Corruption in the United Kingdom is a subtle process. The great and the good are the recipients of largess in honours, titles and money doled out by governments. It is inevitably a political process in which the great and the good become greater and better but part of this game is that the great and the good of one party are attacked by the great and the good of another party, all in a perfectly civilised way, and as a result our society becomes more unequal as merit is replaced by connection.
The present case of Fiona Wolf is a good example. Mrs Wolf is a commercial solicitor specialising in privatisations. She became Lord Mayor of London – a title which brings much fancy dress and honour but no immediate power. As is the way of the City of London things are done discreetly behind closed doors and the things done are to dish out the largess that really belongs to others.
Mrs Wolf was appointed to chair a commission into child abuse. No doubt those appointing here (and possibly she herself) envisaged that after several years of chairing the commission she would publish a report (for which she would no doubt be well paid for her work) and receive more honours – possibly an elevation to the House of Lords.
Now Mrs Wolf seems particularly unqualified for the job. Being a commercial solicitor dealing with government business of the kind she does involves compromise, trying to meld together different interests and coming up with a fair solution as part of a very large team of advisers. It does not involve setting direction, being imaginative enough to pursue different lines of enquiry, understanding the circumstances which give rise to child abuse or the reasons for child abuse. Chairing a committee is also a role which requires skills and judgment because you have to ensure that each member of the committee can make his or her point and add fruitfully to the work of the committee. I cannot see that Mrs Wolf has these qualities. I might be mistaken, but her appointment smells of the great and the good scratching the backs of each other.
However Mrs Wolf’s appointment has now become a political issue. the Home Secretary and the civil servants who advised in favour of that appointment have invested much political capital in that appointment and do not want to lose their capital.
Some suggest that Mrs Wolf should be replaced with either Helena Kennedy or Michael Mansfield. these are also people who are great and good, but from the other side of the political spectrum; both are Queen’s Counsel so lawyers like Mrs Wolf. Both are left wing radical lawyers – not a bad thing in itself but interesting Mrs Kennedy is undemocratic enough to have accepted an elevation to the House of Lords.
So, faced with serious issues of child abuse possibly by the great and the good or in circumstances where the great and the good have permitted it or closed their eyes to it we seem to have a choice between the right wing great and the good on one hand and the left wing great and the good on the other hand. No one suggests someone unconnected with politics and not part of the great and the good.
Clearly the chair of the commission needs to be a lawyer, band one who can fairly ensure that the commission reaches a just conclusion leaving no stone unturned. I cannot have any confidence in the unturning stone ability of the great and the good. Too few of them are genuinely great and hardly any of them are good.
Since writing this essay Ms Wolf has resigned. Theresa’s May search goes on for a new candidate amongst the great and the good.
Filed under: climate change | Tagged: appointment of chairman, child abuse, Fiona Wolf, great and the good, helena kennedy, lawyers, Michael Mansfield, Mrs Wolf, political corruption, Queen's counsel |