Geoffrey Wheatcroft: Money and good judgement don’t mix

From Allen Stanford to Jacqui Smith, the mighty are losing touch with reality

Share
Related Topics

When “Sir” Allen Stanford arrived at Lord’s by helicopter last summer, bearing his monstrous chest stuffed with $20m in cash, the leaders of English cricket prostrated themselves before him. All that was missing was for Giles Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, to say, “Cricket is intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

That indescribably vulgar occasion was a display of hubris which has duly met its nemesis with the collapse of Stanford’s financial empire, and the utter humiliation of everyone connected with him. The appalling stunts and woes he has inflicted on a once noble game have done more damage than can even be assessed as yet. But there is more to it.

This affair is a perfect parable for our time. We have been living through one of those periods, like France under Guizot with his enrichissez-vous, or the American gilded age in the late 19th century with robber barons ruling the land, when the love of money was unashamed, or even held up as a public good. Now as then, all restraint is discarded – and in the process the mighty ones have lost contact with reality.

For bankers, politicians and sportsmen alike, “anything goes” is the rule. New Labour made a cult of “wealth creation”, and Gordon Brown lives in awe of bankers. (His predecessor actually is a banker, if Tony Blair’s $10m sinecure from JP Morgan makes him one.) So much does Brown revere moneymen that he not only surrounded himself with them but also handed the banks £500bn in the autumn effectively with no conditions. He was then surprised and pained when they used the money to rebuild their balance sheets rather than lending it as he had fondly hoped.

Since then, he has not only refused to accept that he might bear any responsibility for events – we have all “been brought low by an economic hurricane that nobody could have predicted”, he said on Thursday, meaning that he himself hadn’t begun to foresee it – but he also has quite failed to notice the tide of public rage against his moneyed chums. The idea that any bonuses at all should be paid by banks which have been bailed out by the taxpayer is so obviously intolerable as to suggest a financial and political class that has not just lost the plot but lost its marbles.

One of New Labour’s other characteristics was to make a virtue out of pragmatism: no longer tired ideology, but “what works”. The trouble was that, in practice, this meant asking not “What is the right thing to do?” but “What can we get away with?”. Blair set the tone early by insisting that he was pretty straight sort of guy, in the context, it will be recalled, of his government’s changing its policy on tobacco sponsorship of motor racing after Labour had accepted a huge donation from Bernie Ecclestone.

Most people did not think that “straight “was quite the word for that, and 12 years on Jacqui Smith’s latest difficulties illustrate yet again the sheer obtusity of this Government. It’s easy to wax sentimental about the good old days when politicians were better people, which they weren’t always by any means. And yet. When C R Attlee was leader of the opposition, and in the days when the Commons would sit till 10 if not later every evening, he would catch the last underground train to Pinner and then walk a long way home rather than take a taxi in order to save money.

That was his “first” – and indeed his only – home. There were then no parliamentary allowances for second homes, or anything else. When the Smith case is investigated it may be that the Home Secretary will be held to have done nothing outside the strict letter of the regulations. But most voters do not see how, in plain English or basic honesty, a bedroom in her sister’s London house could be defined as a first home, so that the second-home allowance was then claimed for a larger house in her constituency.

Our rulers no longer understand these things. And nor do those who run our sports. No hindsight at all is needed to say that the deal between the ECB and Stanford was from the beginning shameful, repulsive – and fraught with danger. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Allen Stanford, but even from a distance I could see that the fellow wasn’t quite 16 anas to the rupee. He has “rotter” written all over him, and the sight of Clarke and Sir Ian Botham (that other knightly figure, as Sky television reminds us every time his name is mentioned) smirking over the loot at Lord’s revolted many people, even before Stanford cavorted with the cricketers’ wives, and then tried to disappear.

To ask, in the ponderous phrase, whether the ECB conducted due diligence is meaningless: plainly there were not enough questions asked. Nor did anyone at Lord’s wonder when loathsome Twenty20 was dreamed up whether it might not prove a veritable Frankenstein’s monster that would destroy anything recognisable, and admirable, as cricket.

Once upon a time, cricket was run by the old buffers of the MCC, who were often obscurantist, blinkered and even bigoted, as their lamentable fondness for white South Africa showed. But, as that cricket-lover George Orwell said of English judges even at their most brutal and reactionary, they were also personally honest.

So was Herbert Morrison, one of Attlee’s colleagues in the greatest of Labour governments 60 years ago. He once said that, although an opponent of the death penalty, he would keep capital punishment for one thing alone, corruption in public life or embezzlement of taxpayers’ money.

One wonders what he would have thought of his grandson Peter Mandelson’s adoring phrase about the filthy rich – or about “Labour” politicians who have put those words into practice. Our politicians should think themselves lucky that Morrison’s principle doesn’t apply.

If it did, every lamppost in Parliament Square might be a gibbet.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s books include ‘The Strange Death of Tory England’

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Advisor - East Anglia - Field-based

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: To be considered for this position you will n...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: We have opportunities for Cov...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to tea...

Digital Fundraising Analyst/Web Analyst - West Sussex - Permanent - £30k DOE

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Moazzam Begg has walked from jail after a string of terrorist charges linked to the civil war in Syria were dramatically dropped  

Will we ever find out what really happened in the case of Moazzam Begg?

Mary Dejevsky
David Cameron used his speech to make a direct pitch to Ukip supporters as well as Eurosceptic Tories  

Politicians say the craziest things – and never more so than at election time

Mark Steel
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?