What fun it has been over the past couple of days! Firstly that excruciating interview with the Duke of York over his relations with the American billionaire and convicted serial paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Then, the following evening, an investigation into the present British prime minister’s relationship with another American, Jennifer Arcuri; which turns out to have been as ‘close’ – that is, sexual – as was widely suspected, until he dumped her, provoking last night’s electrifying ‘woman scorned’ performance on TV. What a treat for the tabloids! It reminds me of a headline I once read in the old News of the World, which I thought represented in one short sentence the main foci of the ‘yellow press’: ‘Duchess Wore Turban at Naked Parties’. It’s just what we needed, to take our minds off Brexit for a while.
Of course neither of these events is important in itself. ‘Boys will be boys’ (sorry!), and there’s little harm in those who are attractive, rich or important enough to be able to, seducing young women (or men) whenever they like, so long as it’s done consensually. I’m always grateful that I was none of those things, and so was almost never subjected to temptations which might have got me into trouble later. Likewise, I’ve never taken much interest in Royalty; which is why the other week I turned down an offer of £800 from the Sun newspaper to comment on the latest episode of The Crown, about the relationship between Harold Wilson and the Queen. (I’ve not watched The Crown, though I’m told it’s good.)
What were important, of course, were certain implications of the two affairs. The first was the accusation that Prince Whatsisname’s paedophile friend had provided him with an under-age girl to sleep with; which she claims, but he denies. The second was the fact that Boris, as Mayor of London, had granted substantial and profitable favours to his mistress’s commercial business, without declaring her as an ‘interest’ on the London Assembly’s books. Both of these are crimes, the second of which the London Metropolitan Police are currently investigating. That makes these events more than just merely titillating.
More generally, both of them illustrate quite vividly some deeply unattractive features of our British class system, as it relates to the upper classes and Royalty. Both Boris and the Prince appear to believe – or did, before these rows broke over their heads – that their positions in society rendered them immune to the moral constraints that ordinary people are subjected to; able, in other words, to do almost as they liked. In Boris’s case that also involves serial lying. In the Prince’s, it goes along with an entire lack of understanding or empathy for the wider problem, of child sexual abuse, that his behaviour was suspected to be a part of. Even if he had not noticed at the time that this was going on – which seems scarcely credible – he should have realised it by the time of his TV interview. (Especially as he is – or was – a patron of the NSPCC.) This illustrates their arrogance. These people really do live in a different world. All of them are immensely rich, too, which may have something to do with it. Yet there they are: over and above us still.
Then – quite fortuitously – came the BBC’s splendid new adaptation of HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds. That began with a Martian attack on Woking. (It’s the same in the book, too, I seem to remember.) Did anyone else notice that it was the ‘Pizza Express’ in Woking that the Duke claimed furnished his alibi – he claims he was there with his kids – for the night his under-aged girlfriend maintained he danced ‘sweatily’ with her in a night club before taking her off to have sex with her? What is it about Woking? I’ve not been there; but I’m sure it doesn’t deserve to be invaded by both the Martians and Prince Andrew.
These days – as you imply – a person of the upper classes would be aware that their transgressions might cause them the double blow of prosecution and media-driven public humiliation. Many of the enablers surrounding Trump have been prosecuted and jailed; the list is quite impressive. Trump himself will be vulnerable when he leaves office. Weinstein awaits trial in January next year; Epstein was arrested and pushed over the edge; Andrew’s extradition to the US is not beyond the bounds of possibility if his cards fall the wrong way. Boris Johnson is currently the subject of a police inquiry. Again, as you state, their feelings of immunity have turned out to be illusions. On the other hand, the plethora of crimes, which were overlooked in the lead up to and during the GFC, fit your case well. Could the tide be different now compared to 2008?
Perhaps of greater significance is that the rich do not really need to cheat. They have, piece by piece over the past two hundred years or more, fashioned a socio-political system where their interests are protected and their advantages are enhanced. Exploitation of labour and resources for private benefit is regarded as a perfectly legitimate form of economic activity. Arranging massive salaries for CEO and their lackeys is viewed as an outcome of impersonal markets doing their job. Socialising losses and privatising profits is regarded as an accepted part of doing business.
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Except locally where newspapers in the past, when there was an extensive local press, took a prurient interest in the crimes and misdemeanours of the ‘ordinary’ and not ordinary, as reported from the magistrates courts. The consequences could be considerable, perhaps proportionately greater than that faced by Johnson or Andrew who will probably never face prosecution.
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Very amusing post, Bernard.
However, one of your claims requires critical scrutiny: “Both Boris and the Prince appear to believe – or did, before these rows broke over their heads – that their positions in society rendered them immune to the moral constraints that ordinary people are subjected to; able, in other words, to do almost as they liked.” This suggests a belief that the behaviour of ‘ordinary people’ is constrained by an adherence to a moral code, whereas in general members of the upper classes do as they like. I think it would be very hard to redeem a claim that persons of the lower classes do not also feel sufficiently free to engage in lying, adultery, theft, cheating, acts of violence, racism, sexism, ageism, harassment, Brexit supporting, Tory and UKIP voting, etc.
I’m under no illusions about the propensity of ‘ordinary people’ to lie, etc. But don’t you think the upper classes tend to have a special sense – or illusion – of personal immunity, stemming from their position in society, and the protection that affords them – or used to? And perhaps also from their cloistered and privileged upbringings? Other people’s immunity mainly arises from the fact that no-one – that is, the media – is likely to take any interest in their misdemeanours.