A big, fat Tory lie

Before the tears of joy have even dried on the ballot papers, Tory bruiser Michael Fallon has already come out with a Big Lie,  that Labour’s new leadership ‘will hurt working people’.

(For the benefit of strangers to the British political scene, the Labour party was founded 122 years ago in Bradford by James Keir Hardy and others to give trades unions – working people – a voice in Parliament. Forced to work from the age of seven, Hardy endured the most appalling poverty in childhood and witnessed a workmate plunge to his death from an unsafe platform. When he died, aged 58, while still the sitting MP for Merthyr Tydfil, no Tory politician had the grace or good manners to attend his funeral.

Under the current Tory government over a million people in Britain, many of them workers on poverty wages and zero-hours contracts, are dependent on free food banks for their families’ survival. In the past three years, almost three thousand disability benefit claimants who have been told by the government they no longer qualify for state support have died within six weeks of being pronounced fit enough to work, by a private French logistics company brought in to assess their state of health.

When it comes to hurting working people, Tories are experts.

Now read on…)

The Defence Secretary has demonstrated precisely my view, that all Tories are graceless, vindictive, pompous, hypocritical, bullying Victorian throwbacks, who will stop at no disgusting tactics to smear anyone interested in social justice; truly, the ‘nasty party’. (It is odd that the main thrust of their attacks on Corbyn to date have concerned his ‘backward-looking’ policies. The main ambition of the Conservative and Unionist Party is to preserve the 1707 Act of Union – and, one suspects, to restore the servant class and foxhunting as quickly as possible.)

Fallon, a sanctimonious Scottish Anglican creep, could not even allow Jeremy Corbyn five minutes to savour his unexpected victory in the election to the Labour leadership, or acknowledge his new position gracefully, before weighing-in with his usual brand of somewhat speculative propaganda. He has  something of a reputation for Big Lies, and clearly despises honest men: which, by universal acclamation, Corbyn genuinely is – one of the few in Parliament.

With grateful acknowledgement to Wikipedia, from whose entry on Fallon the following three paragraphs are lifted wholesale:

“During the run-up to the 2015 general election Fallon wrote an article in the Times saying that Ed Miliband had stabbed his brother in the back to become Labour leader and he would also stab the UK in the back to become prime minister. Fallon subsequently declined the opportunity to describe Miliband as a decent person and his comments embarrassed Conservative supporters.

(The Miliband brothers, sons of a respectable leftwing academic posthumously branded in the Tory press in 2014 as a ‘traitor’, ran against each other for the leadership on equal terms. No stabbing was involved. Ed resigned after Labour’s defeat in the 2015 General Election.)

“According to the Daily Telegraph, Fallon, Deputy Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, claimed for mortgage repayments on his Westminster flat in their entirety. MPs are only allowed to claim for interest charges.

“Between 2002 and 2004, Fallon regularly claimed £1,255 per month in capital repayments and interest, rather than the £700-£800 for the interest component alone. After his error was noticed by staff at the Commons Fees Office in September 2004, he asked: “Why has no one brought this to my attention before?””

Why, indeed.

The public-school-educated Fallon, 63, has never had a real job, becoming a party researcher on graduating MA from the University of St Andrews and gaining promotion in the Thatcher administration. Interestingly, he has several times been succeeded in office by another Tory expenses-eater, ‘Matt’ Hancock. As Defence Secretary he may have a task on his hands to explain the egregious persecution by the military of Sergeant Alexander Blackman, the outstanding Royal Marine (and family man) gaoled for life for the ‘murder’ of a mortally wounded enemy combatant in Afghanistan, a casualty whom it would have been too dangerous to evacuate, and who would certainly have been ‘martyred’ by his own side if left behind – following which it is now emerging that numerous failings both by the court and by Sgt Blackman’s superior officers may have been glossed-over in the rush to show that the British army has clean hands, as if any side in these squalid ‘wars’ started by politicians anxious to show their machismo can claim that.

But of course, the need for frequent, severe punishment is one of the fundamental tenets of Tory philosophy. That, and nauseating hypocrisy. Wikipedia, again:

“An Election Communication posted to his constituents states that Fallon “has taken a close interest in, family issues, voting against gay marriage and supporting parental responsibility. He works closely with local churches when moral matters come before Parliament.””

Other than his own, naturally.

Postscriptum

And the Cameron analysis of the new political horizon? Labour is now ‘a security risk’ to Britain.

So lock ’em up.

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Money, the new sex

It appears that, where our modern-day politicians are concerned, money is the new sex.

Fifty-two years ago, in 1963, John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War (we called a spade a spade in them days, none of yer cissy Defence euphemisms) was forced to resign after admitting to a brief dalliance two years earlier with a 19-year-old ‘model’, Christine Keeler. The issue was less that he was using prostitutes, than that another of her regulars was reportedly one Colonel Yevgeny Ivanov, a ‘naval attaché’ at the Soviet Embassy in London. It was the height of the Cold War, which in 1962 would turn almost terminally hot with the Cuban missile crisis.

