2007 - 2021

The Ties that Bind

What are the forces at work that allow the Conservatives to not only remain in office but to increase their popularity despite widespread and open accusations of corruption and malpractice? How are the powerful immune to any consequence from their actions?

The strange configuration of modern Britain continues to dazzle and confuse as it lies pockmarked with decay and corruption. As Prince Philip is buried after a period of extraordinarily supine revisionism, Britain seems to be characterised by the twin phenomena of a strange, Ruritanian obsession with a dysfunctional family that evokes worship, and a political class that is knee-deep in nepotism.

Both the House of Windsor and House of Commons seem to operate with complete impunity.

It’s difficult to disagree with Labour’s claim that the Conservative government is “infected with widespread cronyism” after it emerged that Matt Hancock failed to declare his interest in the company Topwood to parliamentary authorities for more than two months and had never previously declared his family’s long-standing involvement with it.

Topwood won a tender competition to secure a place as an approved contractor with the NHS in Wales in early 2019. At the time, the firm was owned by Hancock’s sister and other family members.

His sister …

The latest revelations come after it was revealed that a second Cabinet Office adviser was hired by Greensill Capital while working for the civil service, raising further questions over revolving doors between the government and the scandal-hit firm.

The corruption is so routine it’s self-evident that this IS the system, not an aberration.

Labour’s Rachel Reeves said there were growing questions about Greensill’s reach.

“We’ve been saying Tory sleaze is back, but in many ways it seems it never really went away,” she said.

“Revelations like this keep growing the web of the Greensill scandal, and show us how much the Conservatives have weakened the measures meant to keep cronyism and conflicts of interest in government in check.”

But as the “revelations” seem endless, they also serve to normalise. The term “scandal” doesn’t really have any agency any more. How is it possible for the Jennifer Arcuri story to be in the public domain with no consequences whatsoever? Partly because this has gone on so long it becomes the surround-sound, the wallpaper, of our political experience. Tory corruption is just the air we breathe.

Cash for sex? Industrial amounts of money diverted to your friends and family?

Who cares?

This very likely most corrupt UK Govt in living memory is headed by a serial liar who has presided over the deaths of 150,000 citizens from the coronavirus. The consequences? A 14% lead in the polls.

How can you possibly explain that?

It’s only possible in a world where the baubles and inane culture of Royalism are rolled out across all media channels, curating a culture of deference and banality. It’s only possible in a world where the nexus of elite rule involves not just the moving of large amounts of money between groups within that elite, but that any occasional ‘investigation’ of such activity is routinely conducted by members of that group.

The ‘revolving door’ is endless and tightly controlled. We live in a feudal chumocracy.   Occasionally, when something goes disastrously wrong, this system has a default setting called a ‘public inquiry’. This is only rarely trundled out, and is kept for when the entire system has broken down and the routine hush-hush won’t cut it. In this situation a facade of “independence” will be attempted. A grandee will be appointed, the terms of the inquiry will be set and years will go by before “recommendations” are made.

Inquiries are notoriously expensive. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry cost £210.6m. The money lavished on inquiries is often used to create an air of seriousness. if they are spending that much surely something must come out of it?

But the extraordinary disconnect between the Tory conduct in office and their political popularity can’t be explained only by the closeness of the political and legal elite or the culture of deference which permeates much of English public life. The opposition are completely useless too.

Keir Starmer has established himself by Not Being Jeremy Corbyn and Not Being Anti-Semitic but little else. He is a ‘Sir’, which is great, and his first name is ‘Keir’, which is also great but he seems paralysed by inaction and over-caution. In these most terrible times, with the litany of Tory failure and corruption mounting up, how is it possible for Starmer’s Labour to now be polling worse than it was under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership? It is because he is purely a Negation: a creation of orphaned centrists manufactured in the petri-dish of liberal Britain, designed to be acceptable to Labour’s right-wing and the media commentariat who censor the acceptable face of British politics.

This is a cutting blow not just to Anas Sarwar’s campaign hopes, but also to the (Left) Unionist narrative that hope or change is just around the corner, that an enlightened Labour administration is just around the corner, that Britain is a decent, fair and progressive place. All the evidence says otherwise.

What we are watching in real time is not just the death of Labour but the decline of social democracy in Britain, not just brazen sleaze on an almost unimaginable scale but it being utterly normalised as part of public life, and what we are about to watch is the Royal Family re-brand itself in a sea of Union Jacks and a tsunami of Anglo-British Nationalism.

