In more than a decade of observing and writing about Britain's society and culture, I have never encountered anything comparable to the rage and fury which has followed the revelation that large numbers of Members of Parliament of various parties are morally no better than thieves and criminals. Indeed, a number may soon be facing actual criminal charges for the grotesque, wholesale abuse of Parliamentary expenses.
House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin, who fought tooth and nail to prevent Parliamentary expenses being investigated (including one Tory grandee allegedly having his moat dredged at taxpayers' expense, along multiple claims for nonexistent mortgages and for such vital Parliamentary items as dog food and fancy toilet seats), is referred to in his ancient office by London Spectator writer Melanie Phillips as "shop-steward of sleaze," an epithet restrained in comparison to some.
Even the Home Secretary's husband's taxpayer-funded pornographic videos, a scandal a couple of weeks ago, have almost been forgotten under a tsunami of revelations of far more toxic and expensive sludge, just the thing to endear MPs to the electorate in a time of financial crisis, skyrocketing unemployment, and home repossessions. Members of Parliament are being deluged with hate mail, one MP's office has been stoned, and others' homes are under police guard. Some MPs are reported on suicide watch
The Minister for Justice, Shahid Malik, Britain's first Muslim Minister, who not long ago was predicting a large voting bloc of Muslim MPs in the British Parliament, has stepped down pending enquiries. Health Minister Phil Hope is understood to have agreed to pay back $42,000. Senior figures in both major parties have been forced to quit and nobody knows how many heads will eventually roll. Along with claims sometimes into six figures for multiple and sometimes nonexistent mortgages are claims for baby-wipes and shaving oil. MPs' children are reported being pursued at school as the children of "thieves." The succession of petty scandals that dogged the dying days of the Major government in the 1990s was simply not in the same league. The country has become aware that something in the governing culture has gone completely rotten, third-world rotten. Writer Frederick Forsyth refers to "a pandemic sense of national degeneration."
Daily Telegraph columnist Simon Heffer writes: "We need an early general election. This is not for the reason that obtained until a fortnight ago, that the Government had wrecked the economy; it is because the House of Commons is now held in contempt, with potentially ruinous consequences for the notion of democracy in Britain…the situation is without precedent…it is fraught with danger… the stability and continuity of our democratic institutions are at stake." And Heffer is not exaggerating. Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail writes of "this idiot speaker.…The speaker of the House of Commons has not been treated with such open contempt in living memory. We [are] treading on virgin quicksand."
Demands that the Queen intervene, which would have been dismissed as merely cranky a few weeks ago, are getting into the mainstream. Speaker Martin, meanwhile, the representative of the Parliament, who has since announced his impending resignation, made the situation worse by a boof-headed attempt at an apology, now available on YouTube.
id: "Please allow me to say to the men and women of the United Kingdom that we have let you down very badly indeed. We must all accept the blame and, to the extent that I have contributed to the situation, I am profoundly sorry. Now each and every member, including myself, must work hard to regain your trust."
Well. "We have let you down" sounds like a football team apologizing to a well-loved coach for not having won a game. It is not an adequate description for what is morally massive and prolonged theft by people in positions of high trust and who by convention refer to one another as "the Honourable Member." And savor that: "we must work hard to regain you trust." Apart from the fact that it is too late for that, these words seem in the circumstances to invite the sub-clause: "so that we can steal from you again." While Labour is facing an utter wipeout at the polls, with Prime Minister Brown's popularity in the vicinity of less than 20%, the other parties appear only marginally better. Tory leader David Cameron, now certain to be the next Prime Minister, has promised a purge of the Tory Members. How the bricks will finish falling is anyone's guess. (Tony Blair's expense claims are said to have been shredded when he left office, their historic value notwithstanding.)
There is a danger that attempts will be made to cast the wretched buffoon Martin as scapegoat for a cultural rottenness that goes far wider and deeper than the Parliament. And on top of this is the economic crisis -- the very situation in which the government may need to call upon a sense of national identity, community and public-spiritedness -- even of sacrifice.
IN A WAY IT WAS all predictable. From the moment Labour took office under Tony Blair in 1997 it set about destroying Britain's sense of its historic culture, tradition, virtues, values and identity. The Adversary Culture was given free rein to attack every British institution which might contribute to such old-fashioned ideas as virtue, patriotism and duty.
Blair claimed soon after coming to power that Britain was no longer "living in the world of a hundred years ago, when guys wore bowler hats and umbrellas, all marching down Whitehall." Yes, and those were the guys who gave Britain a notably incorrupt public culture that once enabled it to do things like govern India with a tiny handful of flintily honest men. Under New Labour an intense culture war was opened up on every possible front to bring old-fashioned values into disrepute. There were some thing it was thought that real "ladies" and "gentlemen" did not do, such as lie and cheat. The use of the terms "lady" and "gentleman" was made a sacking offence at one university, an innovation which the government condoned as being in accord with the spirit of the times and of Cool Britannia. Symbols of patriotism, including the flag of St. George and the British flag itself, were banned on grounds of political correctness and in order to facilitate the celebration of diversity. Would-be police recruits were turned down for wearing Union Jack tattoos, foster-parents were banned for attempting to teach foster-children Christian values.
Heroic and admired figures from history and the values they championed were ridiculed, denigrated or ignored, by everyone from teachers' unions to local tourism authorities. Seedy and dissolute rock stars and other icons of the drug culture were given honors by the government. Public money was lavished upon theatre and other arts that celebrated nihilism and derided every traditional value and virtue.
A vacuous, hideous celebrity culture was promoted such as to make Oprah Winfrey look intellectually refined by comparison. As well as being starved of men and equipment the ethos and values of the armed forces were systematically attacked not only by the dominant culture of the deconstructionism/political correctness whipsaw but also by all manner of government policies -- probably a major factor in the British Army's dismal performance in Basra. The catalogue of cultural destruction goes on and on. In countless ways the present government has condoned or encouraged the work of the adversary culture in hollowing-out British traditions and values.
The long-drawn-out serial betrayal of the Gurkhas was not only despicable in itself: it was a flaunting of official dishonor and an unambiguous repudiation of honor as a public value. The betrayal of the Gurkhas was not some kind of ghastly inadvertent bureaucratic foul-up or failure of imagination: it was a deliberate attack in the culture-war on the sort of people who admire the Gurkhas and the old-fashioned values of loyalty and valor which they embody. Zimbabweans, black and white, who had moral claims on Britain, including in some cases the claim of past war-service, were abandoned to the psychopathic Mugabe regime. Outright political betrayal and viciousness for cultural and ideological reasons came in many forms, including the abolition of grammar schools that had previously given low-income children an opportunity for a decent education. Scandals and inhumanity exposed in the press in hospitals, prisons and other areas went unrectified and were apparently treated by the government with indifference.
Now Britain has discovered that a large number of the men and women entrusted with holding its high offices of State and with making its laws are -- well, what they are. Where they have not broken the letter of the law they have, in both gross and in disgustingly petty grubbing of other people's money, broken its spirit -- and Britain, with an unwritten Constitution, is more dependent than many nations upon the spirit of the law being observed.
C. S. Lewis said in 1938: "We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."
Britain is reaping the fruits of a decade and more of a quasi-official culture laughing at honor, honesty and ordinary virtue.
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