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A possible explanation for why we are currently getting so many scandals

Andrew Mitchell, the government enforcer, allegedly calls a policeman a “*u**i** pleb”. George Osborne, the finance minister, boards a train with a second class ticket and proceeds to sit in first class. MPs, of all parties, are found to be scamming the taxpayer by owning one house and living in another – no, I don’t understand how the scam works either.

So, why are we getting so many scandals now? Is it because this is a particularly bad time for it? I don’t think so. My guess is that the amount of obnoxious behaviour by politicians is more or less constant over time. The variable is the press.

Older readers, and those with a fascination for history, will remember the spectacular collapse of the Conservative government in the mid-1990s. Originally elected in 1979, for over 10 years there was an almost complete absence of sleaze stories. About the only one I can think off the top of my head was Dennis Thatcher’s use of No.10-headed notepaper. And then, all of a sudden, in about 1992 they all started coming out: cash for questions, three in a bed, secret love children, more cash for questions, affairs with actresses. Every day a new scandal.

As I said, it seems improbable that Tory MPs were for 10 years purer than the driven snow and then, all of a sudden, dropped all principle like it was a form of radioactive waste. No, what happened was they had always been acting like this; it was just that now the press started reporting it. And why now (or, is it then?)? Because of Black Wednesday. Black Wednesday – Britain’s forced departure from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in September 1992 – had demonstrated in the clearest possible terms that the government didn’t know what it was doing when it came to the economy. At that moment the press got angry. So long as they believed that these people knew how to ensure prosperity they were prepared to turn a blind eye to the odd peccadillo. But now they realised that they had been hood-winked. After that any Conservative was fair game.

Now, Cameron’s government has not had an ERM moment as such. But then again, it has never demonstrated any great degree of competence. Faced with the greatest economic calamity in living memory (or the Second Great Depression as Brian likes to call it) it has drifted and the press has started to notice. The feeling of hoodwinkedness and corresponding anger is now fully fledged. I unconfidently predict a stream of scandals until Cameron leaves office.

13 comments to A possible explanation for why we are currently getting so many scandals

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    The loss of privacy is a two way street.

    For years those of a libertarian persuasion have been warning that new technology is destroying privacy. And they’ve been proved quite right: governments now know in great detail what their citizens are up to; or, if they don’t, can soon acquire the ability to do so. But that same technology has made it far harder for governments to keep secrets. During the twentieth century governments – including democratic ones like the British government – successfully hushed-up incidents they did not want known about for years. Nowadays that would be impossible.

    Ultimately, perhaps the collective loss of privacy – for both citizens and governments – is a good example of mutually assured destruction. And its long-term consequences could be quite profound.

  • Simon Jester

    Patrick, are you serious about not understanding how the rent-swap scam works?

    On scandals during the Thatcher government: it was traditionally notorious that Tories had sex scandals, while Labour had financial scandals. I clearly remember the Cecil Parkinson / Sara Keays affair; there was also Harvey Proctor’s activities, although Proctor was never a senior member of the cabinet.

    The utter nastyness of Mitchell’s comments is something difficult to imagine coming from anyone in Thatcher’s cabinet – partly because many of them are the sort of people that he might consider to be “plebs”, but also because the more patrician types (such as Willie Whitelaw) would not be caught dead saying such things.

  • No, Simon, I seriously don’t know how it works and furthermore, don’t want to know.

  • RAB

    It’s Bread and Circus’s Patrick, give the plebs sex scandals and class scandals, to take our eyes of the real scandals, the collapse of the invincible Euro, the naked power grab by the EU for total control without consulting the peoples of Europe. The fact that we are making such a mess (and the rest of Europe too) of our energy policies that the lights will be going out all over Europe inside 2 years etc etc.

    The BBC is probably grateful for the Savile stuff, let’s have an enquiry into a few dead paedo DJ’s like Savile and Uncle Mac. Oh it will be painful, hands will be rung, minor figures castigated, and lessons will be learnt, but it diverts our eyes from the real scandal, that of massive institutionalised left wing bias in the BBC doesn’t it? Patten’s supposed enquiry into that will end up on page 16 of the MSM, if at all.

  • Aetius

    The reason there are so many Tory scandals in the media at the moment is that the government looks weak, directionless and powerless.

    Up until White Wednesday in 1992, the then Tory government looked relatively competent and people largely assumed that it knew what it was doing economically.

    A multiplicity of scandals and pseudo-scandals is a sell sign for a prime minister, and, if his party does not replace him, for the government also.

  • Aetius, the early ’90s scandals was because the BBC wanted a change and had dozens of stories ‘stacked up. The ‘sleaze’ that engulfed Major’s government. Come 1997 they all went to work for New labour. New labour were far more corrupt and sleazy but there wasn’t even a 10th of the fuss/coverage and now it’s happening again as the BBC takes the role of official opposition (and Savile deflection more recently)

  • JohnB

    I think it would be more accurate to find the current Tories similar to Edward Heath’s.

    Either a Thatcher moment is coming or the collectivists have learnt their lesson and won’t let that happen again.
    In which case prepare for the 21st century version of a Soviet takeover.

    Are the scandals not the way the power blocs wage war on each other through their puppet presses?

  • Barry Sheridan

    Guido has another story on the George Osborne ticket scandal. If correct this is a rational explanation for that particular issue.

    See http://order-order.com/2012/10/19/virgin-and-treasury-as-one-in-osborne-story/

  • Regional

    You have to remember the great majority of politicians can’t get a job anywhere else.

  • Steve P

    A Labour MP headbutts a rival and resists arrest, yet he is still in his job.
    A policeman tasers a blind man and hasn’t even been suspended.
    A Tory MP says some rude things to a policeman and is forced to resign.
    Funny old world…

  • James Hargrave

    But too many of the police are self-important, low IQ thugs – plebs, for want of better shorthand. – ruled by a not-quite officer class of rapidly overpromoted, politically-modish incompetents (the woman in nominal charge of the not-quite-murder of the Brazilian plumber keeps rising without trace, rather than being relegated to minding the lost property office). And the obsession with (pseudo-)security is the fool’s gold of our times.

  • veryretired

    RAB got the main part of it.

    As I have mentioned in other contexts, it’s not the bias that bothers me, I can spot bias a mile away, but the relentless triviality and sensationalism.

    I can find very little difference between the average news broadcast or newspaper and the most outlandish of the tabloids.

    Blood, sex, and scandal sells to the comic book crowd, and there’s way too many of those, thanks to an educational system that doesn’t educate, and a news delivery system that doesn’t deliver anything stronger than sensationalist drivel.

    “Network” described the lunacy of the media many years ago, and it gotten worse, not better.

  • Paul Marks

    Good post Patrick.