Sunday, 7 June 2015

How corrupt is Britain?

The reader is left in no doubt what the answer is to the question posed in the title, come the end of this engrossing book. The answer is very corrupt, bordering in fact on bandit status.

David Whyte has expertly brought together 14 different sharply written essays covering the vast span of the corruption eroding life in the UK and beyond. The starting point for the book came with a conference held in Liverpool on May 10, 2013 titled How corrupt is Britain. It was the contributions on that day that began the process that led to the book.

The unique element of the book is in exposing institutional corruption in such a broad span of public life. So it starts with an examination of neo-liberalism. This exposes how the private sector has virtually taken over the public, with a revolving door operating between the two. A whole new moral compass being established that judges everything according to the market.

Police corruption is the next area examined. So there is the exposure of the gross corruption that involved the likes of the West Midlands Police, which had already been mired in controversy over its handling of the Birmingham pub bombings in the 1970s, somehow finishing up playing a major role in covering up the corruption of the South Yorkshire police in relation to what happened at Hillsborough in 1989.

There is exposure of the totally ineffectual nature of bodies like the Independent Police Complaints Commission, largely staffed with former and serving police officers in bringing about any justice. The separate chapters written by different writers move from Hillsborough to the murder of Stephen Lawrence and finally the death of Mark Duggan – shot by police in 2011.

There is then a section of four chapters on the corruption of government and institutions, encompassing the role played by the British state in torture in Northern Ireland and beyond, institutional child abuse and the operation of the Private Finance Initiative.

The final section deals with corruption in finance and the corporate sector, looking at how the banks have got away with huge corruption both in the UK and through the tax haven networks. The different chapters are well written, punctuated with facts that bring you up short, such as that the mis-selling of private pensions costing individuals £11 billion-“dwarfing the costs of almost all estimates of all forms of ‘street’ crime put together.”

Author Steve Tombs chronicles how the banks defrauded people of billions over private pensions, endowment schemes linked to morgages and the PPI scandals. Then quietely reminds the reader that these corrupt practices were undertaken by the retail side of the banks, the part that there has been the great focus on separating off from the investment (casino style) banking that is credited with causing the financial crisis of 2008.

The tendency with such a book could be to just drive the reader away to bury their head under a pillow but the different chapters from separate authors help the book retain a refreshing sharpness. David Whyte deserves great credit for the way he has brought these different aspects of the corruption picture together into a coherent narrative. He outlines that narrative in the introduction, which effectively summarises all of the parts that come in the chapters that follow. It is a broad span of corrupt practices found in almost all elements of public and private life in the UK today. Arguably there are other areas that would also warrant a chapter, such as phone tapping by the newspapers and the corruption of MPs expenses. However, overall this is an excellent if disturbing read that exposes they hypocrisy of a country that so often likes to portray itself as some sort of beacon of probity in a corrupt world.

* Published by Pluto Press £16.99

Review - Not as nice as we say we are - Tablet - published 6/6/2015

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