It’s not whether you smoke, or eat hamburgers with your hands or even pick your nose. In fact, it’s not even whether you pass wind during love-making or eat food while talking – or dare I say invade an Arab country just because you think it might be excellent training for your army or a bit of a laugh. It’s all about how you do these things. The British have style and are easily capable of doing all of the above while making them look like an exercise in finesse which the French or other low-life continentals will never understand. It’s one of the reasons why the royal family here is so revered around Europe – particularly in Germany and France – more so than in the UK. Style. Why really stupid people in Belgium put Union Jack stickers on the sides of the Mini Coopers or why new-money French drive Range Rovers and Jags. Style. Not exclusive to the British, but British style can most certainly be called unmistakable and unique.
And the same goes for corruption. Britain is a fabulously corrupt place. It always has been in fact, but wherever you are in the Arab world you might be forgiven for thinking how standards have plummeted in this green and pleasant land. But they haven’t. When it comes to corruption at the very high levels of society, we Brits have always kept our principles on this particular C word. There is only one rule to understand: Don’t get caught.
The British always had their own style of being corrupt – freemason cliques to class connections and how to bribe someone without actually paying them a cent – and the Murdoch affair is an excellent point in case. Today [Wednesday] I can report that just about all of my friends in the Westminster village are working late pouring over the finer detail and implications of David Cameron’s speech in the House of Commons today. The entire country wants to know some answers now. And the main question is whether our Prime Minister Dave is a proper chap, or is more inclined to operate a brown envelope office.
Will his appointment of a former editor of the News of the World as a media adviser be seen as “corrupt” (if the ex-hack’s role in the phone hacking affair was known) and therefore require Cameron to fall on his sword?
It’s all about association. If there was ever a subject that obsessed the Westminster hacks more, it’s just that. Association. I know many MPs and MEPs who are now telling me they have been called by Scotland Yard and told that their phones were hacked. Their anger is that their privacy has been compromised and therefore their “right” to hide their association – to everyone from call girls, drug pushers or simply more innocently their ex-lovers and lower class friends. Even some hacks themselves have been hacked. I mean, is nothing sacred in this country, which prides itself on its sense of fair play?
In British society who you associate yourself with – and who you let it be known you are associated with – speaks volumes about the caliber of your personality, your class, your education and your political leaning. And Cameron’s association with Andy Coulson at best lacked political tact and at worst smacks of a foul and corrupt relationship which the Tories were in the business of cultivating – until the phone hacking scandal reared its ugly head for the second time. Association. If you want to understand the importance of this more, just watch the careers of both senior police chiefs in the coming months after resigning in the last two days. Did they resign in some Masonic pact with Brother Dave? Far fetched? I don’t think so. I would bet Desmond Tutu’s $20,000 Rolex watch that both those cops will land top jobs in the private sector pretty quickly. Hell, they might even end up working as consulting editors on the new version of the Screws.
Today threw the spotlight in David Cameron who is supposed to be leading us out of a recession and straightening out the mess left behind from Gordon Brown’s Labour government. There was no let-up for Cameron, a former media consultant himself, who tried his best to deflate it, but is not succeeding following his swift departure from Tutu’s clammy clasp on a trip to South Africa to drum up UK trade, with, er, corrupt African countries. The day before Rebekah Brooks spilled the beans on who really appointed Coulson. Step forward George Osbourne, Cameron’s loyal man with his finger on the pulse of the economy. Our very own Finance Minister who thought it would be quite a good idea to employ the screws editor without checking whether he lied on his CV about his O level woodwork or other remedial issues like masterminding the greatest abomination in media crime since Jack the Ripper buggered his neighbor’s heffer with a rolled up copy of The North London Gob.
But does association bring down governments? Older farts amongst us in the Christian Science reading room will no doubt remember the War Minister Jack Profumo who, faster than you can say Pope on a moped, managed to regularly roger Christine Keeler, a provincial chorus girl who is famous for sharing her breathless affections with a Russian spy at the same time. A year or so later, in 1964, “You’ve never had it so good” MacMillan’s conservative government fell.
This is what is troubling our Dave at the moment. Whether a heavyweight political figure is required to lance this boil once and for all. Or in fact whether there is only one scapegoat who is about to take it up the Caroline Jackson.
But wait. Barely has your humble correspondent drawn breath himself after today’s roller coaster ride which left pundits falling over themselves to custardize Murdoch further – by trivializing his performance in the Commons hearing yesterday – that we see Cameron pledging apologies before the event has even happened; a sort of premature ejaculation of grief, designed to dampen ideas any naughty hacks might have in the village of raiding his chutney. Cameron pledges “profound apology” before it is known even if he did know of Coulson’s background. Or at least that’s what it looks like according to Jo Murphey’s dire copy in the Standard. The quote though which will haunt him though about the appointment of Coulson will be “you don’t make decisions in hindsight, you make them in the present. You live and learn and, believe me, I have learnt.”
Could this be a dry run for his reply to why he seemed to have dropped a might bullock by hiring his finance minister friend who doesn’t appear to have any experience in, er, finance? Just three days after my initial blog where I warned about the smokescreen which this fiasco is conveniently providing to cover up other bad news like defense cuts, shut schools, unemployment, broke hospitals, we see a peep of what the real news is…and its all about George Osborne and his “warning.” Yep, good old Georgie boy is warning us today that Thursday’s meeting in Brussels of Eurozone ministers (yes, yes, I know UK is not part of it) is the time when a very large fan – the ones that Hollywood studios use on big film sets – will be positioned to face England from the European continent’s coast. And an awful lot of that brown stuff is going to be fired at it when the real implications of Greece’s Euro crisis becomes clearer.
Keep any eye out in the business sections for damning articles from Ozzy in the coming days about how it will cost the British economy, this Greek drama being played out in the Eurozone. What a mess, George.
Martin Jay is a veteran foreign correspondent who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East and Africa for most major international TV networks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org