Mark Oaten, Rent Boys and the Secret Police: A View of How England Is Governed at the End of Its History
by Sean Gabb
by Sean Gabb
At a dinner party last Wednesday, I fell into conversation with a friend who is also a friend of Mark Oaten. He ? for those of my readers who do not live in England or in the present ? was at the time the home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrat Party, and was standing for the leadership of his party. I heard from my friend that Mr. Oaten’s office had just been burgled. We passed an interesting ten minutes speculating on which of his rivals had commissioned the burglary, and what might have been found. We agreed on looking forward to Thursday morning for the newspaper reports.
Except for a paragraph in The Guardian, there were no newspaper reports of the burglary. The big news instead was that Mr. Oaten had withdrawn from the leadership contest. The lack of coverage of the burglary, together with concentration on its probable effect, suggested some involvement by the secret police. But why should it matter to them, I asked, who led the Liberal Democrat Party? And what was the nature of the dirt they had found in his office and used against him?
The second question was answered this morning by The News of the World. This revealed how Mr. Oaten had been consorting for some time with male prostitutes, and that these had on at least one occasion been paid to humiliate him with what the reporter described as “a bizarre sex act too revolting to describe.” Bearing in mind what sexual acts do get routinely described, and even shown, in the British media nowadays, the mind reels at what Mr. Oaten must have been doing. Not surprisingly, he had already resigned from the Liberal Democrat front bench, and his political career is probably over.
I turn now to the first question. Why should the secret police take any interest in fixing the election to lead the Liberal Democrat Party? Why destroy Mr. Oaten? His views, after all, were about the closest of any of the candidates to those of the other party leaders. He would in no sense have promised any radical departure from the consensus. Yet he has been destroyed, and with a memorable brutality. Why?
My answer is that Mr. Oaten was destroyed because he was foolish enough to stand in the way of the latest stage in the reshaping of our politics. He fell victim to a conspiracy.
I grant ? I have no factual evidence for what I am about to say. No one has taken me aside and whispered into my ear, or given me classified documents. Aside from having heard about the burglary last week, I have no more information than anyone else. This being said, the facts as we have them do suggest a hidden cause. I could state the facts and reason back to this cause. However, I am not writing for some learned journal, and I find it more entertaining to assume the cause, and then show how it provides a scheme of explanation for the facts.
I assume that the ruling class of this country ? or a significant group within it ? has lost confidence in Tony Blair as Prime Minister, and in the Labour Party as a governing force. This, if true, is the main fact in our politics. Indeed, it has become the connecting thread for the whole present narrative of politics in this country.
Now, some of my friends ? and one was with me at that dinner party of last Wednesday ? believe that there is something called “The Blair Project,” and that the content of this is determined by and connected with nothing more than the momentary electoral convenience of Mr. Blair. They laugh at me if I insist that there is any more significant connecting thread for events.
For all they laugh, they are wrong. It is possible to see, during the past 25 years in at least this country, a movement towards a new settlement in politics. This movement has continued regardless of who has occupied which office, and regardless of what party has won which election. It is clear that the ruling class ? or that loose coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, educators, and media and business people who derive wealth and power and status from an enlarged and active state ? wants an end of liberal democracy. The desired new settlement is one in which those at the top or with the right connections can enjoy the most fabulous wealth and status, and in which their enjoyment of these can never again be challenged from below. We, the ordinary people, are to be stripped of our constitutional rights ? no freedom of speech, no personal or financial privacy, no procedural safeguards in the criminal law. We are to be taxed and regulated to what counts in our own culture as the edge of the breadline. This is on the one hand to provide incomes for clients of the ruling class, and on the other to deprive us of the leisure that might allow us to understand our situation, and of the confidence that might allow us to challenge it. In any event, every organ of the ruling class is at work on promoting ideologies of boundless submission to the new settlement.
At the same time, structures of accountability that emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries are to be deactivated. Their forms will continue. There will be assemblies at Westminster. But these will not be sovereign assemblies with the formal authority of life and death over us all. That authority will have been passed to various unelected and transnational agencies. And so far as the Westminster assemblies will remain important, our votes will have little effect on what they enact.
We are passing into the sort of world that existed in much of Europe before the French Revolution ? a world of diverse and conflicting sources of authority, all equally unaccountable. The great simplification of authority that happened in Europe after 1789, and that had happened over two centuries earlier in England, was a product of nationalism; and simplification was followed by accountability and then by liberalism. This sort of reaction is in future to be made impossible by promoting movements of people so that nations in the old sense disappear, and are replaced by patchworks of nationalities more suspicious of each other than of any ruling class.
