Just for a change of pace, some politics.
Recent revelations about the financial affairs of the UK’s leading politicians have proven compelling viewing for those who enjoy watching the rich and powerful squirm. Particularly revealing – and a tad bizarre – was the recent statement by the MP and former Tory minister, Sir Alan Duncan, who spoke out in Parliament in defence of his master, David Cameron, after the Prime Minister came under fire for his dubious tax arrangements.
“Shouldn’t the Prime Minister’s critics really just snap out of the synthetic indignation and admit that their real point is that they hate anyone who has got a hint of wealth in them?” began Sir Alan. “May I support the Prime Minister in fending off those who are attacking him, particularly in thinking of this place, because if he doesn’t, we risk seeing a House of Commons which is stuffed full of low-achievers who hate enterprise, hate people who look after their own family and know absolutely nothing about the outside world.”
The phrase, with friends like that… leaps to mind. It certainly doesn’t sound much like what somebody with any knowledge of the outside world might say in full view of the electorate.
Duncan probably imagined he was making the point that government needs the involvement of businessmen, who might be scared off if their tax arrangements routinely come under scrutiny. In doing so, he must be one of the few political commentators arguing that big business doesn’t have enough influence over politics, at a time when pretty much everybody else is trying to work out how to stop business lobbies from corrupting governments. Setting that aside, I think his statement tells us a few other things about a certain mindset that prevails in much of modern politics.
If nothing else, Sir Alan is to be applauded for his candour. It was one of those rare moments when you felt somebody in the House of Commons let the mask slip and inadvertently gave a glimpse of what they really think. Candid perhaps. Smart: not so much. Duncan’s one of those characters who is just astute enough to fool himself into thinking he’s a good deal cleverer than he actually is. Dazzled by his own brilliance, he’s blinded to his own serious limitations.
If Corbyn wants to win the next election he should just use this on a loop as the Labour party political broadcast.
It’s an archetypal example of the toxic Tory myth of the businessman as ubermenschen, of privilege being the same as virtue, that our value can be measured in pounds, shillings and pence. But it’s a myth so easily dismissed. Nobody outside the sociopathic realms of business thinks that somebody who, say, saves lives in their daily work is worth less than the besuited parasites who cheat people using small print.
We don’t hate anyone with a hint of wealth. But if you’re reasonably savvy, you’re instinctively wary, because most of the methods for accruing fortunes are not indicative of good character.
Sir Alan might sneer at the under-achievers, but what’s he achieved? Well, he was a very successful businessman, earning substantial amounts dealing in oil with the Gulf States. But if one region threatens world peace, it is the Middle East, and if one thing destabilised the region it was the willingness of Western businessmen to deal with corrupt Arab regimes for quick profits. If Britain became involved in any dubious conflicts, then the interests of our oil magnates were the trigger. It is difficult to imagine we would be allied with some of the most immoral tyrannical states on the planet, if it didn’t suit the interests of businessmen. Like Alan.
Then Sir Alan went into politics. To try and undo any harm he may have done as a businessman? Not quite. He has repeatedly tried to abuse the system, pocketing public funds, boasted about it, then been obliged to back down and apologise. Duncan tried to fiddle the justly infamous buy-to-let scheme. He was among the worst of the abusers of the MP’s expenses scheme. He infamously claimed thousands for gardening. Then topped it off by claiming that the MP’s salary of 64 grand (not including expenses natch) was impossible to live on, that MPs “live on rations and are treated like shit.”
In short, Alan is most definitely an achiever. Though many of his achievements might warrant prison under a less deferential justice system.
I’m not sure the country can handle too many more over-achievers like Alan. After all, somebody’s got to do something fucking useful with their lives.
Meanwhile, ever the consummate politician, here is the man himself in action, showing the mixture of charm and foresight that make for a born statesman…