So she resigned. What next?

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Imagine my disappointment  this morning when, over breakfast, the man on the radio told me that the subject of today’s blog had already resigned.

‘Damn it!’ I shouted as I launched my weetabix across the room with one hand, and slammed the other onto the kitchen counter, ‘what now?’

I had been gazumped, or, as my name is already Gaz, I had just been ‘umped’. All I had wanted from this whole debacle was to see the back of Maria Miller after I had written this blog telling people why.

But then, I thought, as the blood trickled from my knuckles onto a passing ant, maybe I can still do the blog, but about the reaction to her resignation?

I turned up the radio, and lo and behold, an interview was already underway between John Humphries and some of those politician types: one from each of the main two colours – you know, the red and blue ones, the Smurfs and the Hellboy’s.

Humphries started by asking the lady from the reds what she thought:

“It should have happened last week! It has further damaged politics and the public perception of politicians” she declared, rather more vigorously than her actual party did, but still with all the sentiment of a walnut.

The man Humphries jumped at his chance to ask if politicians should perhaps, you know, not ‘mark their own homework’. To which the red lady agreed in the strongest, vaguest terms possible.

The other, from the blues (you can tell by the way they talk usually, they sound ‘bluish’) – was a bit annoyed at only having 1 minutes and 20 seconds of air time left on national radio to defend his recently departed colleague, and wasted a whole twenty seconds in telling us so. But then, when he had got that slight off his chest, he said:

“I don’t think anything needs to change with how we monitor ourselves. If the media had actually read the report last week and reported on it accurately, this whole thing would have turned out differently.” Etc…

And then they ran out of time. Poor blue man felt very put out for only having such a short amount of time to reiterate that nothing needs to change and it was everybody else’s fault. He needn’t have worried, I think we got the picture (even though it was on the radio, which is really clever).

So I switched off the voices, muttering some violent swearword in regards to the last speaker, and came to my computer to find out more. Luckily, it seems the rest of the country was also listening to the radio, because it’s all over the news.

The little part of me that was relieved that Maria Miller had finally resigned, was soon quashed when I read the gushing acceptance of her decision by David Cameron. All of a sudden, I felt like, well, like, like, well, like – I don’t know what I felt, but it was somewhere between crushing inevitability and hopeless frustration. And here is why, in neatly summarised bullet points:

  •          It shouldn’t have happened in the first place
  •          Why should MPs have the luxury of managing their own departures/resignations after committing fraud?
  •          What does it say about the world-view of the PRIME MINISTER of this country, when he so obviously favours self-protection of his inner circle over the people of this country and basic moral decency?
  •          Why weren’t Labour officially calling for her to resign? Apart from a few dissenting voices, the cross-party political class basically closed ranks on this, VS ‘the public’. (the obvious answer is again, self-protection, should they ever  need to use this ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ system for their own ends).  You are meant to be the cocking opposition!
  •          She still isn’t going to be paying any more money back or facing criminal charges from the look of it, so she’s done rather well for herself, and no longer even needs to worry about going to work! She can probably retire on the profits she’s extorted.

On a positive note, in felt to me like the real proliferation of this story was taken up by ‘the public’, and only instigated by the media, who then recognised the anger it had caused and fed back into it. I don’t think we were led by them, I think this one was mutual. I’m guessing the 150,000+ signatures on the e-petition were a great help.

For instance, the first I heard of this was from a very dry article on the BBC news last week, and it was these things that flared up my anger immediately (before the furore really kicked off):

  1.        The arrogance of the PM in offering unwavering (and ‘warm’) support for someone who had quite obviously fallen short of the standards that should be required.
  2.        Learning of the way that the initial report and recommendations by an ‘independent’ committee was over-ruled by a separate MP led committee who exist, it appears, only for purposes such as this.
  3.        Learning that the ‘independent’ committee has only two independent (none party affiliated) members anyway, both of which don’t have a vote.
  4.        The whole obvious rigged game that is caused by points 2 & 3, and imagining the motivations of the kind of people who would come up with it.