Last month, Conservative culture secretary Oliver Dowden announced that all government buildings would be required to fly the union flag every day as a “proud reminder of our history and the ties that bind us.” There is no end to this. There is no opportunity missed, nor chance thought too cynical. Even the moment to host a pivotal and seismic global climate gathering will be exploited. Writing in the execrable Spectator magazine, Katy Balls reveals that plans for COP 26 include a cuddly mascot – “something endangered perhaps but not too exotic” (I’d recommend a sooty Koala lightly singed by forest fire) but also that “to bolster patriotic pride, Union flags could be projected onto Glasgow landmarks.”

That there’s a depravity about much of the Conservative rule is one thing, as the stench of brutality and corruption becomes impossible to ignore,  but it is made much worse by the sheer stupidity of much of this.

Stupid, but crude also. This week saw the censorship of a piece by two academics. A report by Geoffrey Chapman and Richard Mackenzie-Gray Scott, of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law was deleted, as it was “not the view of the Government”.

As John King has written: “Unfortunately its conclusion was at odds with the UK Government line and Tory messaging that Scottish independence would be economically damaging. The authors therefore decided to withdraw it ‘voluntarily’ following pressure from Westminster. One wonders whether they will renounce their crime in due course and offer signed confessions.

“Suppression of academic views coupled with skewed research papers paid for by the UK government is behaviour more typical of dictatorships rather than modern democracies. But it is no surprise. Yorkshire Bylines has already exposed how the government has tried to “sell” Brexit by means of paid-for propaganda disguised as objective news stories.

“These sinister methods are all of a piece with ‘Operation Bleach’, the erasing of references to the European Union in tens of thousands of laws secretly ordered by Downing Street, which I referred to here. They are, however, just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to know the full shocking story, I can only recommend Peter Oborne’s powerful book, The Assault on Truth. This has, predictably, been boycotted by mainstream reviewers keen to keep their jobs. It describes the redefining of truth as whatever lies Johnson is currently telling, and the willing complicity of the media, as we slide into an Orwellian world.”

So, here we remain, lodged in this Quiet Dystopia, made up of part sleaze, part extreme deference, part Opposition incompetence, part spectacle of nationalism and royalty, but laced also with an unhealthy dose of authoritarianism.

As Belfast burns and Philip is buried, we are awash with sycophancy and mind-numbing trivia about what costume Andrew will be dressing up in or where Harry will be standing.

Speculation about Philip’s death precipitating an abdication is unlikely to bear out, royal experts told us this week.

“One main reason why the Queen will absolutely not abdicate is, unlike other European monarchs, she is an anointed Queen,” explained the royal historian Hugo Vickers, referring to the pact she made with God during her coronation.

“And if you are an anointed Queen, you do not abdicate.”

Next year she (and we) will celebrate her Platinum Jubilee.






Comments (34)

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  1. Pub Bore says:

    Yep; back in the 1980s, there used to be a prophet of doom who preached beneath the statue of the Duke of Wellington at the east end of Princes Street. He too couldn’t understand how the thousands of people who daily passed him with a shrug of indifference, as they went about their ordinary business, couldn’t see what he could so plainly see: signs that the end times were upon us.

    But he clearly relished his role as a voice in the wilderness.


    1. Wullie says:

      The Pub Bore then

      1. Time, the Deer says:

        Self-awareness is lacking in this one…

        1. Time, the Deer says:

          Anyway as someone who grew up in Edinburgh in the 80s, under the shadow of Thatcher, yer ‘end is nigh’ mannie wisnae all wrong…

          1. Pub Bore says:

            And yet here we are, 40 years on, in a brave new post-industrial world with a thriving, content, and conservative Middle Scotland, despite the doom that was prophesied back in those ‘end days’.

            No, the trope’s shot; the record needs to be changed.

    2. Papko says:

      I can see the point you make @pubbore.
      I was about to comment how can someone write such an articulate piece and yet be blind to the obvious.
      But we all have our foibles.
      (Reference to the main article)

      IMHO power corrupts, and whose ever in power the longer they stay there, the increased risk of corruption.
      Same way if you plant the same crop in the same patch of land,you encourage pests.

      1. Pub Bore says:

        I don’t know about power corrupting, Papko, but it should come as no ‘shock-horror’ that it’s abused.

        Politicians have been caught abusing their power and influence since time immemorial. When they’re not lobbying, they’re bullying; when they’re not bullying, they’re capitalising. Such behaviour isn’t acceptable, but it’s hardly as catastrophic as the catastrophists would have us believe. It just reminds us of the fundamental democratic principle that the b*gg*rs are worth watching.

