Friday, December 15, 2006


Politics Wins Over Principle, Yet Again

The Guardian excells itself today with the moral contumely it heaps on Tony Blair: 'yesterday was a shabby, shaming day'. First he was questioned in connection with the loans for peerages issue. Second he supported the Attorney General's 'surrender' to Saudia demands that the SFO drop its investigation into the BAE Al Yamamah mega-arms deal for fear that deals in the pipeline might be cancelled; the Saudi princes are alarmed it seems, that their practice of skimming commissions off big deals might be discontinued. There can be no doubt that both issues reflect no credit on Blair's administration and that both smack of a seedy disregard for the law.

However, maybe I'm losing my Guardian informed moral compass, but I cannot really work up too much indignation over either issue myself. Firstly prime ministerial sale of peerages-either for cash or favours- has been a tradition for centuries and it seems a little quixotic to mount a court case at this late stage in the day; Blair haters of course, are salivating at the prospect of him having his collar felt though the fact he was interviewed as a witness rather than a suspect suggests he will not personally face charges. Of more importance, it seems to me, is the dire state of party finances which threaten the very existence of our democracy.

Secondly, on the arms deal, I can't feel too much anger rising either. Such deals have always involved kick backs and all big companies allow for them when budgeting for sales efforts in the Middle east and elsewhere where such cultures obtain. It has, however, certainly proved an expensive waste of time for the SFO and is a humiliation for that office. But my rather cynical take is that politics often involves taking the course of expediency rather than strict principle and that this is a classic example, where, whatever Goldsmith might claim to the contrary, apart from the diplomatic angles pressures from business and constituencies employing the thousands making the arms, over-rode the importance of the law violation concerned. Again, I feel that a much more important moral concern is the malign effects of the worldwide arms trade itself.

The politics of reality. It’s great for Guardian journalists or Liberal Democrat politicians to pontificate on how terrible it is for the Director of the SFO to call off the Saudi arms investigation when their mortgages don’t depend on it. So Saudi ‘princes’ are skimming off the top? Well, of course they are but it is better that they are skimming a British arms contract employing thousands of British workers than a French or American one, which is what the alternative is.
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