We’re getting bored of all the corruption

Today I read — a little behind the curve — that Richard Sharp, who the Tory government recently appointed as BBC chairman — has donated £416,189 to the Tory party since the turn of the millennium. Hence, of course, his appointment to this prestigous and influential role.

The thing is, I’m not remotely surprised any more. I can hardly even summon the energy to be outraged. I’ve got so used to the constant parade of flagrantly corrupt appointments that they seem … normal. I’ve got used to the idea that Dido Harding’s utterly useless £37 billion pound test-and-trace system was given to someone entirely unqualified on the basis that she is the wife of a Tory MP. I’ve got used to the laughable idea that that same Tory MP, John Penrose, is the United Kingdom Anti-Corruption Champion. It’s beyond a joke, and it’s everywhere.

The thing is … what can be done? Nothing, I think. Our media is so tame that they don’t even call it corruption, they call it “cronyism” — which sounds cute and cuddly, rather than sounding like Boris Johnson and his posse giving £37 billion of our money to their courtiers. (That’s £560 pounds for each man, woman and child in the UK: your money, that you paid in taxes, given to Johnson’s friends instead of, for example, on paying nurses properly.) The BBC presumably played the tame little dog in the hope that they’d avoid being punished — but they were punished anyway, by the appointment of a chairman who was director at a think-tank that published studies calling for the abolition of the licence fee.

With the BBC neutered (its one political satire programme now axed) and most of the print media owned and controlled by Rupert Murdoch, what remains? Political protest is being effectively outlawed, so forget about marching if the police don’t like it. And guess who tells the police what to do?

It’s not really true, of course, that a boiled frog stays in the water until it’s cooked. But it does seem to be true that a democracy will sleepwalk into athoritarianism. With the USA now clawing its way out of the Trump pit, we can only hope and pray the UK somehow manages to do the same. But the signs are not encouraging.

This looks bad.

9 responses to “We’re getting bored of all the corruption

  1. Seems to me the particular, peculiar feature of this Government is the combination of corruption and incompetence. It may even be previous Governments were just as corrupt as this, but were just more accomplished at hiding it. They’re even more incompetent than the May government, for the simple reason that ministers were picked for one ability only – the ability to go along with whatever lie Johnson is telling now, even when it contradicts the lie he told last week. And now it’s in place the two feed on one another, like a negative feedback loop. They’re only going to get more corrupt and more incompetent.

  2. We’ve also got a serious generation divide problem – there’s a pensions and social care crisis but it’s almost impossible for any party to propose even mild reforms; what did for May in 2017 wasn’t really a surge in Corbynitis but the mere suggestion that older folk might have to contribute to their health care costs more realistically.
    And that’s largely because the over 50s are possibly the last majority house-ownership demographic which has knock-on effects for how the economy is focussed and also in electoral participation; one important facet of democratic engagement is a feeling of being part of the community and that’s a lot less common amongst renters (especially as long-term rental now doesn’t really exist any more except amongst the few housing associations that have managed to retain their independence, and council tenants.)

    I fear we are trapped in a negative feedback loop right now, in which it is impossible to make more than cosmetic changes to public policy (even the mooted law-n-order crack-downs are surprisingly minor, and the most exciting defence thing they can offer are more nukes) when it’s the fundamental structures that no longer work. And let’s not even consider the planet-level problems we have.

    The other day I speculated that we might not actually have made it out of the last century – that we are Wile E. Coyote who is halfway out across the chasm and that we just haven’t looked down yet.

    And now, some music.

  3. Richard Sharp, who the Tory government recently appointed as BBC chairman — has donated £416,189 to the Tory party since the turn of the millennium. Hence, of course, his appointment to this prestigous and influential role.

    Curious as to what the alleged ‘corruption’ is supposed to be here. Usually the term would mean that someone had bribed their way to getting something of value — eg, a businessman donates to the conservative party and as a result gets his housing development approved, thus making him millions of pounds.

