The Depth of Corruption

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The theft
of public money by Members of Parliament, including government ministers,
has given Britons a rare glimpse inside the tent of power and privilege.
It is rare because not one political reporter or commentator, those
who fill tombstones of column inches and dominate broadcast journalism,
revealed a shred of this scandal. It was left to a public relations
man to sell the "leak." Why?

The answer
lies in a deeper corruption which tales of tax evasion and phantom
mortgages touch upon but also conceal. Since Margaret Thatcher,
British parliamentary democracy has been progressively destroyed
as the two main parties have converged into a single-ideology business
state, each with almost identical social, economic and foreign policies.
This "project" was completed by Tony Blair and Gordon
Brown, inspired by the political monoculture of the United States.
That Labour and Tory politicians are now revealed as personally
crooked is no more than a metaphor for the antidemocratic system
they have forged together.

Their accomplices
have been Westminster "lobby" (parliamentary) journalists
and their editors who have "played the game," wilfully,
and deluded the public (and sometimes themselves) that vital, democratic
differences exist between the parties. Media-designed opinion polls
based on absurdly small samplings, along with a tsunami of comment
on political personalities and their specious crises, have reduced
the "national conversation" to a series of media events,
in which the withdrawal of popular consent — as the historically
low electoral turnouts under Blair demonstrated — has been abused
as apathy.

Having fixed
the boundaries of political debate and possibility and vocabulary,
self-important paladins, especially liberals, promoted the naked
emperor Blair as "mystical" and championed his "values"
that would allow "the mind [to] range in search of a better
Britain." And when the bloodstains showed, they ran for cover.
It has all been, as Larry David once described an erstwhile crony,
"a babbling brook of bullshit."

How contrite
their former heroes now seem. On 17 May, the leader of the House
of Commons, Harriet Harman, who is alleged to have spent 10,000
of taxpayers’ money on "media training," called on MPs
to "rebuild cross party trust." The unintended irony of
her words recalls one of her first acts as Blair’s Social Security
Secretary more than a decade ago — cutting the benefits of single
mothers. This was spun and reported as if there was a "revolt"
among Labour backbenchers, which was false. None of Blair’s new
female MPs, who had been elected "to end male-dominated, Conservatives
policies," spoke up against this attack on the poorest of poor
women. All voted for it.

The same was
true of the lawless attack on Iraq in 2003, behind which the cross-party
establishment and the political media rallied. The famous BBC man
Andrew Marr stood in Downing Street and excitedly told his viewers
that Blair "said they would be able to take Baghdad without
a bloodbath, and in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And
on both those points he has been proved conclusively right."
When Blair’s army finally retreated from Basra last month, they
left behind, according to scholarly estimate, more than a million
people dead, a majority of stricken, sick children, a contaminated
water supply, a crippled energy grid and four million refugees.
As for the "celebrating" Iraqis, the vast majority, say
Whitehall’s own surveys, want the invader out. And when Blair finally
departed the House of Commons, MPs gave him a standing ovation —
they who had refused to hold a vote on his criminal invasion or
even to set up an inquiry into its lies, which almost three-quarters
of the British population wanted.

Such corruption
goes beyond avarice.

the unthinkable, Edward Herman’s memorable phrase from his essay,
The Banality of Evil, about the division of labour in state
crime, is applicable here. On 18 May, the Guardian devoted
the top of one page to a report headlined, "Blair awarded $1
million prize for international relations work." Announced
in Israel soon after the Gaza massacre, the prize was for Blair’s
"cultural and social impact on the world." You looked
in vain for evidence of a spoof or some recognition of the
truth. Instead, there was his "optimism about the chance of
bringing peace …" and his work "designed to forge peace."

This was the
same Blair who committed the same crime — deliberately planning
and invading a country, "the supreme international crime"
— for which Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazi foreign minister, was
hanged at Nuremberg, after proof of his guilt was located in German
cabinet documents. Last February, Britain’s "Justice"
Minister Jack Straw blocked publication of crucial cabinet minutes
in March 2003 about the planning of the invasion of Iraq, even though
the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has ordered their release.
For Blair, the unthinkable is both normalized and celebrated.

"How our
corrupt MPs are playing into the hands of extremists," said
the cover of last week’s New Statesman. But is not their
support for the epic crime in Iraq already extremism? And
for the murderous imperial adventure in Afghanistan? And for the
government’s collusion with torture?

It is as if
our public language is now Orwellian. Using totalitarian laws approved
by a majority of MPs, the police have set up secretive units to
combat democratic dissent they call "extremism." Their
effective partners are "security" journalists, a recent
breed of state or "lobby" propagandist. On 9 April, the
BBC’s Newsnight program promoted the guilt of twelve "terrorists"
arrested in a contrived media drama orchestrated by the prime minister
himself. All were subsequently released without charge.

Something is
changing in Britain. The British people have never been more political
aware and prepared to clear out decrepit myths and other rubbish
while angrily stepping over the babbling brook of bulls**t.

28, 2009

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, will
be published by Jonathan Cape in June.

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