Things took a nastier turn when ‘The Establishment’, that nebulous cronysphere of influential upper-class connections, scapegoated society ostoeopath, Stephen Ward, who had introduced Keeler to Profumo at a wild party given by Lord Astor at his riverside stately home, Cliveden. Facing prosecution for living on immoral earnings – pimping – Ward took an overdose.

Ward’s involvement was clearly sexed-up, both to deflect prurient public interest in members of the ruling class indulging in sexual orgies, and to draw attention away from the possibility that the British government might have been penetrated at a high level by Soviet intelligence – which, of course, it had been.

Thus, thanks in part to the launch that year of Private Eye magazine by a group of young graduates, members of the ironically named Establishment Club, 1963 became a year in which ‘Tory sleaze’ was the topical theme, as it is once again today – and the start of the British media’s satire boom. Today’s politicians, however, are beyond satire.

As if on cue, Keeler’s friend and former cohort, Mandy Rice-Davies died this December. Rice-Davies has gone down in legal history for the defiant reply she gave at Ward’s trial, when confronted under cross-examination with Astor’s denial of involvement: ‘Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?’ And once again, senior former ministers are under the spotlight.

This morning came the resignation of the Chairman of the Parliamentary oversight committee on Intelligence and Security, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, KCMG, QC, MP. Sir Malcolm, whom I have previously described on this blog as ‘Britain’s second most pompous man’ (leaving endless room for suggestions as to who might be first), has been brought low; not by sexual incontinence, but by what he has shockingly described as his ‘entitlement’ to grab as much cash as he can, while in office.

Rifkind, a former Defence and Foreign Secretary under Thatcher, has seemingly been caught on a hidden camera in a sting operation mounted by the Daily Telegraph and TV Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, slouching back in a chair in a sleazy-looking office, bigging himself up to some bogus Chinese business people, demanding fees of up to £8,000 a day to act as a prospective fixer.

Let me say straight away, that what he was proposing is not, in fact, illegal; nor is anything he has actually done. Having said that, there is nothing much one can add to take away from the ghastliness of the whole affair.

I could add that he was not alone. The same sordid little sting operation caught the Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, former Labour Home Secretary, former Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, former Justice Secretary, The Rt Hon John ‘Jack’ Straw QC, MP. Up to ten other senior politicians found excuses not to be lured into the media’s web of deceit, but Straw too appears to have fallen for the stench of filthy foreign lucre.

His excuse was that he is leaving Parliament at the election in May, as a humble backbencher; and was simply exercising his right to fix himself up with a career thereafter as a £5,000 a day consultant; operating, as he graphically expressed it, ‘under the radar’ – by which he meant, he explained on the Today programme yesterday, that it is often better to have a quiet word in private with influential contacts than it is to campaign openly for your commercial interests.

There is an old maxim about ‘holes’ and ‘digging’ that springs to mind.

Rifkind’s kneejerk protestation that ‘scurrilous accusations’ had been made against him, over behaviour that is evidentially out there in the public domain; his hopefully disarming admission that what he did was ‘ill-judged’ (he would say that, wouldn’t he?), accompanied by grovelling self-referral to the House Committee on Privileges, and his pompous claim to have an ‘entitlement’ to screw huge fees out of the commercial sector for making representations on behalf of private clients, maybe possibly even while in office (which would be against the rules – paid advocacy is banned), all fall apart completely when one considers the security implications.

In addition to being the paid representative of the well-heeled voters of Kensington, this man is, or was, the Chair of a busy parliamentary committee having oversight of all Britain’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies at a time of high controversy over their surveillance methods and possibly criminal involvement with CIA black ops. As such, he may be privy to operational secrets that are so top-secret they can never be revealed. The head honchos at GCHQ, MI5, MI6 – pick a number – all have to explain their actions to him.

Yet he is ‘entitled’, or so he believes, to lower himself into a potentially compromised position, being interviewed by some random Chinese woman as the prospective part-time employee of a fictitious company supposedly registered in the jurisdiction of a foreign power which, while not strictly speaking hostile, is known to be operating covert espionage activities against this country, its allies and its industries – a company which he has not even vetted for security before allowing himself to be enticed into preliminary negotiations with them to pay him large sums of money for ‘access’.

Had he instinctively used his influence to ask the security service to look into it before getting into the taxi, he might have discovered within a few seconds that the company was merely a fictitious front created by the Telegraph, the newspaper notoriously responsible for its relentless exposé of the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal, and an investigative TV programme known for its crafty sting operations. Luckily for him – it might have been a real company, and a front for the Chinese intelligence agencies. He wouldn’t have known.

Instead, he seems to have been blinded by the lure of money. And he is already quite a wealthy man, by most standards (except, perhaps, his); his position and influence extend to the chairmanships of international committees on global security, non-executive directorships.

It is surely right, therefore, that he has stepped down as Chair of the Intelligence committee, as his judgement must now be in serious question. As must his claim, also caught on camera, that his parliamentary work allows him masses of spare time to promote the interests of private clients, quote: ‘I’m self-employed’…. And what of loyalty to us, his actual employers? Not really a Conservative preoccupation, sadly.

