What is happening to Britain’s once revered ruling institutions?
At the rate we’re going, not a single one seems likely to avoid the infection of scandal now sweeping through the corridors of power like some unknown and virulent form of Legionnaire’s Disease.
So far, this year’s front-page list of victims includes 10 Downing Street, parliament, the National Health Service, the popular press, Scotland Yard, several of the country’s leading international banks, the Football Association and the Rugby Football Union. There are names I’ve overlooked, I’m sure, and doubtless more will be added.
Was there ever a time when so many once-unimpeachable citadels of authority were so besieged? Perhaps during the Sixties, when the Age of Deference was swept away by the forces of the so-called Counter-Cultural Revolution. But that was half a century ago. It doesn’t explain what is going on now, as Britain’s system of governance drifts from one crisis of confidence to another. The worst case scenario is that the country is sliding inexorably and irreversibly into anarchy; the best case is that we are merely in the midst of an abnormally protracted silly season. If it’s the latter, then ‘silly’ should be replaced by ‘deranged’.
I can’t pretend to know what’s really going on. But what does seem clear, sadly, is that many of our governing bodies appear to be run by men and women wholly lacking in ethical rationality. As Shakespeare’s Mark Antony complained, “O judgement! Thou art fled to brutish beasts, And men have lost their reason”.
If senior editors of the News of the World don’t think that hacking the phones of victims of crime represents a line that should not be crossed, then we’re enmeshed in a much denser moral thicket than I had supposed. If senior officers of Scotland Yard, including the Commissioner of the Met himself, don’t think it’s unwise to hire as a public relations advisor a man suspected of being implicated in the phone hacking scandal, then all I can say is that they are hardly qualified to be traffic wardens.
The corridors were always silently stalked by the vices of avarice, arrogance and indiscretion, but most of the time these were overpowered by the abiding presence of the more compelling virtues of decency, modesty and a well-honed sense of propriety. Nowadays the vices always seem to be in pole position. Why that has occurred is unclear.
I seem to have overestimated Rupert Murdoch’s ability to wriggle off the hook. It now seems he may yet be thrown to the fishes. And the fishes may well be American sharks.
In the end, his compensation may be to lend his name to a new coinage: Murdochisation, meaning the corruption of an organisation through the ethical indifference of its leader.