Our digital radio at home, so the instruction manual tells me, gives us access to live broadcasts from more than 10,000 radio stations around the world. Whilst I’ll leave it to the consumer watchdog extremists to test such a claim, I have no reason to doubt its statistical validity. If you’ve ever tried to find a decent tune whilst dialling up your radio anywhere within a five-mile radius of Manhattan, you’ll know that ten thousand accessible radio stations globally is probably on the low side.
Of course the first thing you do once you’ve plugged this natty device in, is go straight to the country index in a bid to find the most obscure place in the world. Burundi caught my fancy and, after a 20 second connection time, I was hooked into the lyrical majesty of a bit of local hip-hop. Azerbaijan, a half dozen country tags before it, didn’t fare quite so well.
But all that soon changed as one story grabbed my attention and the little black duke box on the kitchen bench has since been permanently tuned into one programme and one programme alone – BBC Radio Four.
Apart from ensuring my young children’s’ adoption of the slack, Australian drone is marginally delayed (although a mix of John Humphries and Bob the Builder has ended up giving them some kind of Lancashire thump to their current tongue), it also ensures I remain connected with an international (read BBC) perspective on world events. Right now the most important political story (barring Pakistan and Sri Lanka), is the Telegraph’s expose of UK MPs making a mockery out of the parliamentary expense claim system. It’s more riveting than the Archers. Alas, it’s far more depressing too.
Flying up to London with British Airways this morning, I had a chance to paw over the details as published by the UK paper. This is clearly far more than another absurd and frustrating abuse of power. This could be crushing. If it not for the fact that the Telegraph had done the right thing and published details of extravagant claims from both sides of the House, the Labour Party may well have been dragged back to the Kinnock Ages post haste. The fact that so many had their nose in the trough has simply crushed any hope of building mid-term public trust and confidence in political leadership.
It could not have come at a worse time too. Here is a government that has spent the past year fighting on three major fronts: fiercely defending the merits of democracy; desperately performing triage on the remnants of Thatcher’s’ privatisation model of capitalism; and publically parading the ‘fat cats’ of business as the followers of the Marquis de Sade. That battle plan is now in tatters.
System failure or exploitative greed, British politicians are being accused of hypocracy at one end of the spectrum and criminal intent at the other. The truth has almost become an irrelevance. The single biggest difference between a British politician exploiting the system and, say, Bernie Madoff doing the same is that the one was voted into power, the other built his power base on the principles that that power supported. Neither is justified and both smack of greed, regardless of the motive.
More important still is the fact that the government had charted it’s path out of the economic gloom with the promise of greater transparency, strong commercial principles and the warm and fuzzy sentiment that now that everyone’s had their fingers burnt, the future will be so much more honest and harmonious.
If this chart was drawn up on the back of a minister’s expense claim, it could not be worth less. Past actions are not the issue here. Instead we are reminded (again) that if there is opportunity to garner unfair advantage at others expense, far too many will do what’s possible rather than search for the moral fortitude to do what’s right. As the backdrop to future economic recovery, it’s a pretty troubling reality.