemplary as a textbook case of Campbell’s Law.

Before Tony Blair as Leader of the Labour Party came to power in 1997, he had promised and later implemented a policy that any donations to a political party over £5000 would be made public. It was was a welcome policy on the back of the sleaze-hit Conservative Party whose popularity and credibility was in decline with voters. It was a breath of fresh air for British politics. As Campbell’s Law had predicted Blair’s £5000 ceiling for disclosure for donations started to silently and subtly face corruption pressures from donors who did not want the interests they were pursuing and how much they were paying for it disclosed to the public. Meanwhile, party administrators needed ever more significant donations from donors as the cost of politics was escalating. Willing donors and needy politicians were stuck with the £5000 and disclosure problem. Not for long, though.
Eventually, the money machine of the political parties found a way around it and seriously undermined the £5000 ceiling and the disclosure problem by raising funds from donors as loans. It is the origin of the “Cash for Honours” scandal in which the Labour and Conservative Parties were guilty of receiving loans from rich men to fund their parties in exchange for knighthoods, peerages and junior minister positions, and other favours. Campbell’s Law had been proven right; the £5000 and disclosure index did not stand a chance.
Upward and downward causation is also a concept developed by Donald T Campbell. Campbell would have argued that the case of donation limits and disclosure policy, a quantitative index, on the part of Blair’s Labour government and the opposition as an instance of downward causation. The government determines the “laws of the land” vertically from the highest office in the country towards the citizens. The top hierarchy of the Labour government had enforced a rule and broken it with power effected in a top-down manner. However, Campbell also demonstrated power could be achieved from citizens upwards towards those in power, e.g. in elections where an undesirable or unpopular government can lose the polls and be out of office.
Tony Blair somehow became an exemplar of upward and downward causation. First, Blair was a Prime minster and had to used downward causation to rule the country. Second, Blair as ex-Prime Minister dared to canvass members and supporters of his own Labour party to vote for the Conservative or Liberal Democrats parties instead of the Labour Party. This manoeuvre was because Blair did not want his successor Jeremy Corbyn, to become Prime Minister. Blair attempted to use upward causation to undermine his very own party. An example of eating one’s cake and having it.
If a social scientist was made for the understanding of the antics of a political leader, Donal T Campbell was made for Tony Blair. I wonder if Campbell will agree.
Grimot Nane

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