Opinion

Britain: it’s all hypocrisy and triviality

by | 14 Jan 2022

This week has shown that the British establishment turns reaches for double standards and distractions whenever its interests are at stake - and so is now unreformable

I fear Scotland going to be trapped inside the UK for some time yet – and what a place to be trapped it is. A flurry of stories in the last day or two really sum up the state of the nation. The stories are filled with hypocrisy and triviality. It’s almost as if that’s how Britain likes it.

Dominating of course is the surely-it’s-not-a-revelation of the powerful not believing that rules imposed on the rest of us apply to them. I am very slightly bemused by the scale of the attention this is achieving. I’d have thought that by now people would have either priced-in the nature of this government or become a confirmed dissident. I’m surprised people are surprised.

But I’m almost slightly sympathetic to Boris Johnstone (not really). In very specific ways London is the definition of ‘one rule for us, another rule for them’. It’s built into the fabric of the City State, where for years the machinery to pursue benefit fraud has grown while the machinery to pursue tax fraud has shrivelled.

London is where many of the world’s most unconscionable people come to launder their money (and their reputations). The banks operated utterly fraudulently and were bailed out but basically unpunished (yes some of the fines were big, but not as big as the profit or the fraud). And anything else you need to know only requires you to read a bit about the Grenfell inquiry and what it has been discovering.

It’s almost like no-one told Boris that during the pandemic it was necessary to pretend that we were all in this together, and to pretend really hard,

What is bothering me most about this isn’t so much the hypocrisy as the triviality. It tells you much about the British establishment when you compare the strength of the calls for Johnstone’s head for having a drinks party to the desperation they appear to show in the rehabilitation of Tony Blair and his illegal wars. It is a world where trivialities are pursued so long as deep, serious issues remain untouched.

In the case of ‘Boris in the garden with the bubbly’ I feel like I learned nothing I didn’t already know, but in the case of Christine Lee I did indeed learn something new. I learned that there actually is such a thing as being pulled up for using money, access and influence to try to shape British public policy – but only if you’re Chinese.

From the reporting so far I’m struggling to work out what it is that prompted MI5 to issue a warning about her given that I can’t quite see what it is she did that virtually every lobbyist in London doesn’t do every day – give politicians money, hover around Westminster socialising circles, getting their offspring (or other proxies) into influential jobs.

So is MI5 calling to clean up the whole dirty system? Hardly. It’s just another ongoing element of the rush to a new Cold War with China. You’d almost think that the British Establishment wants to persuade the public there is a new enemy to hate (and not them).

It’s almost like no-one told Boris that during the pandemic it was necessary to pretend that we were all in this together, and to pretend really hard

It seems to me to also apply to the Emma Watson case. It is but a couple of years since the absolute and undivided view of the British Establishment was that anyone who was accused of antisemitism by someone who was Jewish should immediately be removed from public life. More than that, anyone who questioned whether the accusation of antisemitism was legitimate was themselves antisemitic and must be removed from public life.

So Emma is now unemployable and the whole British Establishment is after her? More than that Mark Ruffulo, Susan Sarandon and Charles Dance are all for the chop too because they supported her and denied that what she had done was antisemitic? The BBC will presumably not rest until they are all finished.

Or was that just for Corbyn supporters? I’m 100 per cent behind Emma et al; the accusations of antisemitism were patently false and very clearly made in bad faith. Questioning them was absolutely right; but even to raise a question about bad faith was not an act permitted of the Labour Left.

The ‘official’ political narrative in Britain is utterly riddled with hypocrisy and is obsessed with trivialities in a stoic effort to avoid serious issues. Again and again the interests of power are never tackled; Corbyn was destroyed, Blair pardoned, London’s black youths are pursued by police at great speed, Grenfell’s criminals seem protected by an interminable inquiry, the Tories can devastate the lives of those on benefits but holding a rule-breaking party is too much to bear.

Power corrupts and London has hoovered up a staggering amount of the UK’s power. Since I was born there have been constant mumblings about the need to reform its institutions (I guess that the unelected House of Lords is as good a symbol of the problem as any). But real reform never comes.

And it never will so long as the social class which sets the political narrative in Britain resorts with such ease to hypocrisy and is so quite to jump on trivialities where there are big, important questions to be asked, questions which threaten the interests of the powerful.

One of the many reasons I believe passionately in Scottish independence comes from the time I spent in the London bubble. I was a young press officer in the mid-1990s, working in Millbank and socialising with the very people who now form the ruling class.

I hated it. I found it lacking in seriousness, unwilling to listen to diverse thoughts, obsessed with its own brilliance and convinced that the strange set of conventions that make up courtly life in Westminster were admirable and exciting.

Power corrupts and London has hoovered up a staggering amount of the UK’s power

Despite this, despite having seen the uninspiring underbelly of early New Labour, I celebrated on that sunny morning of 2 May 1997. I had tickets to see the Eels at the Barrowlands and I remember the euphoria I felt that evening. I already expected New Labour to let me down (it’s why I left) but I still believed some proper structural reform would come.

I was left with a sense that the best chance to reform Britain in my lifetime had just passed. I was right. Corbyn’s 2017 election close call was the second best – and that too has been ruthlessly closed down as an option. The third best chance probably came in the aftermath of the financial crisis where a softly-softly approach delayed proper action until the moment had passed.

Betrayal by its reformers, destruction of those who would actually reform it, manipulation of the public to prevent them demanding it – it’s the British Way and I no longer have any confidence at all that it will change in my lifetime.

This is not to suggest that things are all that much better in Scotland. As all the above was happening there was yet another lurch forward in the case of the malicious prosecution of Rangers, another sign that many more millions are to be lost to the public purse. And yet there is absolutely zero sign of any consequences being faced by anyone responsible. Total immunity.

I noticed a comment below the line on the Herald’s article on this. It said simply ‘the Scottish political and legal class are just as corrupt as Westminster’. For what it’s worth, my observation is that no, not quite. When it comes to probity in public life I want out of the UK but without any illusion that Scotland is anything like immune to the same problems.

It really is as simple as this; it has become clear to me that reform at the UK level is not possible. I remain hopeful that in Scotland it is not, that smaller fishes in a smaller pond are less able to devour their opponents.

I recognise that I may be wrong about the latter – but I do not believe I am wrong about the former. So I’ll take the chance of cleaning up politics over the certainty that it is impossible.

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