Savile Country

The more we learn about the horrendous crimes committted by the creature that was Sir James Wilson Vincent Savile, the more it becomes clear that the former ‘national treasure’ was one of the most prolific and psychopathic sexual predators in British history – a man without a shred of pity, compassion or human empathy.  Last week Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt ‘apologized’ for these crimes and said that they should  ‘shake this house and the country to the core’.

Somehow I suspect that both the house and the country will remain resolutely unshaken.   Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Savile’s crimes is the stunning discrepancy between the essentially revolting and horrific nature of the man himself, and the public perception of Savile during his lifetime.

Too many people glorified, honoured and revered him.  Too many either got him grossly wrong – or ignored evidence of his wrongness and turned a blind eye to his crimes, or at worst, actually colluded in them and covered them up.  In this sense,  Savile’s crimes tell us somethingabout the kind of country that Britain was – and to some extent still is, and the institutions and attitudes that made them possible.

1) Britain was – and to a large extent still is – a country dominated by men.  Whatever his personal sexual pecularities and proclivities for babies, old people and the dead, Savile exhibited a certain sense of male entitlement that regarded female bodies of whatever age as objects for his sexual gratification, and nothing else.   Nothing specially British about that – but Savile’s views on women – and minors – were clearly shared by many of his BBC colleagues and by other men too, or were at least not deemed worthy of challenge.

2) Britain is a country in which power confers carte blanche in certain circles to do whatever you want, to whomever you want.  The West Yorkshire police officers who were members of Savile’s ‘Friday morning club’ and may have helped cover up his crimes; the BBC managers who failed to investigate Savile and did not even have the guts to allow a documentary about his crimes to go out on air; the hospital managers who ignored complaints about his behavior – all of these were individuals in positions of public responsibility who grossly failed in their duty to enforce and uphold the law, to care and protect the weak and vulnerable, or tell the truth about Savile because the truth was too unpleasant for them.   So far none of them have been exposed or paid a price for it.

3) Britain is a country filled with people who are essentially deferential towards those above them, who will always shut up and be silent when told to, just as some police and hospital staff did when they made complaints about Savile to their line or senior managers and were ordered not to mention them again.   Some may do so out of fear of being libelled or losing their jobs, others subordinate their moral principles to the overriding goal of advancing their own careers and ‘getting on’.  Savile was a particularly horrendous beneficiary of such cowardice and moral turpitude.

3) Britain is a society where too many people regard the rich and famous with the dim-witted reverential fascination once reserved for viscounts and barons.  Some of Savile’s starry-eyed admirers clearly saw him a source of money, status or prestige, and his power also stemmed from his fame and his proximity to other famous people.

Savile was a flashy trashy product of the celebrity pseudo-aristocracy that emerged from the crossover of pop music and fashion in the 60s.   He used that position to worm his way into the heart of the British establishment, and also to exert sexual power over the wannabe young girls who gravitated towards him.  Like his sleazy peer Max Clifford, and some of his BBC colleagues, Savile used his proximity to the stars to extract sexual ‘favors’ – and there were clearly those who were willing victims.

4) Britain is a society where fame makes people credulous and stupid.  Granted, Prince Charles and Princess Diana didn’t know that he was a sexual predator and a necrophiliac who wore jewellery made from dead people’s glass eyes, but you have to be a pretty poor judge of character to believe that such a man could counsel you about your marriage.

But they weren’t the only ones with poor judgement.  Margaret Thatcher once condemned the ‘permissive society’ and claimed that ‘ A society must have rules if it is to be civilised.’   Yet the necrophiliac paedophile who raped brain-damaged young girls was her friend, and became a Christmas guest of the Thatcher family for eleven years.  And then there was  Mary Whitehouse, the arch-puritan and defender of childhood innocence, who praised Savile’s show for providing ‘wholesome family entertainment’ in 1977.

And the millions of tv viewers who preferred to believe in a pop-eyed peroxide fairy godfather who went around ‘fixing’ things, rather than looking for ways to ‘fix’ things themselves, and ignored inconvenient facts that contradicted that image.  We are, after all, talking about a man who publicly expressed his fondness for dead people and who once joked to a young paraplegic patient ‘ now I can have my way with you’ in an interview with a national newspaper.  Yet this utter creep was regarded by a large swathe of the British public as some kind of secular saint.

