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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bargain basement bribery

There are more than a few aspects of the conflagration presently engulfing the Murdoch empire and the Metropolitan Police that don’t stack up, notwithstanding  what seems to be the inescapable truth that this all goes far higher, lower and wider than at first imagined. David Cameron has never convinced as a politician, even with the patronage of a beneficent Murdoch press, but he looks decidedly shaky now, appearing to be playing double-or-quits with his political survival.

Conspiracy theorists must be worried that they too are facing redundancy as it is hard to even imagine why he should appear so nervous and unsure, unless of course he’s so familiar with wrongdoing that he is merely trying to figure out which particular unnatural act is actually implicated. He either knows nothing at all, in which case we should ask what the hell he thinks he’s doing in Number 10, or he’s been a very naughty boy. Sadly, he is an honest chap and I believe he is sincere when he admits to being too uninteresting and shallow for honest-to-goodness corruption.

And this is where the doubts creep in. As yet, these are only being seriously challenged by one possibility, one possibly more frightening than any other, and that is that our political and public realms suffer root and branch stupidity from the shop-floor to the boardroom of such dazzling ubiquity that this alone should bar people from rank or office.

Corruption - legal, moral or both – is not new in our corporate, political or public lives. But while hardly to be condoned, it can be understood if the defendant actually stood to gain significantly, and thereafter mitigated by how much harm he caused beyond that to himself, with exemplary punishment always an option.

But the level of general venality and underhandedness already clearly apparent in this case just doesn’t match the potential gains of anybody involved, not the declared ones, any roads. The loss of the chance to buy up the entirety of BSkyB cannot, one assumes, be put down as a great day at the office and it is hard to see how any of this, even if he’d got away with whatever it is he is trying to get away with, could have helped him succeed here.

The cops’ roles are even harder to fathom. A five week stay at a health farm, which his rank could probably have ensured the state pay for any way, hardly seems enough to jeopardise a hefty six-figure salary with copper-bottomed pension at 55 – a couple of years time for Sir Paul Stevenson – bonus and other interesting gratuities.

A Royal protection officer probably draws down a good sum for doing very little other than making sure a royal doesn’t get assassinated, something nobody can even be bothered plotting these days. Good references, too, if you keep your nose clean. Selling the heir to the throne’s personal details for £5K, risking a potential treason charge on top of terminal reputational damage – with a meaningful line being so clearly crossed, a court might well ask what one might get for £50K and punish accordingly – hardly makes sense.

Some will point to a generation of journalists who now knew no other way of working and for whom hacking into somebody's voicemail was no different to answering their own, but where are all these wealthy hacks? They were the ones handing out the money a lot of the time, so it is hard to see what was to be gained for them. Almost by definition, the material gained illegally was unusable: Millie Dowler's voicemail, however shocking the circumstances, did not inspire a single line of copy and won no Pulitzers. 

The absence of the raw aspiration essential to good crookery is telling. I'd want a bit more for my soul. 

More follows…….

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