There’s been a slew of ‘what does this say about Britain?’ articles in the wake of the News of the World scandal (the answer can be summarised as ‘nothing good’, by the way). This is from The New York Times and is by an expat journo coming home. He concludes:
…a man who had a season in Downing Street over the past year as one of Mr. Cameron’s advisers surveyed the turmoil of the News of the World scandal and offered a revealing conclusion. Britain, he said, resembled more than anything, a “post-communist society” — unhinged from the old verities, and not yet in sight of anything enduring to replace them. It made for a disheartening verdict on a deeply discouraging week”
All to be expected, of course – the OpEd factory never sleeps. However, I thought it might be worth pointing to an instance that suggests things weren’t so white in the old days, that upstanding and morally superior time before we suffered the depredations of Murdoch, before we fell into our morally ‘unhinged’, Sodom-like state.
We’ve been here before, but worse. It was back in the ’60s but before the decade had really begun to swing. The affair had it all really: a full house of dodgy relationships, between politicians, the press, organised crime and the police. At its heart were two corrupt politicians who not only socialised with the most notorious East End gangster of our time but lobbied on his behalf, including in Parliament. But it was an affair that involved almost the entire British Establishment, covered up as it almost certainly was with the connivance of party leaderships and press barons. Its consequences were the creation of a nexus of relationships – a sort of loose conspiracy – which may well have hampered the investigation and prosecution of London gangsterism for years.
Bob Boothby (top) and Tom Driberg, one Tory and a former government minister, the other a perennial Labour backbench rebel, were both one-time lovers and frequent party guests of Ronnie Kray, who used to procure rough boys for their delectation. The foreign press got wind of it all, Stern publishing an exposé, which was picked up by the Sunday Mirror. A cover-up was rapidly and effectively put in place, the Sunday Mirror even paying a lumpy £40,000 to Boothby in an out-of-court settlement (enough to have funded a country house). There can be little doubt that it was all facilitated by the leaderships of both political parties. The fact that Boothby had written for the News of the World (ahem) and Driberg for the Express, both of them having close connections to press barons, also helped hush things up.
Whilst cross-party political influence inhibited press investigations of the affair, it’s highly likely that it also deterred the police from clamping down on the Krays’ criminal activities. As such this was a knowing, deliberate conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, one which was never unwound and prosecuted: in this sense, it was much worse than today’s scandal. It seems we adhere to the ‘old verities’ more than our disheartened commentators might think.
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