        Mike wonders why the hoi polloi puts up with it. It’s so unremarkable that we’ve almost come to expect it, that’s why. And the trope of ‘the world’s going to hell in a handcart’ has been deployed so many times that it’s also come to be expected and simply lost its power to scare us.

    3. BSA says:

      Another attention seeker maybe.

      1. Pub Bore says:

        I don’t think so. The auld fulla seemed sincere in his conviction and moved by a genuine desire to improve/’save’ his fellow man by colonising the latter with his own enthusiasm; a true missionary.

        I remember that the same pitch was later occupied by Colin Fox.

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    Nail – head Mike. The integrity of Journalism is rock bottom. The thick alliance who voted the tories in remind me of people who’ve been scammed but, despite fearing the worst, keep sending the scammers money because the moment they stop they’ll have to face the horrible truth. Johnson is currently being buoyed by his last gasp Nick Leeson style gamble on vaccines but you wonder how this will go when he runs out of smokescreens. Will it take years to filter through in the same way the financial parasites managed to cover up the subprime mortgage crisis?

    1. Iain MacLean says:

      “remind me of people who’ve been scammed but, despite fearing the worst, keep sending the scammers money because the moment they stop they’ll have to face the horrible truth”



      For those supporting the union, many ignore what is so apparent and wrong, others defend the wrongs! There must come a day, first I thought it would be Brexit then I thought it would be the arrival of Johnson, when they say enough is enough and make the journey to YES as many have done.

      For those ploughing on defending the union, the investment made and potential loss of position and or face is the reason they go on defendng the indefensible.

      labour are the best example of those ploughing on. labour MSPs I dare say are decent people, but for the sake of party position and having to hold their hands up that they got it wrong, they effectively legitimise and support tory rule and unionism in Scotland. Do they actually believe Scotland ruled by the people of Scotland is less desireable than Scotland ruled by Johnson? I doubt it, But, they plough on because they don’t want to admit the “horrible truth”.

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        Labour have got themselves into a particularly curious position and not just in Scotland. Had there been a second Brexit referendum Remain would’ve won. With Starmer swinging the Labour party to the right you’d have thought they’d be the voters he’d be looking to win over or hang on to safe in the knowledge that Johnston himself will eventually grind down the “red wall” all on his own. Instead he’s decided to take the tories on at their own game and “UK” politics has degenerated into who can best unite the stupid. The majority thinking in the “UK” now have no representation in Westminster.

        1. Iain MacLean says:

          Starmer is doing what Jim Murphy started in Scotland and has been pursued ever since, he is trying to out tory the tories on right wing issues.

          Where does a supposedly left wing labour party go when a left of centre government is in power in Scotland and a hard right wing government is in power in England?

          labour tact to the right, voting for brexit and torture bill whilst purging the left and fighting over patriotism and the union flag with the tories.

          So taken in by the media and the bullish Johnson, those in the red wall will not return to labour for two or three elections, that’s fifteen years of tory austerity outside of the EU safety blanket!

          Its time those with a brain and consciousness in Scottish labour took a look at themsleves and where Johnson is taking the uk and Scotland. The irony is that labour would be revitalised in an independent Scotland, free of London control.

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            Totally agree Ian. The English Labour MPs might think becoming diluted tories will see the media go easy on them and save their careers but it’s almost like the Scottish Labour “branch office” are willing to sacrifice themselves on behalf of the English Labour MPs.

  3. Daniel Raphael says:

    Outstanding article, even considering your usual standards, Michael–I will spread it Johnny Appleseed style, and hope it is widely read.

  4. Michael says:

    You say it: “Matt Hancock failed to declare his interest” and say it: “the firm was owned by Hancock’s sister ” and say it: “the nexus of elite rule involves not just the moving of large amounts of money between groups within that elite, but that any occasional ‘investigation’ of such activity is routinely conducted by members of that group.”

    And then back away and return to liberal academic denialism used to rationalise not actually accepting how the world really works!

    It’s not a conspiracy! It is “sleaze”, “deference”, “incompetence”, “nationalism”, “royalty”, “authoritarianism”. Sounds so much more acceptable and theoretical than “criminal conspiracy”. Oh well…

    1. I do wonder why you persevere with analysis that you clearly think is so terrible?

  5. Cathie Lloyd says:

    Thankyou! The political culture has been swept up in a conformity of lies and hypocrisy over the past few days. At the centre of it are the royals about whom anything can be invented regardless of the record. Time for big changes.