So actually, the precise details of Miller’s affair were not as important to me as the above, because the above is indicative of the attitudes and systems that cause this massive gulf between ‘us and them’, and is in my opinion, the biggest problem facing our country (and much of the wider world). I don’t mean just these things specifically, but the whole approach to accountability and such like.

Was today a victory for people-power over politics? Not unless any of the above points are actually dealt with: not ‘tinkered’ with – dealt with.

Why not, for example, replace these two committees with a new committee selected from the public in much the same way as jury service? And give us the right to recall MPs (as they promised they would)? Oh, yeah, and Cameron has to go, obviously.

The question is, why don’t they ever actually introduce progressive legislation to enforce the accountability and transparency they so often tout in speeches and manifestos?  Why don’t they hand the responsibility to the people? The simple answer, I guess, is because they know what would happen if they did. Which when you think about it, is a really bad state of affairs, and all the more reason we need it.

So what happens now she’s gone? More of the same after a brief period of rhetoric about ‘change’ and ‘transparency’?  Probably. But if we can act together like we did this week, with common purpose and outrage against the presiding political class, who now seem to be more distant from us than ever before: maybe we can see a few more heads roll? Maybe even change things for the better. That’s a nice thought. I feel a bit better now.

The ‘C’ Word.

No, not that one (but I got your attention yes?). I mean the other ‘C’ word that for some has almost the same connotation: Conspiracy.

Before I get started, I would urge anyone who has an instinctive negative reaction to the ‘c’ word to read on, regardless of any existing prejudice. To dismiss it at this point would defeat the purpose of me trying to discuss the subject in a balanced way and engage with both sides of the issue. It is hard to declare a position or talk about such matters when the received view of this type of thinking is that it should be mocked and ridiculed. So please, don’t receive a view, at least for the next few minutes as you read on, instead disseminate my ramblings and form a view of your own, even if this ends up being the same as the one you started with. Thank you.

This isn’t a formal philosophy essay, so I have no problem declaring a position of my own before I really get into things. I am open minded. I don’t seek out conspiracy theories (I’m not a regular visitor to those website and such like), but I do know people who tell me interesting things, and I may occasionally go and check them out to see what I think for myself. It’s not much of a position, but I still think it preferable to being totally closed to something that is evidently important to a vast number of people. Therefore, as I am interested in people and what they think, and the state of the world and how we live and donate authority etc… I am more inclined to listen and make up my own mind than I am to mock those with ‘alternative’ views.

And that’s the nub of this article really. I’m not here to condemn or condone any individual conspiracy theory, as for one, that would be an almost impossible task, there being as many theories as there are opinions. I am not here either to convince those who are opposed to such things to change their mind. I am here to point out a few broad thoughts that I think should be of interest to both sides, and if this leads to anyone having new and distinct thoughts of their own, then that is always a good thing.

Now, the definition of a conspiracy is:

“A secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful” or the much more vague, “action of plotting or conspiring” (Google).

So we need to separate this real definition from the connotations it brings with it. For many, the definition of a conspiracy theorist  probably runs along the lines of:

“A tin foil hat wearing lunatic who believes the Queen is a lizard and Elvis lives on the moon and that 9/11 was an inside job, these people’s opinions are of no note or concern whatsoever.”

Hands up if that’s your definition? I know it must be some people’s because I encounter this all the time, in life, in the media etc… Well, let me offer a more balanced definition:

“A person who believes that there may be groups that have a secret plan to do something unlawful or harmful.”

That definition doesn’t seem so inflammatory, and it is strictly limited to the definitions of the words ascribed to them. So, on the face of it, is it reasonable for anybody to think that there may be any groups of people hatching plots to do something unlawful or harmful?

