Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Writing wrongs.

IT'S sometimes hard to know the difference between right and wrong.

There are lots of grey areas in life, things like whether the ends justifies the means, if a white lie is all right if it makes someone feel better, or if something matters when no-one knows you've done it.

Most of the people on the planet, most of the time, can grasp the fact the means are more justifiable if they don't break any laws, that white lies need to be about small things, and that it will start to matter if you do it too much.

And most of us don't need to be told what's right and wrong. We know.

Bankers know they're supposed to look after other people's money, not gamble it. Politicians know they're paid to be representatives, not push their own agenda. Nurses know elderly patients sometimes need to be helped to eat and drink, neighbours know to turn the music down, the taxman knows businesses owe him more than individuals, coppers know not to take bribes and journalists know not to deal with bent coppers.

Most people, most of the time, are mostly good and manage to make a decent fist of the balancing act which is best described as 'acceptable behaviour' - the judgements we make of ourselves and others about whether we are right or wrong, which by their nature are constantly evolving.

For example Bradley Wiggins did amazingly well over a gruelling road race through mountain ranges and deserved to win the Tour de France, but he didn't win it on his own - he was helped by teammates who kept him safe from other cyclists, held back and were even ordered to slow down so that the chosen candidate could win the title.

Purists might not like it but that doesn't make it any less of a feat, and finding a way to make the rules work for you is entirely acceptable - just ask the taxman.

Sometimes though things are allowed to slip and a series of bad judgements pile up into a scandal which everyone who had ignored it for years is horrified by. A black lad is stabbed by a gang of white yobs in Eltham, south London, and such a mess is made of the prosecution that it drags on for 19 years and forces the Met to try to cleanse itself of racism and corruption.

Politicians get extra cash for having to live in two places, and slowly the ability to reclaim expenses grows to the monstrous point where they invent mortgages that do not exist in order to scam the taxpayer.

Bankers exploit a relaxation of their rules to expand their businesses, but get so used to the lack of checks that they gamble with our savings, lie over their lending rates, launder drug money and pay themselves vast bonuses.

A missing schoolgirl's voicemails are heard by journalists using techniques no-one would have minded them using on her killer, and the media convulses, eating bits of itself while being pinned down for examination by judges and lawyers. Its members are raided at dawn for the crime of answering a telephone to someone offering them a story they did not write, and journalists are shifted several branches down the evolutionary tree in the collective judgement.

Nurses ignore a patient who died of thirst. Antisocial neighbours are categorised as a criminal underclass which needs to stop breeding. The taxmen hassle small businesses while £69.9billion goes uncollected from the super-rich and corporations.

Wrong happens. Most of us know that it shouldn't, but then most of us aren't the ones responsible for most of the problems.

In my trade, and in life generally, about 90 per cent of people are sound - they work hard, do their best, and don't complain. About five per cent are inspired and inspiring people who have a vocation and amaze those around them. The surgeons who find a new way to operate on the brain, engineers that design better products, journalists who land front page splashes every week, coppers who always catch their man, nurses who work unpaid overtime, bankers who are cautious because they realise it's not their money.

It's the remaining five per cent who are the problem. The managers who call hospital cleaners 'an overhead' rather than a necessity, the journos who don't give a toss for the truth, the MPs who want glory and directorships, doctors who never really wanted to doctor and neighbours who get a kick out of upsetting those around them.

Sometimes that five per cent is just plain stupid; others they're insecure, unwell, over-compensating. Sometimes they're unimportant foot-soldiers in the great battle of life, but more often than not in my experience they're the generals who don't care who they throw in front of the other guy's cannon.

The world will always have problems but it is the ones we would not otherwise have which are caused by chiefs who don't care about the indians. It is the MPs who flip their second homes because they can and bugger the electorate, the media bosses who exchange thousands of pounds' worth of freebies with police commissioners and sod their underlings, the people who have risen to the top of the criminal underclass and in whose interests it is to keep everyone beneath them reliant or scared.

