Blair, Brand and Ross are spirits of our bullying age
The BBC pair are merely symptomatic of a wider viciousness in British society that permeates politics, business and the media
In the area of human life the honours and rewards fall to those who show their good qualities," wrote Aristotle. The irresistible rise and temporary fall - of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross suggest that the Athenian philosopher's ideal was not intended to apply to showbiz. Nor in the early 21st century does it have much to do with public life in general.
To paraphrase Churchill, it is difficult to think of a period in which so many disreputable men (and women) have been able to get away with so much, with opposition or criticism from so few.
Brand and Ross's bullying nastiness - and the huge salaries they receive for it - may be symptomatic of a wider viciousness in British society, but their misdemeanours pale in comparison with the behaviour of an unaccountable political and financial elite whose members know that they will always prosper, no matter how much they lie or fail.
Consider Anthony Lynton Blair, the duplicitous pied piper who led his country into the Iraq war. At the very least Blair is guilty of gross incompetence to say nothing of the legal and moral issues in promoting a conflict that has killed up to a million people.
Yet today he receives an annual income of £12m and lectures students at Yale University on 'faith and globalisation'. Blair's knowledge and expertise in this field are far from clear. Whether in Iraq and the Occupied Territories, Lebanon or Afghanistan, his legacy has been one of violence, chaotic adventurism and failure.
Blair's disturbing combination of self-righteousness, dishonesty and intellectual vacuity was painfully revealed during a recent appearance on the totemic Daily Show, when he laid the blame for the violence in Iraq entirely on al-Qaeda and "Iranian-backed militias".
If this is the kind of wisdom that the global elite is paying for, then the current financial crisis is perhaps not so mysterious after all.
Blair's dizzy rise is partly a reward for services rendered whilst in power. But how to explain the current celebrity status of Alastair Campbell, his bullying propagandist, whose humiliation of the BBC ultimately led to the outing and the death - of David Kelly? Since Campbell left politics, the BBC has allowed its former tormentor unprecedented airtime to promote his diaries and more recently to pontificate on Jacques Brel.
Last week, the man who once told the Sun newspaper that the manic-depressive actress Nicola Pagett was sending him explicit love letters had a two-page spread analysing his novel and his enigmatic psyche in the Guardian.
Such men should be handled with protective clothing, but power and celebrity are always fascinating in certain circles, no matter how dank to the touch.
In our dysfunctional democracy the choices oscillate between Mandelson of Foy and Osborne of Bullingdon
In case we are tempted to dismiss Blair and Campbell as a couple of lucky rogues, we might remember the bankers who picked up stupendous bonuses while engaging in dodgy loan practices that now threaten to wipe out pensions, savings and jobs.
For years failure in the public services - whether real or imagined - has been a pretext for privatisation and government bullying. Now the architects of the banking crash have been rewarded at the taxpayers's expense for incompetence on an epic scale, while the 'Iron Chancellor' who glorified their activities poses as the world's saviour.
When Blair lectures his Yale students, he might recall the words of the Christian theologian Walter Rauschenbusch in 1910. A key figure in the American 'social gospel' movement, Rauschenbusch once prayed for "a vision of our city, fair as she might be... where all success shall be founded on service, and honour given to nobleness alone".
A century later we could not be further away from that ideal. What we do have is an increasingly dysfunctional democracy whose choices oscillate between Mandelson of Foy and Osborne of Bullingdon. And until the public shows the same level of outrage towards this state of affairs that it has shown towards two puerile 'comedians', such men will continue to rise and rise. ·
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