Middle-aged politicians fucking young women is nothing new. It keeps them looking and feeling youthful, as the septuagenarian Berlusconi will happily attest. Politicians exploiting their former office, their influence and their connections to feather their nests in the private sector, too, is a time-honoured tradition. Clinton, Blair have become multi-millionaires off the backs of their respective electorates.

In the wake of the 2009 revelations, Parliament has, it’s claimed, tightened-up on MPs’ extramural activities and sources of income; the basic £67 thousand a year – around three times the national average wage – being hardly enough to keep body and soul together. Why, in the 1910s MPs’ pay was SIX times the average wage! External lobbyists are obliged to register. Serving ministers are not permitted to hold outside directorships. MPs are not allowed to act as paid lobbyists, or to take cash for asking questions. All outside activities and interests (other than unearned income…) must be declared in the register of members’ interests. Serious corruption is unlikely in Britain.

But this is not an issue about MPs having outside employment, second and even third jobs. That is just a red herring. The scandal of ministers leaving for hugely well-paid sinecures with industries related to their former office continues, unfortunately. What Straw and Rifkind did was not illegal. It was probably not even a breach of privilege, since they hadn’t actually taken the money; only discussed terms, setting-out their stalls, nothing confirmed or approved.

No, what Britain’s ‘hardworking families’ have been treated to is a glaring visual record of influential, overweeningly self-satisfied grandees of the British Establishment, the Queen’s Privy Councillors, qualified barristers, people who have previously pronounced sonorous judgements on other people’s moral turpitude, acting like two spivs on the make: sucking-up to some seedy, anonymous foreign moneybags, touting for possibly shady business, hanging their arses out; then trying to bully and worm their way out of it like naughty children when they get caught.

It’s not a pretty sight. To be honest, it’s pretty fucking nauseating.

 

Calm down, dears

There’s a theory going round that confusion is the new politics.

Thanks to the proliferation of new ‘personal’ media, there are no longer any fixed positions. No ‘tablets of stone’ tell us what is, or is not, the right thing to believe. Perceptions of what is actually going on, who is in charge, what their intentions are, what the effects of their policies are, are a jumble of mismatched beliefs and expectations based largely on misinformation, which others around us create.

From the ‘fog of war’, we have gone to the ‘fog of peace’. We are no longer able to decide what is true and what is not; nor are we able to trust in official sources, as these have given ground to the diffusive power of crowd-sourcing.

The confusion of the people is where absolute power lies for the few who are in control of the facts.

Take Putin and his recent statements about the civil war in Ukraine. The overwhelming evidence of people’s own eyes is that Russian troops and artillery are inside southeastern Ukraine backing Russian-led, trained and armed separatist rebels. President Putin says they aren’t. Does he not know they are, or is he lying?

Aha, that’s the question!

The longer he keeps denying what everyone knows to be true, the more support he attracts to his version of events, until eventually he is seen by the majority to be telling the truth – even when we know he isn’t!

According to the Wikipedia entry, “Maskirovka is a Russian word (Маскировка, literally a little masquerade), pertaining to the business of military deception. Although the word is sometimes translated as ‘camouflage’, this belies its much broader meaning that includes all measures, active and passive, designed to deceive the enemy”

What seems to be the case with Ukraine is that, no, the Russian army is not involved in the civil war: the Russians inside Ukraine are merely irregular volunteers, nationalist patriots who have merely borrowed the guns, tanks and BUK missile launchers needed to defend the persecuted minority of ethnic Russian Ukrainians who have organized themselves against a fascist coup in Kiev.

Were it to be admitted that this is all utter nonsense, the safety and security of the Russian Republic would be compromised. Thus it is Putin’s ‘maskirovka’ moment – his absolute moral duty to lie about it, for the good of his country.

Sinking to the banal, Nigel Farage is a British politician who took over the reins of an ailing minority party, the United Kingdom Independence Party, and has won a massive following by exploiting a growing sense of anger and voter indifference towards the established political consensus.

Anyone can obviously see that he is just another professional politician transparently positioning himself as a ‘champion of the people’. It is the oldest trick in the book. Adopting a ‘cheeky chappy’ personality, he seldom allows himself to be photographed without a pint of beer in one hand and a ban-defying cigarette in the other, propping up the bar of some otherwise deserted British pub. Closing at the rate of two a day, the good old British boozer, with its sawdust carpet and its sad packet of pork scratchings, is now merely a symbol of a bygone era. And that’s the nostalgia factor he is brilliantly exploiting. Because we miss them!

In vox pop after vox pop, you will hear working-class voters describe Farage as ‘one of us – an ordinary bloke’: when it is very widely known that he is in fact a former member of the hated merchant-banking fraternity, against which he has never spoken out; and a former public-schoolboy to boot, a ‘toff’, just like Prime Minister Cameron, Chancellor Osborne and the other Conservative leaders. He merely dresses like a dodgy cashiered army major from an Ealing comedy film of the 1950s.