Now don’t get concerned if there is one over-arching group of people, you know, the ‘illuminati’, that’s not important. What is important is that we know, and can identify, at least the first part of the definition – i.e. groups that meet in secret. By secret I don’t mean wearing hoods, I mean there is no published, accessible minutes or information available about their meetings. So, let’s quickly list some examples of things that have happened recently that were not meant to be common knowledge and so, supposedly, took place in ‘secret’ to some degree:

(to give these stories the credibility that some desire, I have added links to BBC articles that support them – also, I am not commenting on the validity of these cases or otherwise)

1. The ‘Prism’ data gathering project as leaked by Edward Snowden.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22836378

2. The documents and footage of alleged war crimes leaked by Bradley Manning

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22749745

3. Alleged use of under-cover police to spy on and discredit the family of Stephen Lawrence

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23026324

4. Payments between the media and senior officials for private information (as revealed in the Leveson inquiry)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17173438

5. A high level cover up of pertinent details concerning the events at Hillsborough

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-19610226

6. A cover up in the NHS around baby death rates

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22980803

7. Politicians ludicrous expenses claims

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/uk_politics/2009/mps’_expenses/default.stm

8. HSBC money laundering for Mexican drug cartels (and now it seems, Argentina)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21840052

9. The whole host of banking practices that led to the 2008 crash and continue today (that we are only now starting to suggest should result in prosecution, like that will ever happen)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22382932

10. The questionable intelligence reports that led us into what is now widely considered to have been an illegal occupation of Iraq.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3661134.stm

So you can see, I’m not treading into the more contentious issues here, I’m just spelling out some of the well reported cases that we are told about due to one reason or the other (usually a kind of ‘critical mass’ point where it must just become impossible to maintain the lie, or due to very brave and selfless whistle-blowers). And these are just a handful that I can think of without consulting the internet or looking further.

As all these examples were not intended to be known about, there must have been at the core, a ‘secret’ group who did know about it, and tried to keep it that way. These may well be bespoke groups, formed by incident and circumstance, but by association, they definitely form a unit. Did they intend to do something unlawful or harmful as per the definition? Well, in most cases, they started by doing something unlawful or harmful, and then chose to try and evade discovery.

This may not be the earth-shattering revelations that you may hear from certain quarters of the conspiracy community, and I know some people go a lot further in their interpretation of events, which can often harm the credibility of what they are trying to say. What I would point out is that by matter of degree, if these things are known about, and as serious as they are, then the next one is only ever around the corner and is happening right now. So yes, some people may go too far with the conclusions they draw, but is it any wonder they are asking the questions?

Before the proliferation of the internet, the global financial crisis, the riots and uprisings around the world, the word ‘conspiracy’ was usually ascribed to the likes of UFOs and Elvis etc… But now, perhaps not surprisingly, it is about global banking corporations giving dictates to sovereign countries and stealing their wealth. Political parties that seem more interested in removing civil liberties and rewarding private companies and wealthy individuals for helping them to do so, and about the bastardisation of our food supply and ruthlessness of our pharmaceutical companies. Oh yeah, and fabricated intelligence to lead us into illegal wars.

I would argue that it is a self fulfilling phenomenon. There are conspiracy theorists, because there are conspiracies. To believe there is not would be extremely naive. But where is the demarcation point? The people I meet who scoff at the idea, would accept the cases I raised earlier I’m sure (being generally intelligent and well reasoned people). So it’s time for a good old analogy.

Think of the conspiracy community like the fashion industry. No-one really wants to wear the outlandish outfits that are hung on human-skeletons and teetered up and down the cat walks, but it is seen as the bench-mark of imagination and flare that will ‘trickle down’ to the rest of the market in a derivative way. Small features and elements of the designs may work their way into every-day fashion and accessories as a result of a few people taking the practice to its extreme. It is the same with the world of conspiracy. A few determined people are stretching the bounds of imagination to allow us to explore the possibility that all may not be right with the world, and in many cases, though perhaps not as dramatic or extreme as they may have originally purported, we see evidence that things like that do happen, and eventually, these derivative claims become substantiated and accepted.

At the core of these inquiries however, are some very sound principles:

1. The huge inequalities in the world.

– There is no secret about this, we all know they exist but we are relatively happy as long as it isn’t happening on our doorstep (we may be morally repulsed, but distance is a great healer). We can look at parts of Africa and feel sorry for them. They have drought, disease, oppressive regimes and what not. However, they do also have vast tracks of land owned by Western countries who prevent them being self sufficient, destroy their way of life and sell them back the products they produce at a higher price than they can afford. (ref: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17099348). The point to be made here is, there are huge avoidable inequalities in the world, so if they are avoidable, why are they are still happening? Business interests? Most likely. Does this constitute a conspiracy?

