15 May 2013
Internet radio is a wonderful thing. With it you can tune in to stations from around the world and enjoy hours of language that sounds mysterious and exotic whilst, at the same time, not understanding a single word. You can sample music and song from far away places and allow it to transport you to wherever you wish. It reminds me of old style valve radios where, guided by the green and glowing 'magic eye', you could find stations like Hilversum, Lille, Luxembourg, Allouis, Athlone, Droitwich, Warsaw and Moscow and listen to crackly voices beamed from halfway round the world.
Compare the joy of that experience to the stupifyingly dull content of something like this morning's edition of Radio 4's Today programme. John Humphreys is a very good radio journalist but his hushed tones when discussing the Oxford sex/rape/abuse/exploitation trial made me puke. With regard to the Oxford case he was asking what he clearly thought were important questions like, 'how could this happen' and 'why was nothing done'? What was really astonishing was that he seemed to suggest that we didn't already have the answer.
The reason that Oxford happened was an imbalance of power and the willingness of those with the power to exploit it ruthlessly and to their own advantage and gratification. Oxford is just the most recent example of instances that Humphreys himself has introduced and commented upon: Rochdale, Savile, Cyril Smith, Fred Goodwin, Bernie Madoff, Hillsborough, the list goes on and on. The common thread in almost every case is that people around the perpetrators knew what was going on and were either forced or encouraged or chose to do nothing.
What is saddest about the Oxford case is that, in the bigger scheme of things, the perpetrators are, when measured against wider society, not really powerful. They were powerful within their own limited circumstance but in the new environment, post-Savile, they are relatively powerless and it suits society to impose a severe penalty upon them. There will be breast-beating in the tabloids and demands for life sentences and, secretly, everyone will blame it on the fact that the perps are from an ethnic minority, foreigners, and therefore inherently likely to commit these crimes.
And, at the same time, other abuses will be quietly brushed under the carpet. No-one will be held accountable for the ongoing financial crisis quite simply because everyone in the establishment, financial and governmental, was and remains implicated.
In some ways, I feel rather sorry for the Oxford 9 because they were caught in a time when it is convenient for society to exact revenge. The same will probably be said about Stuart Hazell. My guess is that it will never be said about Fred Goodwin.