The Truth Is Marching On

Scotland in March is usually a dismal place in terms of weather. Travelling through foothills of the Highlands, incongruously playing a selection of Cole Porter standards on my car CD player, nature was glorious. I stopped at one of my favourite watering holes, the Kenmore Hotel at the mouth of the River Tay in Perthshire and admired views of the snow-capped mountains, and the many ducks enjoying themselves in the ice-cold water. For some reason, I find ducks more interesting to watch than people, mainly because they make many humans appear incredibly stupid.

I went into the bar to warm myself up, in several ways, and to bring myself up to date on the nonsensical state of British politics. The chronic state of the British Health Service, or the bogus war in Iraq, and other major issues were elbowed out of the headlines by something much more important.

The main story of the day, was the plight of one of the grand dames of the British Labour Party, Tessa Jowell, the Minister of Culture (where do they find such redundant jobs) and a member of Tony Blair's cabinet.

Many readers of Lew will never have heard of this grand dame but will certainly recognize the pickle she is in. She is married (or rather was until last weekend) to a well-heeled lawyer called David Mills whose speciality is cosying up to the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

I am an admirer of the politically incorrect Italian if only for the fact that he is worth $20 billion (no typo) and speaks his mind without benefit of weighing up the consequences of his blunt statements. For example, at a press conference with the Danish Prime Minister Anders Rassmussen, who is very good looking, at least so I am told, he said to the assembled press that he was going to introduce his wife to the Dane in order to divert her from another man with whom she was romantically entangled. Has any politician ever cracked a joke about his wife's infidelity? Certainly not George Bush or Tony Blair.

But back to Tessa and David, neither of whom are a rival to Prime Minister Rassmussen. Allegations have been made against Mills that he:

  1. accepted a gift of around $600,000 from the Italian premier;
  2. aided Berlusconi with tax evasion and money laundering;
  3. was involved in insider-trading of a bar chain (called Old Monk) when his wife was in charge of relaxing the crazy British drinking laws;
  4. hid vital documents from the British Serious Fraud Office;
  5. fiddled his income tax returns (the old Al Capone trick); and
  6. tried to gain favourable treatment from the tax inspector by citing his wife's Cabinet position.

There are a few other allegations but half-a-dozen is enough to be going on with. But what has all of this got to do with the Right Honourable Tessa?

The essence of the problem is that Cabinet Ministers have to declare their financial interests, which includes immediate family and Ms Jowell overlooked filling in the necessary forms or did not think that they applied to her. At best she is guilty of not understanding what her husband was up to during office hours, or at worst believing that the law did not apply to her.

What, of course, is important, is not who did what when, and why, and who understood the law; it is all about, as it always is, people in authority abusing their power and escaping the consequences by stating that they did not break arcane rules and regulations created by people like themselves. To try and hold them accountable, is, in Tony Blair's Britain, nothing short of persecution because people like Tessa Jowell are innocent victims of old-fashioned morality, or the object of witch-hunts by the wicked press.

There was a time when a Labour Cabinet consisted of people who were themselves close to, and behaved like, and subscribed to the values of ordinary working class people who were the backbone of the Labour Party. Tessa Jowell and her husband, and indeed Tony and Cherie Blair, are as about as far removed from the working class Labour voter as can be imagined.

Not for them beer and sandwiches with the local unions, but international travel, Pinot Grigio wine, lunches with the rich and famous, and rubbing shoulders with those who make millions and behave in the way people do on television soap operas. Tessa and David live in a luxury house in a fashionable part of London, with another shack in the Shakespeare country – a man who would have well understood the way that power corrupts the high and mighty.

The Labour Party apparatchiks have come a long way in a few years. The upper reaches of the Labour Party lead lives that bear no relationship to the lives of their supporters. To the leadership, playing around with extravagant sums of dough is, well, just normal. Why do bus drivers, office cleaners, schoolteachers, and gardeners fail to understand this?

The political classes in Britain (and no doubt the US) are beneficiaries of double standards and condescension. They preach to working people about the importance of hard work and of paying ever-increasing taxes, yet play footsie under the table with those whose job it is to provide advice on how to squirrel away their wealth and earnings.

They give lectures on diversity but spend most of their time with fashionable elites and showbiz personalities. They are insulated by their wealth and privilege from the pressures that face ordinary people, pressures that they have imposed on lesser mortals. In short, they behave pretty much like the bureaucrats of the old Soviet bloc telling everybody else how to live their lives whilst exempting themselves from any moral and financial restraints.

How strange. Didn't anyone warn the voters that the political classes always use their positions of power to get their mitts on the loot, and that they are a bunch of frauds? Even ducks in Scotland know that.

In the meantime, Tessa, who once said that she would throw herself under a bus for Tony Blair, has left her husband of 27 years, moneybags David Mills, whose dubious activities have dragged her through the mud. Such an action would have been more convincing had it occurred before their stunts were made public, and before it was recommended that Berlusconi be charged with financial wrongdoing.

I doubt if they were ever be held accountable for their betrayal of disadvantaged voters. True to form on International Women's Day, Tessa joined other sisters near the Houses of Parliament, and to the refrain of the Battle Hymn of the Republic they brazenly and without shame sang "their truth is marching on". Had her story been lampooned on the Jay Leno or David Letterman shows in the US, the audience would have protested that the scriptwriters had gone too far.

As Jane Austen said in Pride and Prejudice, "If I were not afraid of judging harshly, I should be almost tempted to say, that there is a strong appearance of duplicity in all this."

March 16, 2006