    What is this Richard Sharp supposed to have got in return for his donations here? Chairmanship of the BBC? That’s not a terribly prestigious position — indeed it seems rather a headache, as the only ones I can name are the ones who resigned after some sort of scandal. I doubt it pays anything that would be worthwhile to a millionaire. Surely if he were to want something in return for his donations he’d have got them to make him a peer or something? Or at least a knight. Unlike the chairmanship of the BBC, those really are prestigious things.

    I’ve got used to the idea that Dido Harding’s utterly useless £37 billion pound test-and-trace system was given to someone entirely unqualified on the basis that she is the wife of a Tory MP

    I can’t remember, were you one of the ones who was making the same accusation about Kate Bingham, that she was totally unqualified and only appointed because she was the wife of a Tory MP? Do you agree that those who made that accusation ought to eat their words?

    With the BBC neutered (its one political satire programme now axed)

    The Now Show? The News Quiz? Have I Got News for You? Mock the Week? Newsnight?

  4. I assume you’re trying for satire in your last line there. But, ignoring the obvious troll, those shows have been running for >20, >40, >30 and >15 years – hardly at the cutting edge of political satire (and this is probably a bad thing. Although, having said that, the recent run of The News Quiz was more innovative than usual.)

    Whereas the point about The Mash Report is that (a) it was barely 3 years old and (b) its cast and crew were not predominantly white middle-aged men. If you wanted to make an unsubtle point then that’s the show you’d pick to cancel… (Me, I think HIGNFY should have stopped years ago, and that’s speaking as someone who actively chooses to watch old repeats of it!)

    [In passing, on the Kate Bingham thing – a number of folk have, indeed, ‘eaten their words’ and apologised for what turned out to be an unfair accusation. That doesn’t make the Dido Harding fiasco somehow acceptable though, unless you are suggesting that being totally unqualified and married to a Tory MP should now be considered a default position because, on the basis of two cases, it’s just as likely to work as not.]

  5. I assume you’re trying for satire in your last line there

    Just pointing out that the cancellation of The Mash Report (which wasn’t actually funny, though I accept that in itself doesn’t seem to matter to the BBC comedy department these days) doesn’t exactly leave the BBC short of vehicles for left-wing clapter.

    That doesn’t make the Dido Harding fiasco somehow acceptable though, unless you are suggesting that being totally unqualified and married to a Tory MP should now be considered a default position because, on the basis of two cases, it’s just as likely to work as not

    So you’re still claiming that Kate Bingham was ‘totally unqualified and married to a Tory MP’? Doesn’t sound a lot like you’ve eaten your words.

  6. Err… what *are* her qualifications for running a vaccination programme? It seems to me she doesn’t actually have any. We were just lucky and she turned out to not be a disaster like Harding (who had even worse qualifications, in that almost everything she had previously done was also a disaster, but she failed upwards and was allowed to cause another disaster, and then another, quite like Chris Grayling).

    The real problem with restricting all public expenditure and positions of power to friends and relatives of senior Tory MPs is that even in the absence of brazen corruption and bribery (and there has been some of that), that’s a tiny talent pool and it drains very fast and then you get people like Gavin Williamson and, well, Boris Johnson instead. If you actually try to use the recruitment and procurement processes that are already there, the pool is quite a lot bigger.

    Still, at least Grayling currently doesn’t have much power (because he was too incompetent and unpopular to even manage to accept a position stitched up for him). Thank heaven for small mercies, I suppose.

  7. Two longish parts to this reply because I think both points are interesting and all this proves is that text-only online discourse is alarmingly prone to this sort of confrontational attitude.

    So (1) You might not find The Mash Report funny; that’s fair enough. You might think that the BBC comedy department doesn’t serve you; that’s also fair enough (I admire your phrasing here; “accepting” something that is also clearly your opinion is hardly “accepting” it, is it?) although I would be interested to know what do you find funny that you don’t think it is doing in this field right now? You may even think that the BBC is full of vehicles for “left-wing clapter”; this is perhaps the only one I might just about find myself in agreement with, but probably not for the same reasons (because I tend to think that it’s got plenty of vehicles for right-wing nonsense too.)