Like Putin, Farage has forced his way into the media-swarm with an absurdist agenda that makes little sense. Mining the contradictions of public opinion, he has been able to convince enough voters that – Lloyd-Webber’s Law – ‘Any dream will do’; building an unstoppable momentum for a party which, on analysis, contains a confused spectrum of support, from the racist/mysogynist sofa-dwelling, internet trolling brigade to former high Tories looking for a return to a golden age that never really existed, taking in a great number of everyday people who are vaguely unhappy with the way things are, whatever their understanding of that may be.

Public understanding of the way things are is fast unravelling. Few people have a memory of the past: we live now in an eternal present, just behind the curve of events.

As examples of Farage’s ability to sow confusion, you need to consider that his main platform is that of agitating to take the UK out of the European Union. Yet he is himself not a UK parliamentarian: he sits in and is paid by the European Parliament as an MEP. He exploits voter anger at UK parliamentarians, many of whom were embroiled in a 2009 scandal over the claiming of spurious expenses; yet he himself is bidding to become one of them.

Meanwhile, Farage benefits mightily from the generous expenses available to MEPs in Strasbourg. Indeed, he has just diverted around 1.5 million Euro in EU funding to UKIP through the expedient of creating a shadow party with a pro-European agenda, thus qualifying for a start-up grant… Sometimes he is anti-immigrant, at other times he is all in favour of immigrants, provided they don’t milk the system – as he is doing – or speak in foreign languages on public transport. Yet his wife is German. Zu hause, sprecht-es Deutsch?

And people love him for it. He has brilliantly intuited that the foremost ‘British value’ is taking the piss out of foreigners.

But events in Greece have overtaken even Farage’s anti-Europe agenda. It is looking increasingly likely that Greece’s new Syriza government will default on its debts and plunge the Euro – and, by extension, the whole European project – into chaos and dissolution, much to the benefit of Putin and the Russian Federation, which will find it rather easier to re-absorb the former Soviet frontier states.

Meanwhile, Apple is sitting on a $175 billion cash pile that could pay off Greece’s national debt. Doing so would be, literally, a game-changer – they don’t need the money, they are making profits of $4 billion a month. Five US corporations now have wealth exceeding that of several smaller European nations. Would Apple be willing to make a selfless gesture that could prevent the next pan-European war? Probably not.

There is an Orwellian dimension to all this, in which the meaning of language has become plastic. Anything could mean anything, except what it actually means. We come at everything from a myriad points of view. Our growing sense that the ground is shifting beneath us creates exploitable anxieties and concedes power to those behind the dissemination of creative untruths. Through mass communictions technology we have entered a chaotic, dreamlike cloudscape with its own fluid logic.

You might call it ‘quantum politics’, a state in which ideas can be in two places at once.

The best example of all, that one can think of, is Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Those who seek power do best plucking it out of chaos and confusion. The public response to recent events in France; the willingness of Greek voters to commit economic suicide in the spirit of Thermopylae offer little to those of us who still hope to keep things in proportion.

 

The future looks Teflon-coated

‘…the ultimate irony… that a politician and former investment banker with a German wife and a cosy relationship with the media should have made himself so popular with a constituency that viscerally loathes all politicians, bankers, foreigners and media types.’

I’m getting a bit worried about this country.

It’s probably an exaggeration to believe everyone is going to vote at the next General Election for UKIP, our version of the US Tea Party only with bad teeth and negative equity.

But it’s looking horribly likely.

Having come from nowhere in the past five years, since the 2008 banking crash provided a godsend to political outsiders who can blame the resulting misery on just about anything and anyone they want to get shot of (luckily this time it isn’t, or isn’t yet, the Jews), UKIP would like Britain to be a fictional paradise, completely independent of the rest of the human race, which it regards as being somewhat less than British.

Practically every day, another UKIP candidate is hounded out of the party for claiming that floods are caused by gay marriage, that we should stop sending aid to ‘Bongo-bongoland’, or that one of Britain’s best-loved comedians should be sent back to a ‘black country’. (Amusingly, Lenny Henry was born in a part of Britain known since the Industrial Revolution as the Black Country. Don’t tell me it was a joke?)

Controversy has flared this past week as UKIP unveiled their European election campaign. Among the stronger statements their posters and TV commercials are making, are the bizarre claim that 26 million unemployed people in Europe are planning to invade across the English Channel and steal our jobs; that 74% of laws oppressing UK citizens are imposed from Brussels; and that British building workers cannot get work on British building-sites because their wages are being undercut by foreign labour.

Now, none of these propositions is true. But it doesn’t matter, because (I am sure Dr Goebbels would have approved) they tell the stories that many unhappy people WANT to believe. In the first instance, I am sure most people would rather stay and work in their own countries, as we would. But two million Britons work in other European countries; which, when we secede from the Union, they won’t be able to, so they’ll have to come back and take jobs away from other Britons. (I’ve never seen any figures for how many jobs have been created in Britain by inward investment from other European countries, or by Objectives One and Two funding from Brussels. There must be some.)

