Britain: The Depth of Corruption

The theft of public money by members of parliament, including government ministers, has given Britons a rare glimpse inside the tent of power and privilege. It is rare because not one political reporter or commentator, those who fill tombstones of column inches and dominate broadcast journalism, revealed a shred of this scandal. It was left to a public relations man to sell the “leak”. Why?

The answer lies in a deeper corruption, which tales of tax evasion and phantom mortgages touch upon but also conceal. Since Margaret Thatcher, British parliamentary democracy has been progressively destroyed as the two main parties have converged into a single-ideology business state, each with almost identical social, economic and foreign policies. This “project” was completed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, inspired by the political monoculture of the United States. That so many Labour and Tory politicians are now revealed as personally crooked is no more than a metaphor for the anti-democratic system they have forged together.

Their accomplices have been those journalists who report Parliament as “lobby correspondents” and their editors, who have “played the game” willfully, and have deluded the public (and sometimes themselves) that vital, democratic differences exist between the parties. Media-designed opinion polls based on absurdly small samplings, along with a tsunami of comment on personalities and their specious crises, have reduced the “national conversation” to a series of media events, in which the withdrawal of popular consent — as the historically low electoral turnouts under Blair demonstrated — has been abused as apathy.

Having fixed the boundaries of political debate and possibility, self-important paladins, notably liberals, promoted the naked emperor Blair and championed his “values” that would allow “the mind [to] range in search of a better Britain”. And when the bloodstains showed, they ran for cover. All of it had been, as Larry David once described an erstwhile crony, “a babbling brook of bullshit.”

How contrite their former heroes now seem. On 17 May, the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, who is alleged to have spent £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on “media training”, called on MPs to “rebuild cross-party trust”. The unintended irony of her words recalls one of her first acts as social security secretary more than a decade ago — cutting the benefits of single mothers. This was spun and reported as if there was a “revolt” among Labour backbenchers, which was false. None of Blair’s new female MPs, who had been elected “to end male-dominated, Conservative policies”, spoke up against this attack on the poorest of poor women. All voted for it.

The same was true of the lawless attack on Iraq in 2003, behind which the cross-party Establishment and the political media rallied. Andrew Marr stood in Downing Street and excitedly told BBC viewers that Blair had “said they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right.” When Blair’s army finally retreated from Basra in May, it left behind, according to scholarly estimates, more than a million people dead, a majority of stricken, sick children, a contaminated water supply, a crippled energy grid and four million refugees.

As for the “celebrating” Iraqis, the vast majority, say Whitehall’s own surveys, want the invader out. And when Blair finally departed the House of Commons, MPs gave him a standing ovation — they who had refused to hold a vote on his criminal invasion or even to set up an inquiry into its lies, which almost three-quarters of the British population wanted.

Such venality goes far beyond the greed of the uppity Hazel Blears.

“Normalizing the unthinkable,” Edward Herman’s phrase from his essay “The Banality of Evil,” about the division of labor in state crime, is applicable here. On 18 May, the Guardian devoted the top of one page to a report headlined, “Blair awarded $1m prize for international relations work”. This prize, announced in Israel soon after the Gaza massacre, was for his “cultural and social impact on the world”. You looked in vain for evidence of a spoof or some recognition of the truth. Instead, there was his “optimism about the chance of bringing peace” and his work “designed to forge peace”.

This was the same Blair who committed the same crime — deliberately planning the invasion of a country, “the supreme international crime” — for which the Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was hanged at Nuremberg after proof of his guilt was located in German cabinet documents. Last February, Britain’s “Justice” Secretary, Jack Straw, blocked publication of crucial cabinet minutes from March 2003 about the planning of the invasion of Iraq, even though the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has ordered their release. For Blair, the unthinkable is both normalized and celebrated.

“How our corrupt MPs are playing into the hands of extremists,” said the cover of last week’s New Statesman. But is not their support for the epic crime in Iraq already extremism? And for the murderous imperial adventure in Afghanistan? And for the government’s collusion with torture?

It is as if our public language has finally become Orwellian. Using totalitarian laws approved by a majority of MPs, the police have set up secretive units to combat democratic dissent they call “extremism”. Their de facto partners are “security” journalists, a recent breed of state or “lobby” propagandist. On 9 April, the BBC’s Newsnight program promoted the guilt of 12 “terrorists” arrested in a contrived media drama orchestrated by the Prime Minister himself. All were later released without charge.

Something is changing in Britain that gives cause for optimism. The British people have probably never been more politically aware and prepared to clear out decrepit myths and other rubbish while stepping angrily over the babbling brook of bullshit.

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on May 28th, 2009 at 12:07pm #

    It is as if our public language has finally become Orwellian. Not if it has and here in the States same only done in a little different way still the same bullshit lot’s of bullshit.

