The rich elites are pulling up the drawbridge. But the power they wield may yet be flushed out by the Coulson scandal.
During such a momentous week as this one, you could be forgiven for having missed the property PR event of the decade so far: the opening launch party in Knightsbridge for the most expensive and secure apartment development in British history.
350 of the great, rich but probably not very good turned up to be wined, dined and worked: but the owners think flogging these domiciles will be fairly straightforward. A one-bed flat costs £6.5 million, and a penthouse is just a shade more pricey at £140 million; however, what makes these apartments likely to fly off the Estate Agent’s board is that the place is impregnable.
The security is 24/7 (natch), but in addition there are ID eye-scanners in all the lifts (just in case the kidnappers have wiped out the SAS in the lobby) and panic buttons in every room. There is in addition an Olympic-sized pool and two exclusive restaurants. Valet room service is also laid on. You can live, eat, keep fit, be rich and above all be safe in this development.
As the wildly wealthy become increasingly unpopular, we are going to get a lot more of this sort of thing. But those who designate themselves members of the elite don’t always display their preferences and fears in such ways: as often as not, their feelings come out unconsciously.
Rupert Murdoch, for example, puts all his editorial content behind 24/7 security walls. But if the burgeoning Coulson case details are only half-truths, it seems the old boy also insists on the right to listen to everyone else’s news for free. Then he can print it, and ensure everyone else has to pay to see what he stole. Roop has a similar view on the shareholder money/what I want to buy dimension too. This kind of behaviour is, after all, how people become obscenely rich.
The list of similar examples in most walks of life is compelling. Bill Gates wants to make crap software that goes down like a hooker in a hurry. He then wants to invade your pc and update the stuff whether you like it or not. He just doesn’t want to answer the phone when you decide you don’t like it. ‘Silo management’ is now virtually ubiquitous among every form of software, ISP and phoneco supplier. But in the silo is a periscope, and they can see yooooo.
Government – especially the British Government – has learned this lesson well. The refined version used by Westminster and Whitehall, however, is to leave the drawbridge down – but put a website at the end of it. The site ‘says come on in and talk to us’, but you look up at the 40-foot high portcullis, and there don’t seem to be any instructions about penetrating it. Governments want your eye-DNA on every passport and a camera on every street; but once again, although they stay well out of sight, they can see yoooo.
With the banking sector – retail as much as investment – the deal is very similar, just more focused. Their shtick is ‘We look after your money, charge you for it (sometimes twice for luck) and then blow it. Then you pay again for it through bailout taxes. In return, you get to tell us all about your financial affairs, and we bombard you with offers for stuff you don’t want, along with new passwords for everything once a month.If you complain, there’s a call centre that’ll move you from Belfast to Newcastle and back to Bristol until you get fed up and bugger off’.
They’ve got websites as backup behind the call centre monkeys, and behind them are financial journalists saying we must stop bashing bankers, and behind them the PM and Chancellor saying they’re absolutely vital to the economy. You may not be able to see into one of their dark liquidity pools, but they can see yoooo.
It’s a pretty failsafe system to be honest, because without these folks, you won’t know what’s going on in the world, you don’t have any connectivity, you can’t get redress when they get your tax bill wrong, and you can’t get at your money. It is a case, in summary, of being trussed up by everyone we can’t trust.
Painstaking analysis of how we got into this position is interesting, but rarely actionable. It’s good grist for the agitprop and conspiracy theory mill, but I’m long past caring about the how and why of it. My concern these days is how it can be stopped and reversed – because if it can’t, then the fool’s paradise these New Bourbons inhabit will be shattered, and the victors will not be folks you’d take home to mother.
This can too easily sound like alarmist bloggodrivel, until you look back not at how we got here, but how others did the same….and what happened afterwards. I understand perfectly well that today the ‘authorities’ (and what a misnomer that’s turning out to be) have DNA, cameras and hitech surveillance satellites: but then the East German Stasi had a microphone in every flat, and in the end it didn’t help them.
Ancien regime France had all the weapons and lots of prisons and the lettres de cachet. The Soviets had nuclear weapons pointing at the West, and a track record of going on holiday in their tanks. But ultimately, all such authoritarian States fail because they have no feedback. They become so out of touch, they can’t even say they’re in touch without it being an obvious lie.
Armed security guards, moats, paywalls, silos and websites work for a while. But people steal boats, JCBs, bulldozers and guns; they hack computers and dig out naughty cables….and in the end, the Chateaux wind up getting sacked. The one commonality throughout history in this situation is that those who warn of the peril faced by the privileged deaf are told to stop being so ridiculous. Usually, about a week before the sky falls in.
The key to avoiding the Bastille experience is in that last paragraph: for just as Murdoch shows how hacking into mobile phones can deliver enormous power, so too have Wikileaks and other cyber-warriors demonstrated just how easy it is to put the elite on tilt. In my view, it’s becoming a case of saving the aristocrats from themselves: yes, bailing them out again if you like. But better that than the Lenisparts or knuckle-draggers taking over.
The chances of the UK Establishment allowing the citizenry proper access to the electoral and legislative systems are close to sub-atomic. That’s not meant to be inflammatory: violence breeds violence, and there are no known exceptions to that rule. It’s just a fact: The Slog was one of the first to highlight the LibDem sellout on PR last April. And more recently, this site tried to give a devastating insight into Establishment complacency about the urgent need for radical reform.
But The Slog was also one of the first to get on Coulson’s case and wind up Fleet Street about there being an obvious cover-up behind his survival in the Number Ten job. Today, Andy Coulson is no more. With luck and a following wind, Murdoch’s bribes will be uncovered before too long. The Met police involvement in hiding the truth must surely come to light as well. If Assange can walk the walk on what he knows about the Digger, then it might even be curtains for Newscorp. That alone would be an amazing result.
The internet and the data it can unleash remain the most powerful weapons at our disposal. And after a while, all the elite bomb disposal squads in the world cannot defuse every last electronic truth.
Remember: it truly is David versus Goliath – but David won. As the infamous showman Old Holborn is fond of saying, “There are sixty million of us, and only a few thousand of them”.
Related: The Internet is for Opposition