So the logic of UKIP’s claim is somewhat lost on me. Secondly, 86% of laws affecting Britons are in fact made in Westminster and 74% merely ratified by the EU, as is required under the convention. (I’ve made that up, UKIP-style, but it might be true.) The other 14% of laws originating in the EU ( a genuine statistic) most probably safeguard the rights of individual Britons against the bad laws made in Westminster.

And thirdly, the Building Trades Federation has been squealing all last week that we are so short of qualified builders, we can’t meet our housing targets and brickies are pulling-down six-figure salaries just for turning up. The idea that any Briton who can lift a hod and be arsed to get off the sofa can’t get a job because of Romanians swarming over here on minimum wage is just self-pitying crap.

Then the actor playing the ‘unemployed’ British builder turns out to be an Irish immigrant… Quite properly, since most of the hardworking immigrant labourers who built modern Britain were Irish, and we owe them a huge debt; as indeed do we owe the Nigerian cardiologists and Philippino nurses who keep the Health Service running and just about affordable. Blundering, blustering UKIP racists, bigots and quasi-religious nut-jobs just keep on giving. And so, horror of horrors, it appears, does a vast swathe of middle England voters keep on taking, who identify with UKIP’s fuzzy logic and DON’T CARE if it is all bollocks!

For, as of this weekend, UKIP are at 38% in the polls, and they don’t even have a proper party organisation or any people with higher-level experience in government.

A rag-bag of disempowered, disappointed, disgruntled, middle-aged, lower-middle-class ex-Blair voters and disaffected Tory toffs, they’ve been brainwashed by forty years of downright fibs pumped-out by our rabidly xenophobic tabloid press about Europe and immigrants and Muslims and Westminster politicians – and bludgeoned by incomes that have been steadily falling behind prices so the CEOs of listed companies can hand themselves multimillion pound bonuses. No surprise, then, that they’ve convinced themselves democracy isn’t working, our way of life is threatened (whose way of life? Ed.) so we might as well hand the country over to them, never mind the bully-boys waiting in the wings.

Lacking infrastructure, UKIP is mostly a one-man-band, led by a publicity-vulture so preposterous that in any other era he would have been laughed out of court. That’s why we have to take him seriously. Nigel Farage is so Teflon-coated that he can afford to actively court the ridicule of the chatterati. The more people with education, discrimination and a sense of history point to the absurdities and bigotries and dangers and incompetence and gross distortions of the UKIP manifesto and sneer, the more people without those virtues love him.

Like the ex-Balliol scholar, Pipe-Smoker-of-the-Year and Socialist prime minister, Harold Wilson, before him, the well-educated, ex-investment banker and sitting Member of the European Parliament (when he turns up), the abolitionist Farage likes to present himself as a man o’ the people, a veritable goldmine of homespun wisdom and commonsense. We haven’t seen his like in fifty years, a time to which we suspect his supporters are longing to return. He’s an old-style pork-barrel politician, and that’s his shtick.

Farage the huxter just loves to be photographed in a pub, enjoying a pie and a pint on the saloon bartop, where many of his followers have bored for England. Nobody goes to pubs anymore, they are closing at the rate of two a day, but the pub is an indelible symbol of British culture and so Farage seeks them out to promote, among other causes dear to Mittel England, his populist policy of overturning the ban on smoking in public places: just one of the ideas he knows will win him votes, but which, were he to come to power, he almost certainly would not risk doing.

And then, there’s that coat.

Another of Wislon’s favourite ways of cosying-up to the link-detached, lower middle-class voter was to affect a ghastly beige-coloured car-coat made from Gannex, a cheap-and-cheerless fabric invented by his wealthy friend and benefactor, Victor (later Lord) Kagan. In a similar vein, Farage likes to sport one of those cheeky-chappie, 3/4-length camelhair coats beloved of slightly dodgy characters and solicitors’ clerks, both in life and in fiction.

Dung coloured, and slightly grubby-looking, it features a little brown velvet collar, like moleskin. Two famously shady characters who wore similar coats were, of course, Arthur Daley, the engagingly persuasive backstreet entrepreneur and rustbucket car-dealer played by George Cole in Thames TV’s Minder series; and the late Jeremy Thorpe QC, the former Liberal party leader who somehow survived a criminal trial for hiring an incompetent hit-man to try to murder a rent-boy who was allegedly blackmailing him.

It’s a coat, in short, that might once have been worn to the racetrack by a cashiered army Major with a nice line in surplus Bulgarian champagne and the phone number of a cute bit of totty lipsticked on the rattling glovebox door of his Mk-11 Jag.

Farage of course knows the coat makes him a figure of ridicule. He’s clever enough to know that the class who find him absurd and pitiable are hated by the far greater number of people who will therefore vote for him. It is genuinely astonishing, the ultimate irony if you like, that a career politician and ex-banker with a foreign wife and a cosy relationship with the media should have made himself so hugely popular with a constituency that viscerally loathes all politicians, bankers, foreigners and media types.

Even when accused of riding the Strasbourg expenses gravy-train, his answer is breathtakingly insouciant: if they’re corrupt and foreign enough to give him scads of European taxpayers’ money, he has every right to spend it how he likes. And what he spends it on, apparently, is paying his German wife to work as his PA, while he goes around helpfully sneering at people speaking foreign languages on buses.

