Wednesday, 14 December 2011

No, non, niet - no idea!

"Who was responsible for ethical compliance?" I've just been watching the evidence of the News of the World's lawyer, Tom Crone, to the Leveson Inquiry. When asked that question, he seemed totally stumped, and in the end came up lamely with, "The Chief Executive, I suppose," (i.e. James Murdoch). When it was pointed out that the CEO had notional responsibility for everything, he responded that his own role he considered to be litigation compliance for articles. It seemed to me disturbing that it emerged that neither the legal department nor anyone else in a newspaper was responsible for the morality of what it publishes - disturbing and symptomatic. I'm hoping that the Inquiry will have the effect of shifting the press from unethical towards ethical journalism.

I gather that a new expression has entered the language. It's "doing a Clegg" and means something like going AWOL. It of course arises from the deputy prime minister's conspicuous absence from his boss's side when he triumphantly reported his "NO" to the cheering/jeering House of Commons. Strictly speaking David Cameron did not veto the Merkozy plan; he didn't forbid or block it. He just opted the UK out. Still it made good press, echoing nicely President de Gaulle's "NON" to Britain's entry into the EEC in 1967. Now that was a veto. We had to wait until his fall before applying again and becoming a member in 1973. One can only hope that our PM doesn't follow that other theatrical "NO", or rather "NIET"-sayer, Nikita Khrushchev's habit of banging his shoe on the table to emphasize his immovability. So unEnglish!

I've recently read an essay by the distinguished Nobel Laureate, Professor Amartya Sen, entitled Violence and Civil Society (in CAM 64) in which he argues that conflict is not best solved by state-sanctioned force. He carefully examines the commonly perceived factors giving rise to violence, such as class, poverty and religion. But they aren't the whole story.

There were two passages which struck me: "For example, appeals to country and nationality played a rousing role in the immensely bloody war in Europe between 1914 and 1918, and a shared religious background did nothing to stop the Germans, the British and the French from tearing each other apart. Yet, today, the Germans, the French and the British mix with each other in peace and tranquillity and sit together to decide what to do in their continent without reaching for their guns." Well, that was the vision behind the EU! Quite important we don't forget it.

Then there was this: "Democracy is more than a collection of specific institutions, such as balloting and elections - it is also dialogue, freedom of information and unrestricted discussion. These are also the central features of civil paths to peace." For some reason this put me in mind of the Occupy camp in the heart of that least transparent of places, the City of London, outside St Paul's Cathedral.

I've been asked why the Falconer "Commission" has taken longer to come out than expected. The answer is, I have no idea. I don't think it's because they got wind of something I'd written in anticipation  - I'm not that important or that vain, I hope. I imagine it's a matter of waiting until the serious news clears out of the way to leave it room for maximum publicity.

In this context, I found Amartya Sen's comment on what he calls "the solitarist approach to human identity" (which sees human beings as members of just one group, defined solely by their native civilisation, or religion etc) illuminating: "The solitarist approach is an excellent way of misunderstanding (my italics) nearly everyone in the world. The same person can be, without contradiction, of Asian origin, a Christian, a socialist, a woman, a jazz musician, a doctor, and one who believes that the most important problem in the world today is how to make South Africa the cricket champion of the world." I doubt whether the professor knows such a person, but it's a point well made. To assume that one factor in somebody controls all they think and do is dumb. We are not machines; we're complex individuals trying to live together.


  1. I don't think it's fair to say that the Prime Minister "triumphantly" announced his so-called "NO" - He may be a good actor but it seemed to me that he was sad at having to do what he perceived was his duty to you and me. Being part of the United States of Europe involves, say, Germany agreeing that although a certain action would lead to millions of German's becoming unemployed, they would none-the-less support it if it led to many more millions of French, Italians, Greeks, etc finding work. Alas, human nature isn't like that.

  2. Rebuke accepted, brother. I admit it was his Eurosceptic backbenchers who relished the moment. What I didn't understand was why, if the stability of the Eurozone is so essential to our own economy, we should want to stand in the way of measures aimed to achieve it. And anyway what we could effectively do one way or the other, being outside the zone. I'm not sure that the USE was the issue. But you're right. Politics has to deal the realities of human nature. There we go. Goodwill to our PM.