Sunday, July 17, 2005
The case is of massive significance to the integrity of British politics.
Thank all the gods for Sir Simon Jenkins
Here he is today in the Sunday Times on the subject of Stephen Byers. "This is a good week to bury the ministers with a licence to steal"
"..... The High Court has been witness to the biggest and most sensational class action in British history, a suit for "misfeasance" (dishonest abuse of power) brought by 50,000 Railtrack shareholders against Her Majesty's government.
The case is of massive significance to the integrity of British politics. It is the common man against Leviathan, the evidence portraying squirming ministers, bullying officials, money beyond dreams of avarice, chicanery and lies. Laid bare have been the inner workings of Tony Blair's courtier style of government. The Scott inquiry into arms-for-Iraq was small beer in comparison. The case tells us more about Whitehall's view of the world than ever did Hutton. It deserves a Spielberg movie to itself. On Thursday the fall guy in the case, Stephen Byers, finally admitted that he had lied on the central issue: whether or not there was a Treasury conspiracy, Project Ariel, to renationalise the old British Rail infrastructure company, Railtrack. The conspiracy involved denying 250,000 shareholders, despised as "grannies", compensation of some £4 billion. .." Read in full
As one of the very minor shareholders who supported the Class Action, (shareholders were described by Mr Byers as "grannies" not having the nerve to risk their "blouses",) it is with a certain grim satisfaction that I see him finally have to admit that he lied. My father gave me the few shares he had, saying kindly "Don't lose these! There is no way that these will fail you."
Lying is something more than a minor peccadillo. If, to feather my own nest, I say that something is true - knowing that it is untrue - I am denying my own integrity. I'd be showing myself to be as unworthy of respect and trust as a madman who really cannot tell the difference between right and wrong.
Our parents and elders rightly warned us that it was foolish as well as wicked.
When politicians do it - as they do in the way of an arrogant colossus assuming that stamping on the little ants of democracy hardly matters a jot - they are demeaning politics and making everything around them shabby and low. Time and time again we have seen that they think they can get away with it. "Accountability is nowhere. Parliament is nowhere. Were it not for bold shareholders we would know nothing of it..." But the truth will out - even if the tabloids, as Byers' aide, Shriti Vadera hoped, have lost sight of the story.
It is also worrying that the London bombs have so usefully taken the public's attention away from this case. Sir Simon's article must be read in full. He concludes
- "This past week has been a good one to bury an astonishing tale of Whitehall skulduggery told to the High Court. It must not be ignored. The case, which has a while to run, is a classic test of judicial authority over a corrupted executive....."
Strong words. Justified I think.