Saturday, March 03, 2007
Our Attorney General, it so happens, has been charged with some interesting responsibilities: legalising the government's decision to collaborate in the invasion of Iraq on behalf of Washington, most obviously; ordering the Serious Fraud Office to drop charges against British Aerospace on behalf of the government, while claiming that national security was somehow impaired by due legal process; managing prosecutions under the 'cash-for-honours' scandal, and now obstructing the BBC's broadcast of an item about the same scandal. The thing about the cash-for-honours inquiry is that it involves allegations of serious crimes in UK domestic law at the highest levels. Several individuals nominated for life peerages by the Prime Minister had donated large sums of money to the Labour Party at the suggestion of Lord Levy. The donations suggested, moreover, were not permanent, but loans: and this kind of donation, however indefinite, does not need to be declared under current UK law, which Lord Levy would certainly have understood to be the case. So it is criminal conduct at the highest level that is being investigated. Further, in contrast to the international legal institutions at which some hope for the Prime Minister to be tried for war crimes, there are legal institutions equipped with armed bodies and sovereign authority which can pursue the matter. There are clearly defined laws and sentences, and someone, even a high level politician, could go to prison. The Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 states that:
if any person accepts or obtains or agrees to accept or attempts to obtain from any person, for himself or for any other person, or for any purpose, any gift, money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.
This act was passed following a prolonged and embarrassing scandal in which Lloyd George was found to have sold the honour of the crown hand over fist, accruing £3 million for his party's funds, which I'm sure you realise was serious spending money in those times (by contrast, it would be hard pressed to the cover the current Prime Minister's various accomodation requirements). One man was arrested and convicted under those provisions, a record that this government certainly doesn't want to see broken.
The Attorney General is charged with bringing prosecutions in the name of the Crown within England and Wales, and as such the decision as to whether to prosecute anyone falls to him. Again, you exsanguinous leftists might be inclined to consider that his position in the cabinet actually raises the possibility of a conflict of interests, but the Attorney General has already provided his counsel on that matter: he says he needs to keep his post to ensure "accountability". You might then insist that he at least steps aside from the cash-for-honours case to avoid a conflict of interest, but he is one step ahead of you: "There can't be any question of an attorney general standing aside because of the special constitutional and indeed statutory responsibilities that I've got".
So, now the Attorney General has successfully sought the first injunction in relation to the inquiry, that being the gagging of the BBC over a story for 10 O'Clock News which, so the BBC claims, is in the public interest. In his suppression of the BAe inquiry, Goldsmith claimed that he had been advised by intelligence chiefs of a serious threat to national security, which neither the head of MI5 or MI6 was willing to confirm on media questioning. In this case, he has cited concerns about harm to the investigation by the Metropolitan Police and, to preempt imputations of dishonesty from the purveyors of your pernicious brand of wreckerism, has ensured that they released exactly the same statement as his office at the same time. So now no one can say that the highest legal authority in the land, with a position in the cabinet, is doing anything but promulgating his duties impartially and with most scrupulous adhesion to the law.
Talk of constitutional reform in the UK usually bores me stiff, because it doesn't address the root sources of power or policy. It may make the system slightly more equitable, and slightly less iniquitous, and to the extent that it does it deserves support. But this isn't only about a bizarre arrangement in which the Attorney-General gets to be in the cabinet, and there are more important structures of the British state (such as the privy council) that allow for a great deal of collegiate criminality at any rate. This story is about the lawlessness of New Labour, and its absolute dedication to serving the interests of the powerful. Not a single scandal that Goldsmith has been involved in has been so minor as a piddling constitutional issue: every single one has reflected the parlous condition of British parliamentary democracy, partially resulting from its long imperial tradition and in particular its subsumption into the American empire. New Labour shoring up its coffers may seem like a marginal pecuniary issue, but it reflects a substantial re-orientation in the British political landscape that began with the serious defeats inflicted in the labour movement in the 1980s. The Labour Party was perfectly primed for a takeover by the zealous Whigs around Blair and Brown following its fourth defeat at the polls, and the erosion of internal party democracy that followed, the pursuit of support from the most reactionary sectors of capital (not least Rupert Murdoch), the insults and attacks on the trade union movement, the top-down campaigns, the fixes, the sleaze, the right-wing policies, the betrayals, the warmongering, the assaults on civil liberty - all have resulted in the party losing hundreds of thousands of members, not to mention the support of several unions, and has pushed it further and further into the coffers of the arms manufacturers and energy consortiums and anyone who they can offer a peerage or a PFI contract to.
The ruling class of the United Kingdom wishes to preserve its privileges, and so does New Labour. They want to keep and expand the warfare state, by and large without controversy, and so does New Labour. They want a labour market that is disciplined by insecurity, unemployment and a pool of slave labour at the very bottom, and so does New Labour. The government has therefore accepted that the British arms industry is the single most important part of industry for the ruling class, the only one they are uniformly content to see billions of tax pounds spent on to ensure its insulation from the pressures of capitalist competition. It has accepted that there will be billions for a renewed nuclear weapons system deployed under the aggressive doctrine of the Bush administration. It has accepted that it must at all costs muck in with every main US imperial adventure, since only the Americans have the power to defend Britain's global interests. So if that means bribery (accepting or giving), extra-legal coercion, cover-ups, lies, confecting legal judgments and so on, the only problem is how to get away with it: but if you have the highest legal authority in the country at your debt, and in your government, that problem is close to being solved.