Now, given that the mere mention of politicians’ expenses is enough to cause heart failure among not only UKIP supporters, you would think, wouldn’t you, that 38% of the voters would twig that they are not going to see much change for the better when they vote this Teflon-coated caricature into power?

Instead, UKIP supporters are deliriously happy to overlook all of his obvious failings and absurdities; projecting onto  Non-Stick Nigel, their desperate, unfocussed hopes of re-empowerment and the reinstatement of a Golden Age, located in time somewhere around 1954, when Britain was great, you knew what was what, and foreigners were people who lived abroad.

Nigel Farage is a Harold Wilson de nos jours, a smart politician who needs to do almost nothing and say almost anything to make people feel they’ll soon have never had it so good.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of The Boglington Post. We think they might be Uncle Bogler’s, but he is not here to defend himself.

© The Boglington Post 2014.

How corrupt are our politicians? Or: Maria Miller and the Murders in the Blue Barn

The late lamented General Suharto of Indonesia came to power in a protracted and complicated, almost bloodless military coup sponsored and supported by the USA and Britain. Half-a-dozen of his opponents, military officers, ended up being stuffed down a well; but by and large it was a quiet affair, and departing President, Norodom Sihanouk, survived to die another day.

Over the next couple of years however, aided by American special forces and ships of the Royal Navy, Suharto carried out a systematic genocide against the ethnic Chinese population, who were all thought to be communist fellow-travellers. Over a million died. Many more, political prisoners, rotted away in island jungle camps.

In the years that followed, ‘Mr Ten-per-cent’ as he became known, amassed a personal fortune of over $30 billion from skimming-off every contract placed with western companies; often, notoriously, for illegal logging. He died in 2008, peacefully in bed, of multiple organ failure, and was given a state funeral.

Now, pardon me, but that’s what I’d call corruption.

President Yanukovych of Ukraine fled the country earlier this month, and sought refuge in Russia. Two months of popular demonstrations in the capital, Kiev, against his corrupt regime climaxed in a week of mayhem. Unidentified snipers thought to be Russian Spetsnaz firing provocatively from behind the state police lines killed upwards of 90 unarmed demonstrators. Government buildings were seized. But on the Saturday morning, when demonstrators entered the Presidential palace, they found nothing, and no-one. The President had been spirited away. It is claimed that he took with him, or had otherwise misappropriated in the two years he was in office, $27 billion in state funds.

That afternoon, the public and the western media were invited to tour his abandoned country home. What they found profoundly shocked the relatively poorly off Ukrainian families. Their elected president had had constructed for himself, a country retreat with every possibly luxury, including gold-plated waste bins, a basement boxing arena, a private zoo and his own personalised portrait labels on the whisky and other bottles in the lavish drinks cabinet. His mentor, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, could hardly draw attention to this egregious excess when accusing the West of sponsoring a coup in Ukraine – something that hadn’t actually happened, since Yanukovych’s supporters were still sitting in the parliament along with the elected opposition, who had already declared an election. For it is whispered that Putin himself has five such homes.

And of course there were Saddam Hussein of Iraq, with his five gruesomely tasteless palaces, equipped with torture rooms and private viewing theatres where he could watch videos of his opponents’ executions; Gaddaffi of Libya, with his secret rape rooms, one actually inside the university in Tripoli, where young students would be brought to him after being ‘broken-in’ by his guards; and the unlovely Ceausescus of Romania. History is littered with the scum whom ordinary people seem almost eager to have govern them, as they crave ‘strong leadership’ and ‘national pride’. They get that, all right.

Is it conceivable then that any British politician could match these breathtaking examples of the corruption of office?

For twenty years, the world-famous insurance business Lloyds of London had been aware of growing losses in the USA as a result of injury claims by miners and process workers in the asbestos industry. In the unregulated climate of the 1980s, a system developed whereby these losses were passed around between syndicates. The claims weren’t paid out, but the commissions grew fatter every time the liabilities were bought-up by another syndicate, in a process known as reinsurance.

Lloyds is a unique business. It is composed of a number of ‘syndicates’, groups of underwriters and investors known as Names, who needed at that time to declare immediately realisable assets of £250,000 to join, but who then received a high rate of return. The catch was that, if their syndicate made a loss, they would have to stump up – and the liability of Names was unlimited.

In the mid-1980s, a suspiciously large number of senior Names (you could belong to more than one syndicate) started quietly resigning. At the same time, syndicates mounted a drive to recruit hundreds of newly-wealthy Names from prospering sectors of the economy: showbusiness, music, fashion and advertising, pointing out that Lloyds had never in its 250-year history made a loss and so their investment was cast-iron safe. These were creative people who, by and large, knew not the first thing about the insurance market but had cash to spare.