    And (2) You seem to want to focus on the wording of a single short statement, especially one which followed an observation that specifically refuted it. So, for the record, I will stand by my assertion that both Dido Harding and Kate Bingham are married to Tory MPs and that one of them has been in charge of a fiasco and the other one hasn’t.* I am perfectly willing to accept that Kate Bingham was eminently qualified for her particular role, as indeed, have a lot of other people who have ‘eaten their words’ about her. That doesn’t undermine the question about whether or not her personal relationship was advantageous in this particular instance (and I will note that you raised this particular case.) Corruption (or ‘cronyism’) is more likely to happen in these sort of situations and a properly transparent government should be going out of its way to keep things open (and no, there is no government in the world that really manages to do this, of any political persuasion. But that’s a problem with governance in general rather than this government in particular.)
    The core of the problem raised in the original post is that appointments to “independent” positions (i.e. things that are clearly not political) should be made “independently” and not by political fiat. It’s not especially difficult to do that, and a failure to do so leads to the suspicion of corruption (whether that is actually warranted or not.) [And, in passing, Gavyn Davies was appointed chairman of the BBC after donating lots of money to the Labour Party. See my comment above.]

    *It’s worth noting, as other people have, that quite a bit of this turns out to be related to data. Vaccine rollout has been a success because we had the data that tells us everything we need to know about folk. Test-and-Trace was a disaster because they decided to start from scratch. It’s entirely possible that, had they chosen to use the systems already in place, we would be praising that success as well…

  8. Err… what *are* her qualifications for running a vaccination programme?

    An MA (Oxon) in Biochemistry and a career that started working in business development for a biotech company specialising in rational drug design (AKA the process used to design vaccines for new diseases like, um, the coronavirus) before almost thirty years at a health investment venture capital fund, specialising in biotechnology.

    Basically if you’d started with a blank piece of paper and tried to design a CV for the person you wanted to head up a vaccines taskforce you couldn’t have done a better job.

    But hey, she’s just a Tory MP’s wife, right? And we all know wives don’t have careers or skills of their own, do they?

    It seems to me she doesn’t actually have any.

    Shows how much you know, then, doesn’t it? (Not a lot, in case you were wondering).

  9. The core of the problem raised in the original post is that appointments to “independent” positions (i.e. things that are clearly not political) should be made “independently” and not by political fiat. It’s not especially difficult to do that, and a failure to do so leads to the suspicion of corruption (whether that is actually warranted or not.) [And, in passing, Gavyn Davies was appointed chairman of the BBC after donating lots of money to the Labour Party. See my comment above.]

    Surely the Chairman of the BBC is a political position? As you point out, Labour certainly saw it as such, as they kept appointing people who were ideologically aligned to them to the post.

    (It’s also, as I pointed out, hardly a ‘reward’… it’s a position of not negligible salary to the kind of people who can afford to give hundreds of thousands to political parties, of limited power, and where the public only ever learns your name if you preside over some horrible scandal like the Hutton report or the Savile affair).

    The question is, to whom are the people holding these posts going to be answerable? Either they are political appointments in which case they are answerable to elected politicians and so in some way, even if very indirectly, answerable to the electorate; or, presumably, they are appointed by some kind of ‘independent appointments board’. But in the latter case, to whom are the members of the appointments board accountable? Again, either they are accountable to politicians — in which case the board seems like a useless extra layer of cost and bureaucracy, why not have the politicians directly appoint the people to the posts, instead of appointing the members of the board to chose the people who they want appointed to the posts — or they’re appointed in some other way (like maybe when a board member leaves, the others decide their successor), but in that case where’s the correction mechanism to stop the board drifting further and further away from the views of the people the appointments are meant to serve?

    At least if they are political appointments there’s a feedback mechanism, however rough and blunt, whereby if the system drifts too far out of touch with the electorate a new government can be voted in that can then replace the political appointees with ones more in tune with the electorate.

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