Mark Oaten, Rent Boys and the Secret Police: A View of How England Is Governed at the End of Its History

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a dinner party last Wednesday, I fell into conversation with a friend
who is also a friend of Mark Oaten. He – for those of my readers
who do not live in England or in the present – was at the time the
home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrat Party, and was standing
for the leadership of his party. I heard from my friend that Mr. Oaten’s office had just been burgled. We passed an interesting ten
minutes speculating on which of his rivals had commissioned the
burglary, and what might have been found. We agreed on looking forward
to Thursday morning for the newspaper reports.

Except for
a paragraph in The Guardian, there were no newspaper reports
of the burglary. The big news instead was that Mr. Oaten had withdrawn
from the leadership contest. The lack of coverage of the burglary,
together with concentration on its probable effect, suggested some
involvement by the secret police. But why should it matter to them,
I asked, who led the Liberal Democrat Party? And what was the nature
of the dirt they had found in his office and used against him?

The second
question was answered this morning by The News of the World.
This revealed how Mr. Oaten had been consorting for some time with
male prostitutes, and that these had on at least one occasion been
paid to humiliate him with what the reporter described as "a
bizarre sex act too revolting to describe." Bearing in mind
what sexual acts do get routinely described, and even shown, in
the British media nowadays, the mind reels at what Mr. Oaten must
have been doing. Not surprisingly, he had already resigned from
the Liberal Democrat front bench, and his political career is probably

I turn now
to the first question. Why should the secret police take any interest
in fixing the election to lead the Liberal Democrat Party? Why destroy
Mr. Oaten? His views, after all, were about the closest of any of
the candidates to those of the other party leaders. He would in
no sense have promised any radical departure from the consensus.
Yet he has been destroyed, and with a memorable brutality. Why?

My answer is
that Mr. Oaten was destroyed because he was foolish enough to stand
in the way of the latest stage in the reshaping of our politics.
He fell victim to a conspiracy.

I grant – I
have no factual evidence for what I am about to say. No one has
taken me aside and whispered into my ear, or given me classified
documents. Aside from having heard about the burglary last week,
I have no more information than anyone else. This being said, the
facts as we have them do suggest a hidden cause. I could state the
facts and reason back to this cause. However, I am not writing for
some learned journal, and I find it more entertaining to assume
the cause, and then show how it provides a scheme of explanation
for the facts.

I assume that
the ruling class of this country – or a significant group within
it – has lost confidence in Tony Blair as Prime Minister, and in
the Labour Party as a governing force. This, if true, is the main
fact in our politics. Indeed, it has become the connecting thread
for the whole present narrative of politics in this country.

Now, some of
my friends – and one was with me at that dinner party of last Wednesday – believe that there is something called "The Blair Project,"
and that the content of this is determined by and connected with
nothing more than the momentary electoral convenience of Mr. Blair.
They laugh at me if I insist that there is any more significant
connecting thread for events.

For all they
laugh, they are wrong. It is possible to see, during the past 25
years in at least this country, a movement towards a new settlement
in politics. This movement has continued regardless of who has occupied
which office, and regardless of what party has won which election.
It is clear that the ruling class – or that loose coalition of politicians,
bureaucrats, lawyers, educators, and media and business people who
derive wealth and power and status from an enlarged and active state – wants an end of liberal democracy. The desired new settlement
is one in which those at the top or with the right connections can
enjoy the most fabulous wealth and status, and in which their enjoyment
of these can never again be challenged from below. We, the ordinary
people, are to be stripped of our constitutional rights – no freedom
of speech, no personal or financial privacy, no procedural safeguards
in the criminal law. We are to be taxed and regulated to what counts
in our own culture as the edge of the breadline. This is on the
one hand to provide incomes for clients of the ruling class, and
on the other to deprive us of the leisure that might allow us to
understand our situation, and of the confidence that might allow
us to challenge it. In any event, every organ of the ruling class
is at work on promoting ideologies of boundless submission to the
new settlement.

At the same
time, structures of accountability that emerged in the 17th and
18th centuries are to be deactivated. Their forms will continue.
There will be assemblies at Westminster. But these will not be sovereign
assemblies with the formal authority of life and death over us all.
That authority will have been passed to various unelected and transnational
agencies. And so far as the Westminster assemblies will remain important,
our votes will have little effect on what they enact.

We are passing
into the sort of world that existed in much of Europe before the
French Revolution – a world of diverse and conflicting sources of
authority, all equally unaccountable. The great simplification of
authority that happened in Europe after 1789, and that had happened
over two centuries earlier in England, was a product of nationalism;
and simplification was followed by accountability and then by liberalism.
This sort of reaction is in future to be made impossible by promoting
movements of people so that nations in the old sense disappear,
and are replaced by patchworks of nationalities more suspicious
of each other than of any ruling class.