Those are the things that have arisen because someone saw a grey area, and exploited it.

I don't care what business those people are in - stop them doing it, prosecute them if necessary, make sure it can't happen again.

The problem with that is that the process to bring a halt to bad behaviour is run by - oh dear - the generals. And they rarely look at themselves.

Hence we have 23 journalists arrested on allegations of corrupt payments to public officials, and a mere four police officers who are apparently being corrupted by 5.75 journalists each. We have everyday hacks being turned over for arrest by their bosses on the strength of an ambiguous email, but nary an executive from an office with a nice carpet being examined as thoroughly.

Hence the guys who run banks have a sticky couple of hours in front of a select committee, and maybe have to resign, but don't get a 6am raid from a special unit of officers assigned to investigate them, while the employees further down the chain are castigated. Hence the nurse is struck off and the manager who slashed budgets and tripled that nurse's workload while removing checks on that work gets promoted. Hence the cop tells his juniors who to investigate, and it's never the cop in charge.

Neither you nor I need telling what is right and wrong. There are grey areas we could argue about but by and large we all pretty much know what you should and shouldn't do.

We do not need a police officer to tell us what is in the public interest. It is, by definition, a matter of public opinion and quite often relates to undetected crime, so the best way to decide it is if publication of the facts causes an outrage then it's in the public interest.

It is in the public interest to know why two top cops felt the need to resign from their jobs after allegations of a cosy relationship with media bosses, if they had done nothing wrong. It is in the public interest to know how much the public are paying them in pension, and when they're going to be raided at dawn and asked about what they knew and when.

It is wrong to sack taxmen, because we lose the equivalent of 56 per cent of our total NHS budget every year in tax avoidance and 70 times as much as benefit fraud. It is wrong to waste other people's money, to wash our hands of 120,000 families rife with crime, mental illness and child abuse, it is wrong to lie, corrupt, cheat or steal and it is wrong to trash dozens of low-grade journalists' careers with 18 months of arrests and bail over evidence so poor it will never be heard in court because it is those very same journalists we rely on to tell us about all this stuff.

There will always be wrongs. In any entirely-justified inquiry there will always be people arrested who shouldn't be, and heroes made out of villains.

But - journalists and their troubles aside - I have never known a time more filled with obvious wrongs than now. Wrongs about our money, our health, our neighbours; wrongs about who we ought to be scared of and what the problems are; wrongs which make me despair.

If these become the rules we all have to live by - that executives never take the blame, the rich do as they please, that scrutiny of the powerful is effectively outlawed because the powerful decide what should be scrutinised - that's the wrongest of all.

(I say this next bit not as a journalist, but as a walking, talking, sentient being with a critical mind and a hope that somehow, maybe, if nine of the Olympic sponsors can turn down the chance to avoid their share of £600m tax, then things can still turn out right in the end.)

And the quickest way to end up in that horrible wrongness is to have a media which is approved of by authority.

Fuck. That.
 

If People Disapprove Of You.

By Sophie Hannah.
  Make being disapproved of your hobby.
Make being disapproved of your aim.
Devise new ways of scoring points
In the Being Disapproved Of Game.
Let them disapprove in their dozens.
Let them disapprove in their hordes.
You'll find that being disapproved of
Builds character, brings rewards.
Just like any form of striving
Don't be arrogant; don't coast
On your high disapproval rating.
Try to be disapproved of most.
At this point, if it's useful,
Draw a pie chart or a graph.
Show it to someone who disapproves.
When they disapprove, just laugh.
Count the emotions you provoke:
Anger, suspicion, shock.
One point for each of these
And two for each boat you rock.
Feel yourself warming to your task -
You do it bloody well.
A last you've found an area
In which you can excel.
Savour the thrill of risk without
The fear of getting caught.
Whether they sulk or scream or pout,
Enjoy your new-found sport.
Meanwhile all those who disapprove
While you are having fun
Won't even know your game exists
So tell yourself you've won.