5) Britain is a Tory country, steeped in Tory ideology.  Savile was lionised by Tory governments and the Thatcher government in particular.  Hunt is quite right to criticize his predecessor Edwina Currie for allowing a DJ free access to a top security mental hospital because Savile promised to break a union strike and impose new working patterns on the staff.  But his  appointment took place at a time when the Thatcher government was closing dozens of mental hospitals under its ‘care in the community’ program – closures which made thousands of mental patients homeless and without any care at all.

For Currie and her colleagues, closures were accompanied by a drive to impose  new ‘working patterns’ on hospital staff who were still in their jobs, so why not get someone like Savile to help ‘fix it’ for them?   The Tories always love to bring in unqualified outsiders when they are trying to break up or ‘discipline’ the public sector.  To the Thatcher government, the mentally-ill were little more than a burden on the public purse, powerless and therefore worthless deviants who were natural victims of public sector cuts.   Why would such a government look too closely into who had responsibility for them, if that person was singing from the same political page?

Savile’s appeal to the Tory party also stemmed from his charitable work.   To a government that viscerally loathed the whole concept of a tax-funded health service, and upheld ‘Victorian values’ as a model for ‘post-industrial’ British society, Savile’s philantrophy and  corporate fundraising was also a model for the NHS – a future-in-the-past in which health and education were no longer dependent on state funding but on the whims of entrepreneurs and self-made men.

At Stoke Mandeville, for example, Savile raised millions of pounds from Japanese corporations to pay for a hospital that should have been financed publicly.  No wonder its  management team let Savile run it as if it were his own personal property and turned a blind eye to complaints and rumours.  How many of ‘Savile’s hospitals’ did the same thing, in order not to jeapordize their funding streams?

So yes, let Savile ‘shake the country to the core.’   Because a country that allowed such things to happen deserves to be shaken.  And let us name those who should be named and ask the questions that should be asked, not just about him, but about those who made his crimes possible.

That would be pretty much the only good thing that could come out of this infinitely sad and disgusting business.

Jonathan Freedland’s Olympic Kumbaya

For some time now Jonathan Freedland has been The Guardian‘s state-of-the-nation zeitgeist guy, with a trusted ability to churn out fluffy sentimental prose on national occasions, from which analysis and meaning are generally absent.

Yesterday he outdid himself with nearly three pages of stunning claptrap on the Olympic Games, culminating in these startlingly idiotic observations:

Seven years ago we told the world that we could come together to stage a spectacular Olympic Games and that we were a kinder, gentler, more inclusive country, open to the rest of humanity. The world believed it. The question is, can we believe it too?

To which the answer from this reader is, no we freaking can’t you posturing buffoon.   And how dare you insult the intelligence of your readers by even suggesting such a possibility?

The idea that the Olympic Committee agrees to stage the Olympic Games in London or anywhere else on the basis of whether their hosts are ‘ kinder, gentler, more inclusive’ – is so fatuous that Freedland ought to be led through the streets sitting backwards on a donkey and wearing a jester’s hat.

But so too is the notion that Britain deserves any of the adjectives that he so thoughtlessly attaches to it.   Kinder?   Gentler? More inclusive?

This is a country that routinely to seeks to punish the most weak and vulnerable sectors of society for a crisis they did not cause; where even wheelchair-bound disabled people or cancer patients are likely to have their benefits cut; where violent cops can kill with complete impunity.

It’s a country where landlords in the East End house tenants in garden sheds; whose governments are continually whittling away at the institutions of social solidarity that are genuinely inclusive, such as as the NHS and the comprehensive education system; where disability organizations report a rise in hate crimes against disabled people in the last few years; where migrants and asylum seekers are stigmatized as parasites and criminals and reduced to destitution; where the Metropolitan police bashed in the heads of teenagers during the student fees demonstrations, secure in the knowledge that none of them would ever have to account for their behavior to anyone.

And how ‘open to the outside world’ is a government that boasts of its determination to cut migration to the tens of thousands in order to placate the most xenophobic and racist sections of the British public, even though its own advisers have concluded that hostility to immigration is damaging the country’s economic recovery?

London 2012 is in many ways a microcosm of a British society run by a corrupt and incompetent elite of grasping politicians, dodgy bankers and financiers, and  security companies and consultants on lucrative government contracts, whose lack of accountability or integrity is exemplified by the cloddish performance of G4S in the run up to the Games; by the warmonger entrusted with the ‘Olympic legacy’ who has called on Britain to ‘show a little pride’ even as he – and the government – are engaged in blocking the Chilcot Inquiry’s access to key documents on the Iraq war.