The progress
of this counter-Enlightenment can be seen in the statute book – from the removal of the unanimity rule in jury trials in the Criminal
Justice Act 1967, to the European Communities Act 1972, to the subsequent
Criminal Justice Acts, to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, to the
Civil Contingencies Act and the Terrorism Act 2005. In these, we
have a clear movement towards despotism. This movement did not begin
in 1997. The Election of the Blair Government marked no change of
direction – but only of pace. The policies of state we have at present
have not been set because they suit the electoral convenience of
Tony Blair. Mr. Blair became Prime Minister because he seemed at
the time best suited to carry forward policies of state set by others.

But his usefulness
is at an end. He is no longer wanted by those who matter, and his
party is no longer wanted.

the Conservative Party has been brought back from the dead. It has
been given a leader who has accepted almost everything done by Labour
since 1997, and whose objections are confined to those areas within
which the ruling class is itself divided. Because of what he is – or of what he says and does – Mr. Cameron has been cried up by
our controlled media as a man of outstanding charm and vision. In
contrast, the Government is every day reviled in the media for some
new dereliction – alleged "paedophiles" allowed to teach
in schools, or complicity in the use of torture by the Americans,
for example – that would once have been discussed in terms too restrained
to cause instability.

My advice to
anyone who likes to gamble is to bet on a Conservative victory at
the next election. Do not suppose that this will be a government
of conservatives. Just as the Labour victory in 1997 caused no break
in continuity, so the replacement of Labour will in turn change
nothing fundamental. But there is to be a change of faces at the

All that stands
in the way of a Conservative revival is the effect on our electoral
system of the Liberal Democrat Party. This has benefited since 1997
from the oblivion to which the ruling class and its media condemned
the Conservatives. It holds several score seats taken from the Conservatives,
and splits the anti-Labour vote in scores of other seats.

Charles Kennedy was forced earlier this month to resign as Liberal
Democrat leader. The cover story was that he was a drunkard and
had been useless in his position, and that the challenge came from
Menzies Campbell. So far as I can tell, he had been pretty effective – more so than most party leaders. As for Mr. Campbell – let us,
by the way, stop recognising the titles handed round within the
ruling class: now that our Constitution is no longer liberal or
democratic, its honours are to be regarded again as mere feudalistic
baubles – I doubt he is bright enough to tie his own shoe laces.
Mr. Kennedy was forced out because he was too effective as party
leader for the Conservatives to recover. He was threatened with
a personal destruction so horrible that he resigned on the spot
and was glad to call himself a drunk in public. Mr. Campbell was
then told to get ready to preside over the electoral collapse of
his party.

Then Mark Oaten
announced he would run for the leadership. Given his public views,
he might have thought himself the preferred candidate of the ruling
class. He misread the situation. He was probably warned, in the
usual elliptical way, that he should withdraw from the contest.
He did so too late. The reporters had already been briefed, and
the front pages cleared. By then, he had been too much of an irritant,
or was too unimportant, to save.

The nature
of his sexual tastes had no bearing on the decision to break him.
I have never met a Member of Parliament who was not obviously into
drink or bribes or unconventional sex. The secret police make sure
that no one who cannot at the right moment be pressured into conformity
will come close to being elected to Parliament.

Nor have the
Liberal Democrats been the only minor party targetted for destruction.
The UK Independence Party is dead as an electoral force. There is
a limit to how much infighting a political party can survive. UKIP
has been torn apart by agents of entry and of provocation, and is
headed for collapse. Because of its authoritarian structure, the
British National Party is less open to such attacks. Therefore,
its leader has been put on trial for political offences that carry
a maximum sentence of seven years. Since I believe Mr. Griffin is
himself an agent of the secret police who has gone beyond his brief,
I suspect the present trial in Leeds will end in a compromise. Do
not expect the BNP to continue offering in future the sort of challenge
to the new settlement in our politics it seemed until recently on
the verge of offering.

So, lucky Mr. Cameron. All he has to do now is ensure the ruling class remains
disenchanted with the present Government, and hope that enough of
the electorate fails to see what is being done to the country and
will continue to legitimise a settlement that in its sordid authoritarianism
taints the preceding thousand years of English history.

But if what
is happening in England now is distressing and even shameful, it
is also compulsively interesting.

24, 2006

Gabb [send him mail]
is the author of Smoking, Class and the Legitimation of Power. See
his website.

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