Saturday, 27 October 2012

Don't blame the BBC - Savile demonstrates our sick society

The hysteria spewing forth from the Murdoch press, the Tory party and their associated lapdogs appears to be a diversionary tactic to end all sidesteps.  Skewered by Plebgate, Leveson and the ineptitude, hubris and apparent corruption of a Cabinet whose sleaziness and moral incontinence is reminiscent of Major's administration circa 1994, the standard approach is to blame the BBC for everything.

Notwithstanding that the unlamented creepy child abuser was a house-guest of Thatcher, and that his alleged activities will only have been facilitated by the complicity of then Ministers in allowing him privileged access to victims in hospitals and secure institutions, the obvious target is the current management of public service broadcasting.  This is the contemptible reality of a media dominated by megolomaniac plutocrats, who secure the allegiance of political lackeys through passive threats and an active hatred of any institution that threatens their control of information.

There are clearly questions for the BBC to answer, if only to reassure the wider public that the secrecy and sexist culture that allegedly permitted abuse to occur has been eliminated.  Yet management decisions and practices of decades ago are being dragged up - as the alternative of considering the needs, rights and expectations of victims is too complex an issue for the accusers and ranters to appreciate.

The repressive atmosphere of the 1950s and subsequent decades created climates where abuse was not merely unacknowledged, but much easier to perpetrate - this so-called golden age that the "Daily Mail" wants to drag us back to.  From Catholic priests, through schoolteachers, social workers and others right up to the celebrities of the time behaviours that would earn obloquy today were ignored, and the victims often accused themselves. 

This is why the Tories and their minions are so eager to attack the BBC - and to pick up suspect practices or misjudgments as far more important than the systematic evil that is being exposed.  Far more pertinent would be to examine how Savile, despite being under suspicion and investigation, did not merely slip through the net but was given public recognition of his "charitable" activities around Stoke Mandeville hospital and Broadmoor.

So much easier to shoot a (slightly-tainted) messenger.  And so much more convenient to sweep the real issues aside in favour of displaced resentment of impartial journalism and a mission to explain.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Plebs, snobs and schadenfreude

It's probably unseemly to gloat over the demise of Andrew Mitchell, but seemliness is not necessary when we are dealing with the final unravelling of the myth of "we're all in this together" and the real Tory spirit emerging.  The fact that it took the uncouth oaf nearly a month to realise that his political career had imploded with a foul-mouthed insult reminds me that self-awareness and common decency are handicaps in contemporary politics.

Meanwhile, Gideon managed to get himself into bother on a train.  Whatever the precise details, it is clear that the image being presented to the public is not exactly the one that Dave has been pretending to endorse.  I suspect that there is much less to this than meets the eye - it's all part of the entitlement culture inherited from the bankers where everyone else has to pay for the high-rolling lifestyle of the self-defined panjandrums - and Osborne would hardly expect his mate Beardie to charge him for travel when he's just been gifted a dubious single-tender cash stream due to the fiasco that the government has inflicted on the civil service.

So it's hardly surprising that I can feel no sympathy for either of these two egregious idiots.  We shall see how long Gideon lasts - he would probably characterise the behaviour as fare avoidance rather than fare evasion as it's the milieu that the "entrepreneurial" regard as their comfort zone.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Gove, Hammond and the European dog-whistle

Being of a delicate disposition, I try to ignore the Mail on Sunday as it interferes with my digestion, sentience and feeling of belonging to the same species as people who read it.  However, while picking up my preferred choice of Sunday reading, I noticed that its front-page headline revealed that the chinless Gove is now attempting to drum up support within his noxious party for Euro-scepticism - doubtless trying to outflank UKIP and win the support of the pea-brained xenophobes who might otherwise be tempted to try Farage's odious bilgefest.

And then the Defence Secretary, the multi-millionaire Petrolhead Hammond, pops up with his idiot echo of Gove's comments.  Truly this party is full of people who would fail an IQ test, not to mention failing to produce any oxygen when tested for photosynthesis.

The United Kingdom is a weak construct, and a weak economy.  Gideon may well be right that there is no Plan B, but then there is no Plan A other than looking pious and extracting social cohesion and aggregate demand from the economy in the name of fiscal orthodoxy that would have offended a reactionary 1920s economist.  It is not a world power, nor can it aspire to be.

Rather than accepting that our fate is bound up with our neighbours' - and that they might have something worthwhile to teach us in terms of society, economy and culture - there is a battering-ram approach that suggests anything American is innately superior.  This is the Tory lie - based around an inability to engage with any language, culture or society that does not want to move further towards the kind of amoral neoliberalism that the fools on the extreme right consider to be the correct fate for a post-industrial society.

This idiocy brought down the last Tory government, fortunately.  In the current climate it should bring down the Coalition - because what is needed now is for the modern world to intrude.  Nobody believes that the EU is perfect, or perfectible, but it's a damn sight preferable to the barren, unequal and squalid wasteland that Gove and his advisers wish to inflict upon the rest of the world, while they live in a hermetically-sealed world upon which reality is never allowed to intrude.

Jimmy Savile, slavering, odium and ordure

Those defending Jimmy Savile, whose basic premise appears to be a syllogistic delusion based around that he was a celebrity and lived in an era where droit de seigneur had only just been abolished, are a morality tale for the rest of us.  Savile always had the air of the creepy park-lurker about him, and it is hardly surprising that there are now sufficiently-motivated victims who find the solidarity in numbers that the abuser habitually seeks to deny.

The few remaining apologists refer to "charity" as though that acts as a justification - and they would be horrified were this to be made equivalent to Hitler's advocacy of vegetarianism.  The next hoary old right-wind chestnut that they spout is that the victims are just looking for compensation.

