This Week in the Media: Al Fayed Loses Dignity, Entertains Nation; Poll Findings Indicate Egalitarian Leanings Among Guardian Readers

February 29, 2008 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

For a range of reasons too obvious to list, it is highly unlikely that the superstructure of Britain is controlled in a secret, shadowy fashion by the Duke of Edinburgh.

But, assuming that old Phil genuinely did possess either the means or the inclination to bend the nation to his will while keeping nearly 60 million people firmly in the dark about what was going on, it would definitely make sense for him to hire controversial grocer Mohamed Al Fayed to accuse him of doing so to put us all off the scent.

The Diana State (funded) Circus currently taking place in the courts is an example of our capitalist justice system having a paradoxically destructive effective on someone who is able to use his wealth to gain disproportionate leverage within it.

It’s not unusual for parents of people who die at a tragically young age to struggle to come to terms with their loss. But a grieving working family who attempted to get legal aid in order to pursue an inquest into the possibility that their loved one was bumped off by, for example, a conspiracy of lizards would be unlikely to get very far.

Few readers will spend a large proportion of the week worrying too much about the traumas faced by people in possession of extreme levels of surplus cash, but it is a personal tragedy for Al Fayed that the combination of his wealth and personality mean that there is nobody close to him who is willing and able to prevent him from churning his pain in public in such an undignified manner.

Like most premature deaths, the deaths of Diana, Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul have no wider meaning whatsoever. The events of late August 1997 do nothing other than to remind us that it’s not a good idea to be a drunk driver or get in a car with one.

But the grotesque pantomime that’s taken place in the courts in recent days serves both as a general affront to human dignity and insult to genuine victims of injustice who have neither the wealth nor the public profile necessary to hire expensive lawyers to pursue their cases through the justice system.

Back in the real world, the important news this week was that 75 per cent of respondents in a Guardian ICM poll believe that the gap between rich and poor in Britain is too wide.

When opinion polls produce these kinds of results in response to broad questions, it very rarely leads to anything much in terms of changes to public policy.

In a mildly baffling response to the poll on the Comment is Free website, Guardian leader writer Tom Clark concluded that, “with this morning’s poll, vote-hungry politicians should think again about whether it’s time to be bolder. After all, it is hardly in their interest to argue that three in four of the electorate have got it wrong.”

As you’d think a political commentator would very well understand, the mainstreamers have no intention of arguing anything of the sort. Of the three flavours of cuddly Thatcherites currently on the shelves, even the supposedly more right-wing Tories now laud Polly Toynbee and decry growing levels of inequality.

What they don’t do and what they will continue to not do is take any action that would actually be likely to change the situation in a positive way.

One reason for this is the obvious one – all the parties are in thrall both financially and ideologically to the amoral professional gamblers chancing their arms at high risk to others and limited risk to themselves on the global financial markets.

But even if, for the sake of argument, we pretend that the needs and desires of mass population are the major factor in determining the offerings of the political elite, there’s nothing approaching a consensus on the most appropriate way to close the gap between rich and poor.

Last year, the Conservatives tapped into the fact that large numbers of people, many of whom may be part of the disgruntled 75 per cent, baulked at the increasing possibility of Inheritance Tax being due on their estate.

Both in terms of reducing inequality and in terms of providing a moral justification for doing so, Inheritance Tax is one of the fairest practical mechanisms available, but it’s also one of the most emotionally unpalatable.

For all the opposition fulmination about “stealth taxes,” Gordon Brown’s limited attempts to redistribute in ways that people didn’t really notice proved broadly popular with the electorate. And Ken Livingstone’s tax-funded improvements to London transport infrastructure, which are hidden in the Council Tax bill, have proved reasonably popular too.

Whatever some opinion polls say, though, the chances of any major party leader proposing serious practical measures to tackle inequality any time soon are extremely small.

This article first appeared in the Morning Star newspaper.

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This post was written by David Floyd

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