Another unusual thing about Lloyds is that they are not obliged, as is every other kind of business, to file accounts at each trading year’s end. For fairly obvious reasons, because of the long-term nature of the business, they get a three-year period of grace. At the end of this particular three-year period, in 1986 Lloyds suddenly ‘discovered’ that they were $6 billion in the red. Oh dear, how can that have happened? They called on the Names, with their unlimited liability, to stuff-up the hole with cash. Many were bankrupted in the process.

The Government, terrified that a scandal would destroy the flower of the global insurance market, then told Lloyds they could mount their own internal inquiry. A committee was formed, spent probably about thirty seconds ‘looking into it’ over an agreeable claret lunch and then, quite unexpectedly, completely exonerated the syndicates of any wrongdoing. The senior Names who had resigned reinvested, and the waters closed calmly over the wreck. No-one was ever prosecuted for what I personally believe was the most flagrant financial fraud in a century, prior to that of the Ponzi King, Bernie Madoff.

While, in 2004, BBC and Guardian (and Private Eye) journalists reported on claims that a £60 million ‘slush fund’ had been created to bribe Saudi officials to secure an eyewateringly huge defence contract for British aerospace jewel-in-the-crown, BAe Systems; a deal known as Al Yamamah.

Such business methods were highly illegal in international law, and having lost out, the Americans were furious. The total value of the deal is still unknown. Every attempt to find out who was behind it and what exactly went on has failed, stymied by British politicians conveyor-belting on endless commissions of inquiry.  The deal was originally brokered by Margaret Thatcher’s government. Her son Mark, who operates as an international fixer, has always denied reports that he was personally involved. Several years later, Tony Blair notoriously prevented a police investigation into the affair by the Serious Fraud Office on the grounds of national interest. It was reported that, in fact, he had done so in the face of a blatant Saudi threat to kybosh a new £6bn deal to buy the Eurofighter aircraft.

Oh dear, again. But is there any suggestion that British politicians personally gained from either of these genuinely appalling instances of ‘realpolitik’?

I am willing to vote UKIP (just once) if any of the piss-stained-sofa brigade who regularly post a load of uninformed crap on Comment forums about how Cameron and his cronies are all on the take can prove that any serving British politician has done anything more morally reprehensible than accepting the odd free ‘fact-finding mission’ to somewhere agreeable for a few days; or, on leaving office, has taken up a sinecure advising a company whose activities they formerly regulated, how to go about winning government contracts. All such activities are extensively monitored, often publicised and subject to strict rules about declaration.

Politics is and always has been something of a gravy-train for some. But it is almost impossible for a British politician to steal too much money from the State. They are much too spineless.

Several members, both of the Commons and the Lords, have recently gone to gaol merely for fiddling their expenses to the tune of a paltry few thousand pounds. Most did so, out of a sense of entitlement: custom and practice, old boy. Expenses were part of the salary package. Former Europe minister, Denis McShane, got eight months for cooking the books: he hadn’t actually taken money he was not entitled to, he was gaoled merely for falsifying the accounting of his expenses, making-up receipts because he either couldn’t remember or was too lazy to lookup the actual details of his reclaimable expenses. It’s tough at the top, especially for former journalists to whom such behaviour is second nature.

Of course, there were egregious examples of MPs claiming mortgage relief for ‘second homes’ in London that they were renting-out to family members or to one another; for ‘repairs’ to second homes that were in reality their first homes (including having one’s moat cleaned), and for normal household items: new kitchens, large-screen TVs, frozen packet meals, etc., that genuinely pissed-off the voters.

In 1999 there was the notorious case of MP Neil Hamilton who, according to witnesses, accepted a ‘brown envelope’ stuffed with cash from a lobbyist, to ask questions in the House relating to Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed’s quest to find out who killed Princess Diana, to whom he (erroneously) believed his son Dodi, also killed, had been engaged (she was in fact planning to marry a Harley Street doctor, another wealthy Muslim). The affair descended into a welter of libel writs, Hamilton lost his seat to anti-corruption campaigner, Martin Bell (the ‘Man in the White Suit’), and was later forced to go into showbusiness with his exuberant wife, Christine – a fate worse than impeachment. He is now the Party organiser for UKIP; one reason to vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party or anyone else, for that matter.

But successive Parliamentary political inquiries agreed that though the witnesses were ‘compelling’, there was no proof against Hamilton. Yet again, was this the Establishment closing ranks to protect the reputation of a Parliament increasingly subject to media intrusion over reports of other MPs taking cash from dodgy lobbyists for asking the right questions? New rules were later formulated to reduce the influence of lobbyists, after several notorious exposés by undercover journalists.

Like Oscar Wilde before him, Hamilton was finally undone in the libel court. He lost his case against the enormously wealthy Al Fayed, and declared bankruptcy. The point being that, whatever he had done, and however much the Establishment closed ranks against a free press, he couldn’t ultimately get away with it. And the amount originally involved was just £2,000. Truly, pride goeth before a fall.

The British Establishment has always looked after its own. You may find a high proportion of Old Etonian posh boys running things for the benefit of their cronies and the moneyed class, just as US Presidents have a high proportion of Harvard frat buddies amongst their entourage.