The progress of this counter-Enlightenment can be seen in the statute book ? from the removal of the unanimity rule in jury trials in the Criminal Justice Act 1967, to the European Communities Act 1972, to the subsequent Criminal Justice Acts, to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, to the Civil Contingencies Act and the Terrorism Act 2005. In these, we have a clear movement towards despotism. This movement did not begin in 1997. The Election of the Blair Government marked no change of direction ? but only of pace. The policies of state we have at present have not been set because they suit the electoral convenience of Tony Blair. Mr. Blair became Prime Minister because he seemed at the time best suited to carry forward policies of state set by others.
But his usefulness is at an end. He is no longer wanted by those who matter, and his party is no longer wanted.
Therefore, the Conservative Party has been brought back from the dead. It has been given a leader who has accepted almost everything done by Labour since 1997, and whose objections are confined to those areas within which the ruling class is itself divided. Because of what he is ? or of what he says and does ? Mr. Cameron has been cried up by our controlled media as a man of outstanding charm and vision. In contrast, the Government is every day reviled in the media for some new dereliction ? alleged “paedophiles” allowed to teach in schools, or complicity in the use of torture by the Americans, for example ? that would once have been discussed in terms too restrained to cause instability.
My advice to anyone who likes to gamble is to bet on a Conservative victory at the next election. Do not suppose that this will be a government of conservatives. Just as the Labour victory in 1997 caused no break in continuity, so the replacement of Labour will in turn change nothing fundamental. But there is to be a change of faces at the top.
All that stands in the way of a Conservative revival is the effect on our electoral system of the Liberal Democrat Party. This has benefited since 1997 from the oblivion to which the ruling class and its media condemned the Conservatives. It holds several score seats taken from the Conservatives, and splits the anti-Labour vote in scores of other seats.
Therefore, Charles Kennedy was forced earlier this month to resign as Liberal Democrat leader. The cover story was that he was a drunkard and had been useless in his position, and that the challenge came from Menzies Campbell. So far as I can tell, he had been pretty effective ? more so than most party leaders. As for Mr. Campbell ? let us, by the way, stop recognising the titles handed round within the ruling class: now that our Constitution is no longer liberal or democratic, its honours are to be regarded again as mere feudalistic baubles ? I doubt he is bright enough to tie his own shoe laces. Mr. Kennedy was forced out because he was too effective as party leader for the Conservatives to recover. He was threatened with a personal destruction so horrible that he resigned on the spot and was glad to call himself a drunk in public. Mr. Campbell was then told to get ready to preside over the electoral collapse of his party.
Then Mark Oaten announced he would run for the leadership. Given his public views, he might have thought himself the preferred candidate of the ruling class. He misread the situation. He was probably warned, in the usual elliptical way, that he should withdraw from the contest. He did so too late. The reporters had already been briefed, and the front pages cleared. By then, he had been too much of an irritant, or was too unimportant, to save.
The nature of his sexual tastes had no bearing on the decision to break him. I have never met a Member of Parliament who was not obviously into drink or bribes or unconventional sex. The secret police make sure that no one who cannot at the right moment be pressured into conformity will come close to being elected to Parliament.
Nor have the Liberal Democrats been the only minor party targetted for destruction. The UK Independence Party is dead as an electoral force. There is a limit to how much infighting a political party can survive. UKIP has been torn apart by agents of entry and of provocation, and is headed for collapse. Because of its authoritarian structure, the British National Party is less open to such attacks. Therefore, its leader has been put on trial for political offences that carry a maximum sentence of seven years. Since I believe Mr. Griffin is himself an agent of the secret police who has gone beyond his brief, I suspect the present trial in Leeds will end in a compromise. Do not expect the BNP to continue offering in future the sort of challenge to the new settlement in our politics it seemed until recently on the verge of offering.
So, lucky Mr. Cameron. All he has to do now is ensure the ruling class remains disenchanted with the present Government, and hope that enough of the electorate fails to see what is being done to the country and will continue to legitimise a settlement that in its sordid authoritarianism taints the preceding thousand years of English history.
But if what is happening in England now is distressing and even shameful, it is also compulsively interesting.
January 24, 2006
Sean Gabb [send him mail] is the author of Smoking, Class and the Legitimation of Power. See his website