Three mangy lions and a Prince of ponce: how low can Britain stoop while claiming to be above the rest

The circus of football's world slut and the revelations on Wikileak about Prince Andrew's attitudes suggest that rock bottom is a trough of sludge and the UK is right down there.
Stuart Weir
3 December 2010

They were ‘the three lions’ for the BBC News, piling hypocrisy and hyperbole onto hype. Cue stiff photo opportunity: David Cameron, Prince William and David Beckham, sitting sheepishly round a table.

‘Three lions indeed’!  I am not a wildlife expert, but I do know that lions do not do abject obeisance. The inglorious spectacle of the Prime Minister, a future King and our most celebrated footballer prostrating themselves before Blatter’s grubby and greedy imperial court in Zurich is surely a sign of the corruption of our own political and football culture, as well actual complicity in the refusal of an impenetrable oligarchy to investigate strong evidence of corrupt practices in its own affairs.

As it happens, the lions proved to be toothless – and were in fact humiliated by the award of only one vote from the non-English cabal who decided the destiny of the next two World Cups in an opaque process on criteria that they have not so far divulged.  Panorama provided compelling evidence that some members of the cabal had taken bribes, and showed us, incidentally, that Jack Warner, the FIFA executive member our lions courted most assiduously, is an arrogant and unpleasant man as well as possibly corrupt.

The British bidders were resolved not to recognise Panorama’s evidence or to insist as they should that FIFA take it seriously.   It was ‘old stuff’; ‘just allegations’. Instead, they set out to play politics in the hope of bringing back the booty that for them at least would justify the compromises they were prepared to make.  And these compromises were not simply of their dignity. FIFA impose their own secret tax regime and other conditions for the award of the World Cup, demands that would not have gone before Parliament or the public here.  When a BBC reporter asked the Sports  Minister about these conditions, he was angrily told not to ‘carp’!

This farrago is not the only evidence of the indifference to questions of corruption in our higher public life. Prince Andrew has apparently roundly condemned the ‘idiocy’ of the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into alleged bribes in the al-Yamama aircraft deal with Saudi Arabia and Guardian reporters as ‘those [expletive] journalists ... who poke their noses everywhere’. The prince, another arrogant being, made these comments  in the context of a business brunch in Kyrgyzstan where the difficulties and ‘awful temptations’ of doing business in corrupt post-Soviet states was on the informal agenda. His own dealings with the allegedly corrupt regime in Kazakhstan have caused the Prince some embarrassment, not least at the hands of Guardian journalists.

The US ambassador in Kyrgyzstan was shocked by his conduct, and especially noted that ‘His mother’s subjects [i.e., business people] seated around the table roared their approval’.

Prince Andrew is the UK’s special commissioner for international trade and has won the sobriquet ‘Airmiles Andy’ for his assiduous pursuit of his responsibilities- and some say, golfing opportunities. But let’s leave his lavish life style at the public expense on one side.  As a trade commissioner, he should be required to condemn bribery and corruption in UK business activities abroad and not be allowed to express his disapproval of attempts to prevent or investigate it.  Britain was anyway very late to adopt anti-corruption measures in our international trading.

I am not sure quite how deferential our new MPs are. But I would hope that the trade select committee would summon Prince Andrew to give evidence.

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