"Why do they hate us so much?" is one of those wails that occasionally wafts from Westminster and into the press, politicians and commentators alike wondering why our representatives are either spat on, denounced as all the same or just completely ignored. There is a good case for making that the vast majority of politicians are not in it for themselves, that they genuinely do believe in some tangible concepts, and that they serve us with a diligence which many of us ourselves could neither achieve nor would want to attempt to. Then there's days like today, when the case for the defence seems so utterly overwhelming.
As Mr Eugenides writes, it's almost as if Gordon Brown at the moment has a reverse midas touch, where everything he goes near suddenly turns to shit the moment he opens his mouth about it. Here's the former clunking fist, the man accused of being Stalin, and he's being repeatedly made to look as if he's like another fictional ruler, the emperor without any clothes, debasing himself in public in front of the baying and mocking crowds. Half of this is because of his scattergun approach: one day declaring that plastic bags will be banished because the Daily Mail's just started a campaign up about them, the next deciding that malaria is the world's most pressing issue. Tony Blair wasn't immune to this either, as anyone who can recall his plea for Coronation Street's Deirdre's miscarriage of justice to be rectified can testify. The power behind the throne then though was Alastair Campbell, who compared to Brown's current advisers and chief spin doctor Stephen Carter was a genius and rottweiler rolled into one. Where Blair's spin was assured, either because it was done so well, or because the media was still involved in its temporary love affair with New Labour, Brown's is fast becoming his biggest weakness and in danger of turning him into a laughing stock.
Yesterday's announcement that Brown wouldn't after all be attending the opening ceremony of the Olympics was seemingly designed, in light of the protests in London and his own failure to so much as touch the flame when it arrived in Downing Street while the Chinese shell-suit mafia obscured him from vision, to be a good news story. Prime minister does decent thing despite potential pitfall over Britain hosting the next games! Easily offended Chinese get political equivalent of blowing a raspberry! Strong-man Brown says no to human rights abusers! Only, the slightest deeper look at the story exposed it for the fraud that it was. Brown had never explicitly stated that he personally was going to attend the opening ceremony; rather, span Downing Street, he was only always going to attend the closing ceremony, so that the spirit of the Olympics could be passed on. In any case, Tessa Jowell, the truly hapless Olympics minister is still going to attend the opening ceremony, so there's not going to be any boycott of any sort whatsoever. Within minutes of Brown/his lackeys making the announcement on Channel 4 News the entire thing had fell apart. The Conservatives, already fusillading Brown with accusations of dithering have yet another weapon to use against him, while the public themselves, not to mention those whom the gesture was meant to please, just feel cheated and almost lied to.
A very different sort of contempt but still one which reverberates around the country was thrillingly and damningly exposed by Lord Justice Moses and Lord Justice Sullivan in the Royal Courts of Justice. Although ostensibly the case brought by Corner House and CAAT was against the Serious Fraud Office's Robert Wardle after he caved into pressure from Downing Street and the Attorney General to drop the investigation into BAE's slush fund to the Saudis, this was a judgement that exposed the sham and sheer mendacity of Blair's government in its dying days. Prince Bandar, the man since revealed as receiving up to £1bn through the Al-Yamamah deal, waltzes into Downing Street, feeling the heat on the back of his neck because the SFO is close to accessing Swiss bank accounts that would confirm the allegations against BAE, and says that unless the investigation is abandoned, not only will the Saudis take their next big order of armaments elsewhere, but they'll also cut off diplomatic and intelligence relations. Instead of telling Bandar to get lost and take his blatant blackmail with him, Blair writes directly to Lord Goldsmith, who gives in and orders Wardle to drop the investigation.
It's worth quoting directly from the judgement, so sneering as it is of the government's action:
# The defendant in name, although in reality the Government, contends that the Director was entitled to surrender to the threat. The law is powerless to resist the specific and, as it turns out, successful attempt by a foreign government to pervert the course of justice in the United Kingdom, by causing the investigation to be halted. The court must, so it is argued, accept that whilst the threats and their consequences are "a matter of regret", they are a "part of life". (§ 6)
# So bleak a picture of the impotence of the law invites at least dismay, if not outrage. The danger of so heated a reaction is that it generates steam; this obscures the search for legal principle. The challenge, triggered by this application, is to identify a legal principle which may be deployed in defence of so blatant a threat. However abject the surrender to that threat, if there is no identifiable legal principle by which the threat may be resisted, then the court must itself acquiesce in the capitulation. (§ 7)
Had such a threat been made by one who was subject to the criminal law of this country, he would risk being charged with an attempt to pervert the course of justice. (§ 59 The government's response to this tearing apart of its decision, this exposition of how they broke the rule of law itself so that one of the most vicious dictatorships on the planet could continue to be sold arms it doesn't need and so that its demagogic royal family can continue to receive vast payments courtesy of the UK taxpayer to be used on prostitutes, private jets and all the other trappings of unearned wealth while their own citizens are not even afforded the most basic of human rights? None. It's refused to comment. As has BAE, and the Serious Fraud Office itself, not to mention Prince Bandar. Perhaps it should be said that all those mainly involved have either gone or are about to go: Blair took Lord Goldsmith along with him, and Wardle himself is shortly to be replaced at the SFO. Even so, it doesn't slightly begin to justify the silence not just from the government, but from the Labour party as a entirety.
The rule of law is nothing if it fails to constrain overweening power.(§ 65)
Dave Osler has already said this, but it's a point well worth repeating. This week much attention has been paid to events in Dewsbury, and discussion of whether the alleged abduction of Shannon Matthews was a scam from the very beginning. Her mother has been charged with perverting the course of justice, for not informing the police of all she knew and when she knew it. The government back in December 2006 did almost exactly the same thing, except on a scale completely alien to anyone in that part of Yorkshire. The difference is that Matthews is just a member of the underclass; Goldsmith and Blair were the land's highest legal adviser and the prime minister himself, yet they conspired to pervert the course of justice and in doing so broke the rule of law irrevocably. Some of those in Dewsbury have been warned not to take the law into their own hands as a response; who could possibly blame anyone for having complete contempt for the politicians responsible in this much larger and much graver case?
Labels: apathy, BAE slush fund inquiry, contempt, Gordon Brown, Lord Goldsmith, Olympics, politics, Serious Fraud Office, spin, Tony Blair