Peter Oborne doesn’t hold back from nailing the arrogance of the political/media class – a picture of which only came to light because of Guardian journalist Nick Davies’ relentless pursuit of the phone hacking story.
The phone hacking affair has displayed the Prime Minister at his worst – a shallow, amoral, conniving careerist, determined to secure high office at any cost. Nevertheless, in Westminster yesterday, the general opinion seemed to be that David Cameron had got away with it, in the wake of Tuesday’s court verdicts.
…Three years have now passed since the revelation that the News of the World had hacked into the phone of the murdered Milly Dowler. It is essential to ask whether British politics has got any cleaner in the meantime.
Tragically, the answer must be no. The phone hacking scandal exposed a louche, selfish, privileged metropolitan elite at the heart of British public life. That elite still exists. Incredibly, the Chipping Norton set, of which the British Prime Minister was such a leading ornament, still flourishes.
…. The scandal has been a shameful episode that has revealed the presence of an arrogant political/media class who have been habitually contemptuous of ordinary people.
However, Peter Oborne doesn’t go the whole hog and also finger the collusion of the police, which should be the next big question. Why didn’t the police push the investigation further?
Was News International another ‘too big to fail’ organisation? No wonder, press bosses considered themselves to be untouchable if both police and politicians felt the advantages of keeping them onside.
However, an even bigger and more over-arching picture emerged during the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking.
It addresses the conundrum…
How has a shallow, amoral, conniving careerist with an equally unimpressive cabinet (see Martin Rowson’s assessment of Osborne below) been so successful in dismantling the NHS, state education and what remains of the post-war consensus for the profitable benefit of the transnational corporations and the financial sector?
Martin Rowson’s assessment of Osborne in 2010:
‘… we need to understand various things about George Osborne, this Government’s economic vandal-in-chief. First, he’s almost a victim of his own ambition…. Second, he’s actually a bit of wimp… If you combine these two aspects of his character, Osborne suddenly becomes both more and less terrifying. He’s less terrifying because it’s just an act, the calculated malevolence purely there to cow the rest of us into compliance with his programme of Thatcherite orthodoxy. However, where he becomes more terrifying is when you realise that … he really and truly doesn’t know what he’s doing ….’
How can it be that these shambolic, careless, arrogant individuals were able to supervise, let alone devise the immense sophistication of the Health and Social Care bill, the Welfare Reform bill and the Education bill?
Not only were these bills profoundly (deliberately) complicated but they were also deviously tailored to facilitate the ongoing privatization of public services… intentionally wrecking the state provision to justify the intrusion of the private sector. In addition, there has been accompanying legislation such as the not much discussed ‘Henry VIII’ powers to abolish the quangos and the Legal Aid bill which together largely prevent challenge through the courts.
There was also an impressively synchronized timetable orchestrating the passage of these major bits of legislation, getting them swiftly in place, before the first cuts in the benefits system began to be implemented. Unarguably, the intention was to get them onto statute well before the public or MPs had a chance to fully digest their implications.
Additionally, ‘distractions’ were often choreographed to coincide with contentious legislation. For example the proposal to sell off the forests, which was bound to cause an outcry, coincided with the first reading of Lansley’s Health and Social Care bill. Notably, the floated proposal was totally unnecessary because the Public Bodies bill, which allows the selling off of the forests without recourse to Parliament, was simultaneously going through the House of Lords.
The government’s reputation for incompetence belies the ruthless efficiency with which the policies were implemented and dovetailed seamlessly.
However, every instinct questions whether it is plausible that Lansley, Gove or IDS were the primary movers in devising their respective bills?
Can we really believe that Oliver Letwin, the dumper of official mail in a public park waste-bin, was the brains coordinating the strategy? The last 4 years of continual ministerial ‘cock-ups’ screams that it is impossible.
Furthermore, civil servants were not the architects and can have had very limited input, because the bills were up and running so quickly after the general election.
The obvious truth is that global management consultants, such as KPMG and McKinsey, and the transnational corporations, were simply allowed free-rein to write the legislation to suit their needs … with no apparent safeguards to secure and protect the best interests of UK citizens from vested interests.
In this scenario, government ministers become simply the front men, the PR… which would fit with why the Coalition ministers peculiarly focus on the inadequacy of the way that a criticized policy is presented. As Douglas Alexander said:
George Osborne is apologising for spin of the budget, when he should be apologising for the substance.
In fact, the incestuous relationships and carousel of jobs for politicians, civil servants, think tanks, lobbyists, donors and corporate advisors has been widely documented outside of the mainstream media (including Think Left articles such as Welfare Reform and the US Insurance Giant Unum ; Lobbyists are destroying the democratic process. ; Transnational Corporations have not let a good crisis go to waste. )
It was this incestuous web of relationships that was inadvertently revealed in the course of the Leveson Inquiry. Gary Young summarises:
‘Britain’s political class in particular and ruling class in general collude, connive and corrupt both systemically and systematically…. The evidence has laid bare the intimate, extensive and insidious web of social, familial and personal ties between the political, corporate and legal forces that govern a country: a patchwork of individual and institutional associations so tightly interwoven that to pick at one part is to watch the whole thing unravel.’
