The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, February 08, 2004

Why We Hate

(There was a well-known series of World War 2 documentaries/propaganda films by Frank Capra under the general title of Why We Fight. We need something of the same for the current general revulsion against the political class. This is not it, but one has to start somewhere. [1])

Iraq is too fraught an issue to start with. Try airline safety instead.

I was listening to an edition of File on Four on the BBC [2] on the scandalous lack of coordination between governments in the control of un-airworthy commercial aircraft.

There seems to be a deliberate Three Wise Monkeys approach to checking such aircraft and grounding the unsafe ones. Random checks are infrequent, information is kept secret, and often not even shared between governments.

For instance, 62 Spanish troops, returning from peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan, were killed when a Ukrainian Yak-42 hit a mountain near Trabzon (Trebizond) in Turkey on May 26 2003.

The Ukraine is a by-word for un-safety in aviation. (The piece mentions two crashes in the previous six months.) But, according to the programme, the Yakovlev-42 concerned
had been banned from carrying peacekeepers by Norway, Sweden and Finland because of safety fears.

Why did not these countries inform their NATO allies of this? Supposedly there is no mechanism for so doing.

Bureaucrats - dontcha love 'em?

Clearly, there is a conspiracy of silence going on. Airlines are tied up with national pride; many of them, from banana republics, fly rustbuckets which are unsafe to taxi down the runway, let alone take to the air.

But it would simply not be sporting to call them on it. Or expedient: a clear game of Russian roulette is being played by Western governments: air travel tends to be much safer than other forms - even the Ukrainian rustbuckets usually make it to the next touch-down. So a crash in the next week is unlikely. Or the week after that.

On the other hand, you never know when you might need the assistance of Bongo-Bongo Land: in the UN Security Council, for instance; or over some Al Qaida contacts; or when BBL discovers massive oil reserves. The leaders of BBL have long memories, and little but national pride to feast on (apart from what they steal from the national treasury, of course). We prefer to keep them sweet, if at all possible.

(Korean Air Lines has a diabolical safety record, apparently; but they are our Glorious Allies in the front line against the Dear Leader. The South Koreans could buy their fleet from the a chop-shop and they'd still get the thumbs up from Uncle Sam and his friends.)

The responsible minister - you know what I mean - in the UK is Tony McNulty, who was interviewed on the show. He had taken a policy decision to treat his listeners as morons. He took a condescending tone (belying his humble origins, and earlier career as a lecturer at a jumped-up polytechnic) worthy of a Tory grandee of the old school, assuring us that there was nothing to worry about, or, if there was, he had the matter in hand.

Such people are, of course, thoroughly media-trained before they are allowed onto the airwaves; all day long, they will give answers which steer between the Scylla of giving useful information and the Charybdis of actual lying, and, when the interviewer bridles, will invite the audience to condemn him as unsportsmanlike.

He could quite as happily explain things away if a Ukrainian Yak-42 crashed into a school a killed a hundred children: the techniques employed are quite robust enough.

What would it take to wipe the smirk off McNulty's face? As smirk there no doubt was after ushering the hack out of his office: the boy laid nary a glove on him.

If the disease of Not Invented Here was not so prevalent in the BBC, one could plan a campaign around an issue as tabloid-friendly as air safety: every news show, radio and TV, morning, noon and night, would have a daily item on the subject. Viewer's stories would keep the thing going for weeks (most people fly now - and most of those will have some kind of story about airline safety).

Dave Hill (Alastair Campbell's replacement) and his goons will be effing and blinding at BBC producers and editors: so let's hear transcripts read out on air - with tasteful bleeping, of course!

In the end, HMG might even do something (even if it's only setting up an inquiry - and, then once the fix is in, the whole thing can start up again!).

Of course, something like that would need organisation.

Oops! Back to the drawing board...

Meanwhile, on Iraq, we are told by HMG that we have to move on - and some in the BBC seem to agree. And Tessa Jowell [3], who has previously let drop dark hints in relation to the renewal of the BBC's Charter (the current one expires in 2006), is now castigating the
bullying and aggressive
style of Alastair Campbell [4].

Whether she thinks the BBC has been battered into submission by Hutton (and what on earth could have given her that impression?) and will play ball without the need for further treatment, I know not.

McNulty's performance shows that removing the bullying and aggression (if that were possible) would not address the issue: the positive feedback between government arrogance, lack of accountability and protection against criticism.

Inherent in Lord Acton's power corrupts aphorism is that the extent of power, the proportion of the whole arrogated to one man or one group, is critical to the extent of corruption. A man in complete command is utterly corrupt. A reduction in the power of a man is a per se good, at least over a wide range of variables [5].

For Blair and his henchmen, an outbreak of grade-school good behaviour would be no substitute.

  1. Has nothing to do with the globalophobes, who say we should not believe Bush and Blair (check!), but invites us to believe in José Bové, Evo Morales, and George Monbiot instead. Comment superfluous.

  2. Hear the show - and, I hope, eventually read the transcript - here.

  3. Who, in 1997, was reasonably well preserved, but now has the neck of a 70 year old - her very own Dorian Gray portrait.

  4. She's now denying she was talking about Campbell. The Telegraph gives a couple of quotes in quotations - which means it's verbatim, right? [Does it bollocks!]
    You see these testosterone-charged men in the television and radio studios, showing off about how much tougher they are, trying to score off everyone else. It's a real turn-off.
    and, talking about Campbell,
    He was a leading player, so it is hardly surprising that he wanted to have his say - and he certainly had that. You don't need to shout and abuse people - you can be polite and constructive.
  5. Dunning's Resolution
    that the influence of the crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished
    comes to mind: there is an extract from Erskine May's Constitutional History on the subject. (There is more than one Dunning's Resolution it seems...)

    A compare and contrast between Lord North and Tony Blair is for another time. Although, perhaps one should be comparing Blair with North and George III combined...

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