Amol Rajan: Fox affair could take shine off Khaki Culture

FreeView from the editors at i

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It would be wonderful if historians could note with irony that Liam Fox's greatest achievement was causing the demise of corporate lobbyists in Britain. Wonderful, but unlikely.

I first referred to corporate lobbyists as a cancer in our body politic a few years ago; since then, their disgusting influence has grown exponentially and, alas, is unlikely to have peaked with Adam Werritty.

In fact, Mr Fox will be remembered as a tainted but competent Defence Secretary, who rode a wave of public affection for the Armed Forces better than his predecessors. I call it Khaki Culture: the encroaching militarisation of our public space.

Have you noticed the way the Armed Forces occupy an ever larger slice of national life – at a time when the wars they are engaged in generate scant public support?

Tony Blair initiated the ritual of reading out the names of dead servicemen ahead of Prime Minister's Questions. Leaders of other parties then solemnly add their condolences to the families of the fallen. The death of a British soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is now regularly the second or third item in news bulletins, even when there is no report to go with it. "Our brave armed forces" has entered political language. Minute-long silences have proliferated far beyond Remembrance Day.

The inspirational Help for Heroes campaign ensures stories of injured servicemen and women feature in front pages and on glossy ones. Perhaps the apogee of this militarisation is the elevation of Wootton Bassett, the town that honoured the war dead, to "Royal" status this weekend. Christina Schmid, wife of the late bomb disposal expert Olaf, could be the face of Khaki Culture. Its rise may be the inevitable consequence of our being at war on several fronts. But something else is going on here. We live in age of institutional and professional crisis: the political class, the press, the police, and bankers (to name just four) are beset by corruption scandals. Against all these, the Armed Services stand as a beacon of virtue, a source of national pride and a repository of institutional authority.

This won't last, of course. Huge controversies, involving not just lobbyists but private security firms, torture of suspects and abuse of staff, will set the news agenda in the coming years. Khaki Culture won't go into reverse, but it might slow down. The fall of Dr Fox portends the arrival of scandal in a part of British life – national defence – that patriots like me foolishly dreamt was above corruption.