  6. Alice says:

    Brexit was what a majority of the English nation wanted….get rid of foreigners ….more jobs for us …no more of them living off the British State .getting free education, plus a free Heath Service . Boris et al made this wish come true and if it means a further move to the right who cares …..Boris did the business for us ….we have our national identity re- stabilised …Queen and Country and all that …..Boris holds on to power at any cost and Britannia will be mighty again ….

    Meanwhile back at the Jocks …they are a malign, greedy folk who will be reigned in just like the foreigners.

    The Unionist mindset shaped by a state offering a smattering of education and training to these people plus of course the newspapers they read. Suits Boris et al fine.!

  7. SleepingDog says:

    The British Empire is essentially an ongoing criminal enterprise geared to extracting wealth abroad, and royalty is essentially the capture of a state by an organised crime family. So royalists and imperialists are certainly crime-worshippers of sorts. What about Unionists? Can any lay claim to a non-criminal, post-imperial, royal-free vision of the UK? I have not yet heard any Unionist manifesto that does so. The ties that bind run all the way back to the chains of racialised chattel slavery, unbroken by the compensation of the ‘owners’, whose descendants (including royals) have inherited the proceeds of terrible crimes.

    Peter Oborne’s book is reviewed by Medialens, which also covers the lack of reviews elsewhere:

  8. Mr Benn says:

    An interesting article that hits on many of the right notes.

    The current situation reminds me of Italy when I lived there 15 years ago. Berlusconi and his Forza Italia coalition seemed to be absolutely swamped in corruption and sleeve. Everyone knew it and you were hard pressed to find a voter under 40 who would not only lack a positive thing to say about the man, but who wouldn’t seize up in embarrassment at his name. The problem, however,was that the PD suffered on two fronts. On the one hand, they were seen as uninspiring – their leaders seemed like just other politicians and didn’t encourage anyone that they would make their lives better. On the other,nobody thought the party would be any different to FI, not even less corrupt. “They’re all the same!” Was the cry.

    It was in this environment that Forza Italia continued to succeed. However, they started to rely on moving ever more to the right, with the voice of La Lega becoming ever more vocal.

    At the same time,the discontent started to manufacture itself on the centre left away from social democracy towards a general sense of anti-establishment anger. And so 5star came to prominence.

    Obviously,the two systems are different, but I really am starting to think that the UK is only a few years away from a similar moment. It could be Scots independence, but I feel it will go deeper than that. Labour may be dead, but the Conservative party may not survive for long either.

  9. Axel P Kulit says:

    “But the extraordinary disconnect between the Tory conduct in office and their political popularity can’t be explained only by the closeness of the political and legal elite”

    People tend to vote for someone they see as being like themselves. This tells us about the English psyche

    1. Pub Bore says:

      Mair casual racism from nationalism’s bargain basement!

    2. Pub Bore says:

      I also like the subtle but no less inflaming racist messaging of the advert in the picture that heads the article, with its juxtaposition of ‘Cronyism’, ‘English’, and ‘Corruption’. Very edifying!

      1. Not really. We didnt create the image but my reading of it was that its suggesting that the public get swayed and confused by ‘cronyism’.

        I’d like to know where it is irl.

        1. Pub Bore says:

          Perhaps not ‘really’; perhaps only ‘subliminally’.

          Clever, though.

  10. Lordmac says:

    McGregor, Christy, brown,, played nobody for 8 years the we where asleep at the wheel. An
    D offering new contracts for no return

  11. Lordmac says:

    McGregor, Christy, brown,, Taylor kenny, have played nobody for 8 years and we where asleep at the wheel. And
    offering new contracts for no return ,you have seen these guys produce nothing in Europe and in must win games they take no part in corners will not go into. The box when wing backs are used and all have the same shooting ability even less when playing a team that has a bit of a dig

    1. Lordmac says:

      Sorry lads wrong thread lol

      1. Pub Bore says:

        Ah, but you’re right, Lord! Bread-and-butter games against the likes of Ross County, St Johnstone, and Hibs hardly prepares Celtic for European glory.

        The question is: what can Celtic offer the quality of player it needs to compete in Europe, apart from (perhaps) a back door to being signed to play in the English Premier League? And the answer is: very little!

        That’s why it’s stuck with the mediocrity of which you speak and will always struggle to escape it.

  12. Jim Bennett says:

    Great stuff, Mike. Thank you.

  13. Jake says:

    A great read throughout. The current polling is mind blowing, Starmer is an absolute disgrace.

    1. James Mills says:

      ” a disgrace ” , true , but his peerage is all but assured !

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