This is so deluded that it would be hilarious were it not demeaning those who have been damaged and degraded over a period of decades.  Closure and progress go together, and now that the genie is out of the bottle a collective process may actually provide some way forward for the unfortunate prey upon which he feasted, with or without collusion from others.

Given that there has been progress over the decades, it is hardly surprising that this kind of behaviour has become easier both to spot and to prevent.  Yet the progress is only limited - the morality of celebrity magazines and the "lad's mag" phenomenon is not that far removed from the kind of sexist workplace and blind-eye culture that permeated institutions far beyond the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s.

Only last week, there was a furore raised about the night-club culture targeted at students that promotes sexism at best and the misogynist macho wannabe-Alpha male at worst.  Those who attack this are portrayed as killjoys or politically-correct mavens - demonstrating quite how fragile is any vision of valuing the human being.

Therefore, I'm firmly with those who believe that the Savile boil has to be lanced publicly, as only by revealing the damage that has been wrought can we even claim to be aspiring to civilisation.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Tories unmasked - it's a shame it had to be Beardie

About the only success that the Tories have managed to reap from the West Coast Main Line fiasco is that opposition politicians, trade unions and journalists have turned their attention to the system of rail franchising rather than the real culpability of the idiots with their fixation with introducing the market across the range of public service activities, and their moral and personal turpitude with respect to shifting the blame onto others.

The latter is interesting.  Doubtless there are civil servants who are incompetent, poorly trained or under-resourced, and many of these may have applied in this specific case.  However, the baleful influence of Special Political Advisers, recruited to ensure that their master's (or mistress's) political expediency replaces deliberative and systematic analysis within government, is an area on which more light should be shed.  The politicisation of the executive is an ongoing saga.

Since Thatcher, there has been a systematic attempt to demean and demoralise the civil service - and the usual suspects in the slavering hate-bins of the "Mail" and "Torygraph" are swallowing the line that this is a bureaucratic rather than political issue with the alacrity that they usually reserve for misrepresenting Europe and talking up house prices.  The assumption is that anyone who seeks public service can't be as good as a private-sector parasite.

This may provide a defence for those being hung out to dry within the current context.  It is inconceivable that the assessment of franchise bids was not carried out without a full panoply of outsourced advisers, charging eye-watering sums of money to the taxpayer.  Setting up systems that are so complex that even a professional cannot understand and audit them is the refuge of the fraudsters and charlatans whose antics caused the current depression, and it looks as though this was the case here - you don't expect bidders not to exploit the gaming opportunities, because, within the crony capitalist system, they are behaving entirely rationally.

Constantly outsourcing, because you can't or don't want to rely or believe your own team, is a cumulative policy that undermines the public service.  Nationally and locally, this particular canard remains the single biggest obstacle to effective government, and accountability of public services to their users.  Those who remain in the civil service must work in a climate of fear and apathy, given that anything written on private-sector headed paper is given precedence - especially, I suspect, if the letterhead is from a company which funds or covertly supports the Tory party.

This complexity becomes both self-defeating and self-serving.  Failure and inefficiency are not necessarily bad, but their exposure is.  Its purpose is to deter all but the most determined from scrutinising decisions, and then, if this fails, to shift the blame from politicians with respect to any failures of service delivery.  This extends from the NHS, where the whole of Cornwall being served out-of-hours by one Serco-funded GP has been a public tip-of-the-iceberg embarrassment, through local government where social services, parking enforcement and other areas which should have direct democratic accountability are outsourced - allowing the politicians to blame the officials and lawyers who draw up contracts when their cronies fall below standards that even the lick-spittle media consider unacceptable.

So we have a corroded political and government system, which is incomprehensible to all but dogged scrutineers, colliding with a Tory party whose continued venality knows no bounds.  We live in a culture where blame has to be shifted, especially onto those who are unable to answer back.

The theory of representative government (given the electoral system and the endemic apathy it cannot be described as democracy) is that those people who put themselves forward for election take responsibility for their actions.  If they fail, then they either admit to it or are consigned to the deserved ignominy of being kicked out by the electorate.  If you are a "Cabinet Member" in local government - the kind of poujadist self-aggrandisement that has made most local Tories even more ridiculous than hitherto - or a Minister, then you should take the consequences of failure when it happens.  Displacement is morally odious, and politically suspect.

Instead, we have seen the most recent Tory Transport Secretary try hard to shift responsibility onto officials - and now questions being asked about the competency of his immediate predecessor.  In a world where politics was about looking after and promoting the interests of one's fellow citizens, this would not be an option.  The Michael Howard defence, where the spurious distinction between "policy" and "operations" became the excuse behind which Ministers could hide behind their officials, is now the default option for the Tories.

This is an odious pile of ordure, which is, in the long-run, much more important than the details of the current fiasco.

It's also typical of the attempt to cut out scrutiny and the use of public officials to scrutinise and deliver objective assessment of government actions.  Whatever happened in one case does not suggest that the civil service or local government officials should be stripped of their powers - far from it.  What is needed is professional, valued staff supporting the public interest - not greasing up to Special Advisers whose objectives are neither honourable nor accountable - scribblers, dabblers, wannabes and never-weres - and given recognition.  The Tories have been demeaning this role for decades, and reinforced this since they became part of this unwelcome Coalition.

Mister Ed has a golden opportunity to take a root-and-branch review of the state and its functioning forward - costly fiascos and the corrupt, venal culture of the once-and-future Thatcherites should leave a nasty taste in the mouth.  The myth of the market and the superiority of the private sector have landed the Tories (hilariously) in the ordure.  The important thing for the rest of us is to encourage them to do this while not getting our own feet dirty.

The only disappointing thing is that it is the tax-exiled, egomaniac "Sir" Beardie who is the catalyst for the upcoming denouement.