  2. Suthiano said on May 28th, 2009 at 12:15pm #

    the speak is called doublespeak, so if I said I was to bust the heat til the sky touch your feet, open your eyes and look at the concrete.

    if you pay attention you’ll notice the word “democracy” disappearing from speech, to be replaced with “governance”.

    The board is set, the pieces are moving. If you think we’re not already in fascism then open your eyes look at the concrete, before the armed forces bust the heat so the sky touch your feet.

  3. David said on May 28th, 2009 at 12:19pm #

    Mr. Pilger:

    As a devout believer in the freedom of the individual and an American, I would like to suggest that you commence another revolution and march your elected officials to the nearest lamp posts and hang them.

    This is, more or less, how we obtained our freedoms and became the greatest country in the history of the world. It worked out quite well for us, don’t you think? After all, what country has more shopping malls than the United States?

    Please keep us posted on your efforts.

    Thank you.

  4. atiya said on May 28th, 2009 at 1:53pm #

    Hi David,

    I am not really sure if your comments are written with sarcasm or if you really are serious. Can’t decide what you mean by America believing in the freedom of the individual and it being the greatest country in the world. From where I am sitting I can’t see much evidence of America believeing in the freedom of the individual, well at least not in the freedom of the Iraqis, Palestinians, Afghanis and the list goes on. As to it being the greatest, it certainly is great in terms of its military and financial might, but what else has it produced? Great art? Great Culture? Spiritual Masters?

  5. kalidas said on May 28th, 2009 at 5:34pm #

    “Two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for lunch.”

  6. Danny Ray said on May 28th, 2009 at 6:29pm #

    Kalidas, Bless you, Ben Franklin would be proud. I do not know your nationality but we in the states must stand up and put a stop to the expansion of the power of this goverment.

  7. Michael Kenny said on May 29th, 2009 at 7:04am #

    I don’t think that the “greed is good” ideology of the Thatcher/Blair years caused the current corruption. It merely legitimated it. And it was further legitimated by the discovery of the incredible levels of corruption in the communist dictatorships, which nobody had even suspected. However, such levels of corruption have always been normal in Europe. Before T/B and the fall of the communists, it was all disguised under classic English hypocrisy but, once legitimated, it was pursued with classic English crassness and tastelessness, and thereby became a public scandal. Politicians in the rest of Europe also have their hands deep in the public purse but the do it with such finesse that it is only rarely that it spills over into the media. The journalists, don’t forget, are every bit as dirty as the politicians and therefore have no interest in spitting in the soup!

    In fact, the interesting part of all this is that is part of the “re-Europeanisation” of Britain. From the empire on which the sun never set, when the English thought they were some sort of master race, via the “special relationship”, i.e sucking up to the world bully as a substitute for their loss of imperial power, the English have been slowly coming back down to planet Earth since 1945. Now, they find themselves sitting in the same mud as their fellow Europeans, at whom they have looked down their noses for so long. Europe is slowly but surely coming together!

  8. bozh said on May 29th, 2009 at 7:37am #

    for me, the best way to fight my own racism {i’d rather have sex with a w.woman than b. woman} and discrimination is to think of placks as the progenitors of white and less white people.
    thus, i wldn’t be here if it wasn’t for possibly just few black girls of darkest africa.
    viva la viagra and ebony colored-skin. tnx

  9. kalidas said on May 29th, 2009 at 8:57am #

    Yea, right. And the dish ran away with the spoon.

  10. atiya said on May 29th, 2009 at 10:08am #


    That’s a very tasteless comment that you have made, not to mention racist. It might be best to keep quite sometimes and keep your opinions to yourself!

  11. bozh said on May 29th, 2009 at 12:18pm #

    atiya, let the free spech flow. A person who upsets self over a truthful remark of little importance cannot, methink, get upset over death of children in palestine, afpak, and iraq.
    in any case give me bushelfuls of the type of problems you upset self and i’ll give you just one of mine and not to mention iraqi, et al mothers’ troubles. tnx

  12. Synic3 said on May 29th, 2009 at 4:41pm #


    What was the reason for your off-color , tasteless remark here in this thread.
    The topic was not racism or sex. I am baffled.
    Besides, your sex life is not anyone business but yours,
    and frankly I don’t think any one in this thread is interested.
    Were you high on something??!!