You might find that all governments, whatever their stripe, act in the best interests of the ten percent of the population who own eighty percent of the wealth: it’s just the way of the world. But even in the case of the most blatant dishonesty, taking backhanders, securing positions (things were far worse in the time of Robert Walpole), embarking on well-funded lecture tours, we are talking at most about a mere few tens of thousands of pounds here and there, mostly legally – if cynically – obtained, offering a more agreeable retirement than the State pension. And who can blame them, after years of public service and humiliating self-promotion?

You will not, I guarantee, find when he leaves office that ‘Kubla’ Cameron has built a stately pleasure dome for himself and his family over the bones of murdered Labour opposition members, at a cost of millions, somewhere in Oxfordshire. Nor are his bins going to be gold-plated; while the only ‘zoo’ will be the reptiles of the tabloid press at his gate.

Case dismissed.

Postscriptum

Walking in London a few years ago, after Blair left office, I found myself passing a certain large house in Connaught Square. Outside were two bored-looking policemen weighted down with Messrs Heckler & Koch’s finest automatic weaponry. My first thought, I swear, was ‘Oh, good, they’ve got the Blairs under house arrest…’  Then, of course, I realised it was his taxpayer-funded protection detail guarding his £5m London home. Oh well.

Post-postscriptum

A week after this Post appeared, the Maria Miller story broke. Here was the Culture minister, an unfortunate-looking woman with piggy eyes, claiming tens of thousands of public pounds towards the cost of paying for a ‘second home’ in London, in which she had installed her elderly parents. Perfectly allowable, although Wimbledon is rather a long way from Westminster, where you could imagine an MP renting a small flat handy for work.

When the rules changed in 2009 to prevent MPs using public money to buy second homes in London which they then sold on for substantial profits, Miller redesignated it perfectly legally as her ‘first home’ and later sold the house for a very substantial profit, believed to be in the region of £1.2 million. The ‘first home’ designation also meant that it was not subject to Capital Gains Tax, which only applies to second and subsequent homes.

The independent, external committee set up to scrutinise Parliamentary expenses ordered her to pay back £45,800, half the money she had claimed. They reported that she had been uncooperative with their investigation. The internal Parliamentary committee of MPs set up to block any difficult findings of the independent committee then reduced the amount to £5,800, which she duly paid, and told her to apologise. Ms Miller made a 31-second speech to a near-empty House, of which approximately one nanosecond consisted of the word sorry, with the vowel removed. Colleagues around her registered their support with expressions redolent of having caught a whiff of fart gas under the table.

The Daily Telegraph, that had broken the story, then released a recording of a conversation in which Mrs Miller’s aide appeared to make a fairly unsubtle attempt to persuade them to back off, pointing out none-too obliquely that the remit of the Culture Minister included implementing press reforms… Supporting Ms Miller, Prime Minister Cameron insisted that he had total faith in her, and demanded that a line be drawn under the affair. Ha! This is the same David Cameron who had total faith in Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, his good friends, now on trial on various charges…

In the meantime, while public service workers such as nurses were being told their annual pay increase would be held to one percent next year, significantly below the rate of inflation, and naughty policemen would get none, MPs were wringing their hands in anguish over another independent commission report, that has recommended they should all receive a compulsory 11 per cent pay rise in the next Parliament.  Unfortunately, they are bound by the findings of the commission and could not refuse the money even if they wanted to, which they so badly do…. A nurse’s salary starts at about £19,000 a year; an MP’s at about £67,000.

Don’t ask about their pensions.

Or expenses.

STOP PRESS

With six public petitions running heavily against her, Ms Miller resigned as of 8 o’clock this morning, Wednesday, 9 April. A victory, of sorts, for popular democracy.

Democracy in action

An MP on the BBC’s weekly Question Time show argues that IPSA, the body set up to monitor MPs expenses in the wake of the appalling scandals of 2009, is to blame for the situation I am about to describe:

Some MPs, 27 of them I read, have bought secondary homes in London, to be nearer work. As they’re no longer able to reclaim the mortgage payments on expenses, they’ve been letting the properties to one another in order to claim the rents instead.

This is apparently not against the rules. It is a loophole, not unlike the loopholes wealthy people exploit to avoid tax, that MPs often complain about. And if the taxpaying public doesn’t like it, well don’t blame the MPs, blame IPSA. They made the rules.

So, if someone burgles my house and stabs me to death in the process, it is all the fault of the courts, whose job it is to prevent this unfortunate event from happening. It is, as the MP on Question Time put it, “nothing to do with us”. The poor parliamentarians are the victims of a loophole that not only allows, but positively obliges them to get away with ripping-off the taxpayer, once again.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Sally Bercow’s husband John, has blocked investigation of the practice on grounds that it might betray the home addresses of the MPs and thereby expose them and their families to press harrassment. Or, as it’s sometimes called, public-interest journalism.

Not only that, but MPs are arguing that, in order to prevent themselves from being victimised by such loopholes in the expenses rules, they should be compensated with £92,000 a year, rather than the miserly £65,000 a year they now receive. Plus, of course, expenses. Meanwhile, the rest of the British economy is frozen in time.

We are all in this together.