Then there is the smug, vulpine visage of the culture and sport secretary Jeremy Hunt, as blatant a corporate tool (in every sense of the word) who ever held office, who nearly laid out a spectator with a bell yesterday that would have been better used on himself, and should not even have a job were it not for the fact that he is protected by an old Etonian PM who has nothing to offer the population but falling living standards and years of ‘austerity’ that are already bringing  the country to its knees.

All this is ignored in Freedland’s vapid celebration of the most corporate of all Olympic Games as a national kumbaya moment that will unite the country and define ‘ our place in the world.’

Call me a cynic but I have to say, no they won’t, and nor should they be expected to.  And Freedland’s pretentious bathos has failed to make me feel differently, and has only reminded me why I want nothing to do with the whole fake ghastly spectacle.






Rupert Murdoch’s Little Shop of Horrors

Facing commercial disaster and the prospect of a criminal investigation in the United States,  the carnivorous plant that is News International is in deep trouble, and the master florist is coming out fighting in an attempt to save his creation.   Yesterday Rupert Murdoch’s testimony at the Leveson Inquiry was very different from his appearance in parliament last year.

Gone was the faux-humility and contrition.  Instead there was faux modesty, cynicism and disdain, broken by convenient attacks of amnesia.   Asked  by QC Robert Jay whether his newspapers exercised undue influence over British politics to the point when they might even be considered ‘anti-democratic,’ Murdoch dismissed such suggestions as ‘myths’ propagated by his commercial rivals and played down the significance of his political interventions over the years.

Nor had he sought to trade off his political influence for commercial advantage.  Asked by Jay whether his desire to improve the commercial position of his newspapers had led him to overlook ‘the ethical side of its product’ he replied:

[stextbox id=”alert”]A. No. It was always to tell the truth, certainly to interest the public, to get their attention, but always  to tell the truth.
Q. So the touchstones are: truthfulness and write that
which is interesting to the public. Is that it?
A. Yes. I have great respect for the British public, and
I try to carry that through it.[/stextbox]

And again:

[stextbox id=”alert”]Q. I think your evidence is this, Mr Murdoch. You are
completely oblivious to the commercial benefits to your
company of a particular party winning an election; is
that really the position?
A. Yes, absolutely[/stextbox]

You at the back there with the popcorn: stop sniggering or you will be ejected from the auditorium.  For Murdoch is not the only one who is lying or trimming the truth at the edges, and even as the News International plant wilts, it continues to sprout new buds containing the faces of those it has devoured.

Yesterday there was Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt,  shifty, evasive, and utterly unconvincing as he read out a statement that was surely intended to protect his boss as much as himself.   For all his arrogance and bluster,  David Cameron is sounding increasingly shrill and desperate these days, and his attempts to play down his connections with News International are no exception.

Cameron would undoubtedly have preferred Murdoch not to have told the Leveson Inquiry that they met privately on seven occasions – five more than he himself has  publicly admitted to.  But Murdoch is a man who likes his revenge served up cold, and he has lots of dishes waiting in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, outside the parliamentary theatre, Hunt’s special advisor Adam Smith, the sacrificial offering could be seen, being driven away in a car with the sombre demeanour of a man who has just been selected as a participant in The Hunger Games.   Then there was the loathsome toady Michael Gove, defending Hunt’s honour and probity on television.

Gove has also defended Rupert Murdoch’s honour in the past, as well he might, since his wife is a Times columnist and News International is keen to take advantage of his academies programme and take advantage of the potentially lucrative market in digitalised classrooms.  

And further north, we find Alex Salmond, denying any political quid pro quo in his attempts to lobby on behalf of Murdoch’s BSkyB bid.   Labour are relishing all this for reasons that are entirely due to opportunism rather than principle, given the number of Labour politicians who also appear in the News International tendrils.

All honourable men no doubt.  But it isn’t a pretty sight, this morbid overlap between a ruthless rightwing media baron and the craven and self-interested politicians who have alternately feared and pandered to him over the years.

All of them have played what Murdoch refers to as ‘the game’ and used each other, or tried to, for their own purposes.   And now the feds broken into the florist’s and they the clientele is trying to get out the back door or pretending it was never there.

But Rupert’s Shop of Horrors is easier to enter than it is to leave, and the plant may still have a lot of political blood to drink and more reputations and careers to shred before it expires.