Monday, 11 July 2011

The Banana Kingdom - NOTW scandal exposes UK's uncomfortable truths

It's said there are "worse revelations on the way" in the ongoing News of the World scandal, which beggars belief. This is what could be described as a "moral event horizon". The bottom of barrels haven't just been scraped, they've been punched through into the stinking mulch underneath.

The great irony in all this, is that a 168-year old newspaper's closure has been sped-up by the cynicism it - and other tabloids - have fermented in the "British" public's psyche. It's also ironic that it was brought down by the classic, tenacious investigative journalism that it used to be known for a long time ago.

It goes without saying that this investigation will expand to include other newspapers as well, the NOTW mess just opened the door.

This scandal has exposed some very good things about "Britain"; how it operates, the public and the entire foundation of its political system. It's also brought an awful lot of bad things to the fore.

Firstly, the relationship between the police and journalists. A sizable section of the "British" public have a blood curdling thirst for revenge - not justice - fuelled by populist UK criminal justice policy, and a runaway media that leaves no stone uncovered in the search for a byline. If this thirst extends to harassing victims families, or hacking dead teenagers phones, so be it. It sells papers.

Since they can't go to the local gallows anymore, the closest thing to that is seeing a villain plastered all over a front page, getting their comeuppance. Even better if it's a "celebrity". It's been alluded to that the only place journalists could get the information is from the police. "Britain's top police force" - the same force considered the most important in "EnglandandWales" - perhaps the whole UK, seems to have a sticky finger or two in this scandal. Can it really be considered fit enough to investigate itself?

Jac O' the North has an excellent piece on this, and although he links it very much to England - perhaps rightly - the anomaly of "EnglandandWales" makes this particular police problem as much ours too.

Secondly, the relationship between the media - especially the print media - and past and current UK governments. What's clear from this scandal is just how spineless MPs have been in standing up to the "Murdoch Empire". It's all very well the likes of Tom Watson and Chris Bryant making a creditable and welcome stand once the worst-of-the-worst is out, and News International is at it's lowest, but why didn't they do this years ago? Vince Cable can certainly consider himself largely vindicated now at least.

It wasn't the Sun "wot" won the 1992 UK Election for the Tories, it was Neil Kinnock's cringe-worthy triumphalism in Sheffield. Labour were never home and dry at any point during that campaign. After that result, Labour and Tories alike believed that, to win elections, you need the Murdoch Media on "your side". They wanted to think that winning elections was as easy as keeping the right red-top on side for a few months every 4 or 5 years. By doing this, they helped create a monster. The ultimate playground bully.

The reactions from MPs the last week have been akin to seeing that rather unpleasant kid in the playground kicked in the bollocks for the first time. Now they're all clamouring (especially Labour) to stick in a boot while they can. They know this is the best chance to "take back some power" for themselves from the press and Rupert Murdoch.

Except they've had the power the whole time. They've just been too cowardly to use it. They've allowed themselves to be far too concerned about how they look. Of course if our MPs and celebrities were better behaved in the first place, they might not have had any reason to "fear" the tabloids.

People like to call Westminster the "mother of Parliaments". It appears as though far too many of our MPs have been infantalised by this, and too busy preening in the mirror to do their job properly. Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan and yes - even the devolved administrations - look grown up by comparison. Is Westminster really fit for purpose? Or are they just a bunch of wimps? Wednesday's motion on delaying the BSkyB bid looks set to be a big test of this.

Then there's the amount of power held by elite social circles. Whats been dubbed the "Chipping Norton Set" seems to be involved. All that power and influence held by just just a dozen people, even fewer if you discard the likes of ex-Blur bassist Alex James and Jeremy Clarkson. I've no doubt that similar social circles exist in Wales, but it does put the whole "taffia"/crachach thing in perspective. Getting inducted to the Gorsedd of Bards or wangling a job at S4C aren't on the same scale.

There's the prospect of an establishment civil war over this, a second English civil war if you will. The "Cavalier" pro-market, pro-press/Murdoch, anti-regulation elite versus the "Roundhead" pro-press regulation, pro-BBC, anti-Murdoch elite. Instead of the battlefield, it'll be fought in the corridors of Westminster, social networking and - ironically - the press and broadcasters.

What's disturbing is we could be heading for knee-jerk restrictions on press freedom and we - those who read and buy the news rather than make it - will have very little say on the matter.

It'll be caught up in our convoluted "Westminster" parliamentary system for years. Where there is no clear separation of powers, there are an awful lot of grey areas and back alleys where things can be "lost" or conveniently forgotten about. The "British" constitution should be a few pages absolutely everyone in the land can understand. It shouldn't be a library. Wales has an opportunity to do things differently should we decide to in the future.

If this had happened in some "tin pot" eastern European country (the kind Conservatives in particular like to compare Wales to), some African dictatorship or even the United States, the flag wavers for the British project would be reminding us all how great it is to live in a "free", "honourable", "model democracy".

While they get dewy-eyed looking at the Union Flag at the top of Big Ben, they neglect to mention that the Thames stinks of sewage and has done for some considerable time.

1 comment:

  1. never mind I'm disabled and have been enjoying actually watching Brown squirm, and yes I do not give a shit about him.

    This is the bloke that had the bank accounts of the disabled and sick checked by a private firm, had my credit records checked to see if I was living above my means, had my medical records checked, now he's had the same, he says he cried join the gang mate.