Maintaining the Status Quo: Media Distractions & Political Scapegoats

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Jack Straw (L) and Malcolm Rifkind. Courtesy: The Independent

By Ann-Marie de Veer
Saturday 28 February 2015

On Monday 23 February 2015 the UK's Channel 4 TV programme Dispatches aired a report about two former government cabinet ministers of previous despotic regimes: both Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind were caught on camera prostituting themselves before undercover hacks from the mainstream media posing as recruiters for a fictitious Chinese lobbying company.

While the revelations are a useful reminder of the cash-for-access brand of politics that prevails throughout the British parliament, as the litany of evidence unfolds on the Featured Representatives page of this website, these are only minor misdemeanours compared to the crimes for which they are guilty but have, as yet, escaped from being held accountable.

Straw is known to be complicit in providing UK support for the US sponsored programme of extraordinary rendition of British and foreign nationals during his term in office as Foreign Secretary from June 2001 to May 2006. Rifkind, no less a felon, has consistently demonstrated gross negligence and incompetence in regulating the UK's security services as the former Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), having resigned on the 24 February 2015.

In 2004, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Bouchar, both exiles of the former Gaddafi regime in Libya, were abducted by the British Security Intelligence Service (SIS, aka. MI6) and the CIA and then rendered to Tripoli in Libya. Once there, they were imprisoned by the local security services who went on to interrogate and torture Belhaj, with the assistance of MI6. Belhaj has, since the removal of Gadaffi in a MI6 and CIA inspired coup d'état in 2011, sought redress in the British courts.

Straw, as the Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) at the time of the Belhaj family abduction was not only responsible for the activities of MI6 and the FCO but personally authorised their illegal behaviour. Of course, Straw was one among many others in the human food chain of nefarious activities within the Blair regime, in particular Mark Allen of MI6, the Security Service (aka. MI5) and the Home Office are all implicated in the illegal rendition and torture programme operated by the US and ably supported by the UK.

Belhaj was just one of many victims of this coterie of apparatchiks that functioned during the Blair dictatorship.

Similarly, Rifkind was also a Secretary of State for the FCO during the few short years of the John Major regime in the 1990's but lost his seat in Scotland when the Scottish people practically ousted the Conservative party north of the border in the 1997 General Election. A few years later Rifkind was resurrected from being politically dead when he was elected to the safe Tory seat in Kensington and Chelsea in London and thus returned to Parliament in 2005 as part of the Conservative opposition to the Brown administration. When the Cameron regime assumed power in May 2010 Rifkind was swiftly appointed as Chairman of the ISC, a nine member statutory parliamentary committee who are responsible for the examination of the expenditure, administration and policies of the security and intelligence agencies.

The first public whiff of Rifkind's incompetence became apparent in 2011 when he called for a root and branch inquiry into the future of the ISC committee given increased public interest in their activities. Rifkind proceeded to bury the notion when the media frenzy died down in late 2011 and nothing happened. Then, in the wake of the revelations sourced by whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013, he quickly resurrected the idea. The ensuing 90 minutes of theatre held in a public forum on the 7 November 2013 went on to expose his, and the committee's complete and utter incompetence in holding the security services to account. Nonetheless, the mainstream media, once again, failed to pursue the matter.

Subsequently, given the inability of the ISC to conduct any meaningful oversight of the British security services and in recognition of the failure of successive UK regimes to atone for their illegal activities in the rendition and torture programme in support of the US, individuals and public advocacy groups have continued to pursue the issues privately.

As for Straw, the final nail in his political coffin was hammered home on the 30 October 2014 when a UK Court of Appeal ruled that the Belhaj case should go ahead while Rifkind's casket was sealed by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal on the 6 February 2015 who ruled that the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had breached human rights laws by concealing information about how it accessed data collected and held by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

In other words, both Straw and Rifkind, were, politically, dead men walking.

Clearly the mainstream media, this time in the guise of Channel 4's programme Dispatches who were assisted by The Telegraph newspaper on this occasion, are not telling us anything that we do not know already: the cash-for-access or cash-for-questions modus operandi of British politics is endemic. The media's focus is not so much revelatory as diversionary: the general public are being misled by the low hanging fruit of snouts-in-the-trough when the hacks should be focusing on the illegal activities of regimes past and present that have, and continue to, flout the human rights of the general public.

Of course, Cameron's Conservatives, the current UK regime, and Miliband's Labour, the regime in-waiting, are not at all concerned about the recent reports in the media: both Rifkind and Straw, who had already announced his intention not to stand in the next general Election in May 2015, are expendable and serve to divert the public's attention away from much more important issues that could jeopardise their chances of re-election.

Thus, not only do the media get to retain a sliver of credibility in exposing a practice that is already known to exist but the politicians are also seen to be keeping their house in order by letting the miscreants fall on their swords.

A truly complimentary relationship for maintaining the status quo.

The curtain may have fallen on this Act but the play still goes on.
Ann-Marie de Veer