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain said on May 30th, 2009 at 11:43pm #

    An admirable piece, as ever, from John Pilger. However, I cannot concur, although I admire it, with his concluding optimism. I’ve long believed that the parasites and psychopaths who rule the planet have things sewn up, beyong unravelling. The vast bulk of the Western publics, the only ones who matter in the current global dispensation, as restive poor world populations are simply obliterated or starved into submission, are so mentally and morally obtunded by lifelong, unceasing, brainwashing, that they actually seem to believe the Panglossian delusions of market capitalism and its propagandists. Of course, after thirty years of falling median wages (in real terms) in the US, mounting debt and now mass unemployment and destruction of hard won conditions, as at GM., with collaborationist unions offering no resistance and not a little co-operation, some US workers are growing restless. But a little practised demagoguery, with some ‘enemy within’ picked on, or a new foreign war against some new subhuman threat to all that is decent, and the grumblings will be well controlled. One of the miracles of Pavlovian conditioning must be the degree to which the average US prole not only admires and relates to the rich over-class, but also, defying all logic, evidence and experience, seems also to still believe he too can rise to the gilded circles of the elite. Perhaps they put something in the water.
    The current brouhaha over corruption in the UK will die down when the media have gotten whatever it is they are after, and let the topic die. The UK public will go back to being incessantly brainwashed with hate-mongering against Iran, or Gaza, or perhaps Lebanon, again, plus Venezuela, Cuba and the biggies Russia and China, the last few holdouts from the US/Israeli imperium. They will have their heads messed with again by the spiritual molesters of the advertising industry, and the mind-rotting pabulum of reality TV.
    The signal for the erection of a one-party, business-run, state, was, in my opinion, the collapse of the USSR in 1989. Despite all its failings, (and what system would not have failed when assailed for decades by various hyper-aggressive fascists determined to obliterate it lest it prove an example of how a society could be arranged other than in the pattern of elite rule by a tiny caste of insatiable parasites), fear of the USSR’s example was clearly responsible for all the social progress of the 20th century. Once it was gone, and the masters felt they no longer need fear revolution, they have assiduously and inexorably clawed back every concession made to working people over the decades. The destruction of unions, of the welfare state, the ideology of ‘user pays’ and privatisation of the common wealth, have exacerbated inequality and elite privilege. The so-called ‘social democrats’ have revealed themselves as little but various Mafias, who expect to be rewarded for decades of sterling service to capital in running Rightwing alleged trades unions, which were never anything but a device to emasculate workers and ensure a compliant work-force. I would imagine tha the bosses will eventually construct a Japanese style of democracy with perpetual one-party rule, ensured by malapportionment, gerrymandering, voluntary voting, media monopoly in the hands of the Right and outright fraud. Certainly no real alternative will be tolerated, so the tiny insurgency of ‘Green’ parties will be neutralised, along the lines of the successful campaign to turn the German Greens into a Rightwing market absolutist claque.
    Capitalism is by its very nature corrupting, of the mind and soul. A system based on nothing but limitless greed, that in its essence refutes the very idea of ‘common humanity’, that treats other people as obstacles to the select individual’s ‘freedom’ to loot and steal and that through its absolute insistence on cancerous, continuous growth, that has brought the planet to rapidly accelerating ecological collapse, it is the quintessence of human wickedness. The grubbly money-grubbing of British politicians is nothing compared to the spiritual corruption of the whole apparatus of power in politics, the propaganda system and business, the real rulers, evident in launching aggressive wars of mass murder and destruction, and lying, incessantly, both before and during them. One attribute in no short supply in our world of dwindling resources is cynical hypocrisy, as these monsters parade and pose as ‘morally pure’.
    I have never believed for a second of my adult life, not since the deliberate destruction by the real rulers of Australian society, led by Murdoch’s media, with CIA connivance, of the mildly reformist Whitlam Government, in 1975, that the system can be reformed from within. The last thirty years have shown that market fundamentalist capitalism is actually a preposterous, malignant, metastasising tumour, that is fast devouring the biosphere, and which steadfastly refuses to even entertain the idea of stopping. It must be destroyed, if humanity is to survive, but as the rulers have a near monoploy on destruction, no qualms in mass murder and have erected an apparatus of surveillance and control beyond Orwell’s most florid imaginings, that seems well nigh impossible. Worse, the only means conceivable to removing the parasites from power are those very means of violence and destruction the very use of which would render us exactly like them. The virus of destructiveness and cruelty would spread to the usurpers of power, no matter how noble their cause. How then could we fashion a world of equity, amity and justice?

  14. mjosef said on May 31st, 2009 at 4:29am #

    Mulga’s post is exceptional and superbly written- and reflects my strongly-held nihilism. Optimism is cheap, stupid, and reinforces the entrenched power of the supersytem. All the Left names I read, the proud and glorious warriors – where is their proper sense of futility?
    Try keeping a conversation going with that attitude, however.
    Still, it is a happy mind that thinks itself in sole possession of “truth,” so I will tonight rest easy knowing that there are Mulga Mumblebrains sharing the planet with latest iteration of National Corporate Socialism – must be about the Tenth Reich now.
    The problems are that 1. we have no social utopias to point to; 2. business will always be in play; 3. power aggregates naturally; 4. a trail of noxious complicities accrues to every individual. And if you want to add a 5, that everybody is sick of mumbling and declaiming and just wants to DO SOMETHING REAL, then I’ll give you that one. In the meantime, please, please, deride gurus.