A day never goes by nowadays without some impropriety or scandal affecting bankers, senior business executives, police, MPs, or celebrities in one guise or another. Yesterday it was a senior counter-terrorism detective found to be trying to cash in on the police investigation into the News of the World phone-hacking. Today there’s a reprise of the bribery surrounding the colossal £43bn Al-Yamamah arms sales to the Saudis, this time revealing the former BAE chairman acquiring two luxury Mayfair penthouses now worth £6m as part of the deal. The previously we were regaled for months with constant revelations of flagrant tax avoidance by international companies, wealthy fat cats and a string of celebrities. Before that there were the enormous crimes of Libor rigging and the PPI mis-selling bank scandals where compensation now tops £10bn. And this next Wednesday we shall be told the grim details of how it was that 400-1,200 patients over 4 years met their deaths which they should not have done at Mid-Staffs Hospital, yet there was no public inquiry and the chief executive went on to be promoted to be chief executive at the CQC. Read all of that (and much more) and it’s clear there’s now something deeply rotten in the state of Britain.
Two issues stand out. One is that those responsible all too often escape with impunity. Those benefiting from the kickbacks from the Saudi arms deal were protected when Blair deliberately (and improperly) shut down the SFO investigation. The MPs most at fault over the expenses scandal – those who flipped the designation of their second homes in order improperly to double their procurement of public funds, including several members of both front benches – were never held to account. The chief executives of RBS and Barclays were finally forced out, but never prosecuted or disqualified from office as a result of malfeasance on their watch. The killings of the innocent Jean-Charles de Menezes and of Mark Duggan (which led to 5 days of national rioting) by the police, let alone the 86 deaths at the Hillsborough stadium, have never led to any prosecutions of police officers.
The second point is of course to ask why this corruption of public life and morals has occurred. What is troubling is that, while such episodes have occurred in previous decades or centuries, it is the scale and frequency of such scandals which is so disturbing as well as the relative insouciance with which they are so often treated. Undoubtedly a part of the reason is the all-encompassing commercialisation of life under the market free-for-all of neoliberal capitalism which has steadily drained away the integrity and morality on which any civilised culture depends. Time for the Labour Party to lead the call for a new framework of honesty and trust in our public life!