2. There are people making a lot of money in the world for doing nothing.

– Again, no secret here. By ‘nothing’ I would add the words ‘of value’ to make this clear. Yes, some people may do the arduous task of pressing buttons or making a phone-call, or employing someone else to press buttons and make phone calls, in order to speculate and gain massively on stock and money markets, but this adds no value to the world and over inflates the cost of fuel, food, medicine and other resources. Someone speculating on a stock doesn’t go down to the warehouse to inspect it, take an interest in the company, have a passion for the benefits it will bring, declare a moral interest. No, they see numbers on a screen, and the better return, for the least effort and cost, the more attractive the prospect. Is this a conspiracy? Well, when you think that we are suffering self-imposed austerity measures which, lest we forget, derived from the global financial crisis of 2008 and not from public spending, then why exactly are we allowing ourselves to be subjected to these measures because some super rich people made some dodgy deals? Do you remember the sentiment of 2008? We were ready to put them in prison, the bankers, the traders who caused this, but now we seem happy to be paid less, to pay more, to be less secure, less educated, less socially mobile, to lose our jobs, to lose our rights, to lose our benefits… and not one banker or politician responsible for overseeing the system went to prison? Whatever the reasons, this just doesn’t add up in a reasonable world, and the scary thing is, we seem to have gradually accepted the semantic shift from ‘global financial crisis/bank bailout’ to ‘structural deficit’ & ‘public spending savings’. When did this language change, and when did we adopt it? And why do we accept it?

Both of these reasons, which are pretty fundamental, cause people to suffer, for harm to befall them. And in both cases, you can easily draw parallels to the prosperity of a few companies/organisations. For me, these are enough to demonstrate why we have conspiracy theories, that, by matter of degree derive from easily observed truths. However, because of the tendency to ‘go further’ in such matters, some theorists ruin their chances at being taken seriously on such matters by the majority. They do the governments and businesses a favour by adding conjecture and speculation to the debate and effectively debunk themselves before they get started. They must love it, the people who benefit from all the misery in the world, when they hear something like:

“I believe there is a conspiracy between the FDA and Monsanto to prevent people growing their own food and to patent nature by only allowing GM crops to be sown…”

… at this point, someone somewhere may well be thinking, oh dear. Until…

“… and that nano-technology in these crops is going to re-programme our hormone levels and make us more malleable to hypnotic trigger words hidden in broadcasts…”

And that’s where the credibility suddenly disappears, and the man in the suit lights up another cigar and carries on. Because here we see the move from observations and reasonable assumptions, to speculation and (what some will term) fantasy. I just made that last example up, and maybe (because anything is possible) there are schemes in the world as ridiculous sounding as this which are true. But people have been programmed to want evidence for these things. And when I say programmed, I mean by a culture of thinking and inquiry that has dominated our view of knowledge for centuries – empiricism. This doesn’t make it right, but it is the default for the majority and without it, they will turn their heads, make silly gestures about you, and do nothing.

I tend to conclude with a plea for tolerance and reason, and individual thought, and this is no different. For the people who readily mock the conspiracy theorists, consider this:

Even if you think they are wrong or even deluded about some things, in general they are just observing injustices in the world and trying to find out why we allow this to happen. Give them that modicum of respect and credibility if nothing else and don’t accept the world as presented just because someone else may go too far (in your opinion) in pointing this out. Maybe it is as simple as business interests, bribery and corruption that lead to a lot of the problems we see in the world, but does that make it alright? Can you not see why some people would have concern for the world and its people and want to get to the bottom of it all?

And for the theorists:

Many people are looking for reasons to discredit and doubt you. Try not to give them that reason. The injustices you stand against are reason enough to raise awareness, the leap into speculation and complex, divisive theories, deters peoples from engaging with the underlying issues and taking them seriously. Until you get people on board and demanding answers to the basic problems that are evident, it is hard to see how progress will be made.

So there we are. I hope, my opinion goes some way towards reasons for us to all move closer together rather than further apart, even if respectful distance is maintained.

I can but hope.