… these interactions mock the very notion of democracy on which the nation’s illusions are based…. With the culture secretary described by Murdoch’s lobbyist as a “cheerleader” for News International, it seems as if the takeover was to all intents and purposes a done deal, prevented only by the fallout from the hacking scandal. All the kinks ironed out on horseback and settled in time for the main course. Parliament would have been a mere rubber stamp. Oversight reduced to an afterthought in a House of Commons….
Similarly, commenting on the Leveson evidence, Anthony Barnett concluded:
The scandal has now clarified a far more breathtaking question: is Britain governed by a big lie?
Of course there was not a “deal” in the narrow sense of a written contract…. It was a partnership … between people who decided to get into bed with each other and help each other obtain their interests at the expense of public life in Britain.
… no person of sound judgment could conclude anything other than that there was indeed a grand collaboration worked out before the election by the Murdochs and Cameron and Osborne and then implemented after it….
Any government whose duty is to secure and protect its citizens would necessarily seek to ensure that NewsCorp’s power is limited, checked by regulation and competition.
Today, how can Leveson pass judgment on the nature of the understandings reached by Rupert’s Rebecca when she went horse riding with David Cameron beyond the reach of judicial standards of proof? Without the clear evidence of the metaphorical ‘smoking gun’ to make a verdict of a conspiracy against the public interest simply unavoidable, it becomes his judgment-call to force the Prime Minister and Chancellor from office, for selling out the country with their utterly inappropriate relationships with team Murdoch. It is a power he’ll naturally resile from using….
But the bigger issue remains… It is one thing to kow-tow, to cultivate, to grant some concessions to (to seek not to make an enemy of) a man who controls 40 per cent of the press. This may be revolting but it is – or was – political reality in Britain. It is quite another to agree to reshape the all-important media environment of our democracy for the advantage of a player whose coverage is not only notorious for bias and the dishonourable destruction of people’s lives but who is also known to bribe the police and break the law.
So extrapolating from the Murdoch empire to all transnational corporations, Barnett’s words could be re-written:
But the bigger issue remains… It is one thing to kow-tow, to cultivate, to grant some concessions to (to seek not to make an enemy of) the transnational corporations and the financial sector. This may be revolting but it is – or was – political reality in Britain. It is quite another to agree to reshape the all-important public services of our democracy for the advantage of players whose primary concern is a ready, stream of profits which will doubtless end up untaxed in some offshore secrecy jurisdiction.
Without the clear evidence of the metaphorical ‘smoking gun’ to make a verdict of a conspiracy against the public interest simply unavoidable, it becomes a judgment-call to force the Prime Minister and Chancellor from office, for selling out the country with their utterly inappropriate relationships with private health providers, private employment insurers, global management consultants, private education providers and so on.
This raises fundamental questions about the nature and power of government (such as those raised by julijuxtaposed in Can we sue the Government?)
Shouldn’t there be a responsibility on political parties to spell out their intentions before they are elected?
Shouldn’t there be transparency about the authors and genesis of legislation?
Shouldn’t there be a capacity to challenge governments who have misled the electorate prior to election? For example ‘No top down re-organisation of the NHS’ and ‘No Tuition fees’.
Shouldn’t there be a legal duty on governments to secure and protect the best interests of their citizens?
Doubtless this list is not exhaustive but the point is, that without this sort of transparency and accountability, in what way can any UK government be said to be democratically elected? What protection is there for the electorate from a sanctioned coup d’état?
And funnily enough, just such a coup d’état is being perpetrated.
Tories plan to wipe out state services
A leading Cabinet minister has admitted that the Conservatives aim to eradicate the state provision of public services in this country. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister and a former banker, in an extraordinary gung-ho speech to Policy Exchange to mark 10 years of the centre-right think tank, said the Government wants to end state provision – even if it means they end up being run by private equity companies from tax havens…. The speech comes as David Cameron’s Government is embarking on a controversial programme to extend privatisation way beyond Margaret Thatcher’s wildest dreams – to Britain’s road network and even the police.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: “Far from being done by mutual consent, the Government’s plans rest on imposing unpopular ideas on an unwilling workforce.” At the same time, Professor Prem Sikka reports that Britain’s rate of wealth transference from employees and the state to corporations is unmatched in any developed country.
And the cherry on top of the cake, is that the Tory/LD coalition is desperate to push through the EU-US trade agreement (TTIP or TAFTA) before May 2015 – an agreement which is intended to lock in future governments so that they cannot reverse any of those privatisations… a charter for the corporations which places their rights above sovereign nations and the democratic process.
Are we already in the Post-democratic era?
Nick Davies’ investigative zeal did not just uncover the perfidy of the phone hackers. It led right to the top and even went global – the neoliberal aim of replacing democracy with corporatism – the merging of state and corporate power. Or as most people call it fascism.
Recipe for Ruin: TTIP the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
EU-US FTA, TAFTA, TTIP – whatever its name, it means bad news for 99%
The Top Secret Deal You Need to Know About
Fantastic post, Sue! A really comprehensive drawing together of themes and their connections to each other. You’ve provided a clear perspective on a pertinent narrative. Thank you! You were away too long and this post is why I have missed you! 🙂
Thanks Juli 🙂