Once upon a time, the sun never set on the British Empire administered by a politically impartial civil service, the police were seen as stern but jolly blokes on the side of the righteous, banking was an honourable profession, politicians were models of rectitude who resigned at the first hint of scandal or error and took responsibility for their Ministry. Journalists reported the news and exposed wrong-doings. A cosy picture perhaps.
Nowadays, there is no Empire but a politicised civil service while the police are overworked, overwhelmed with paperwork, work in “partnerships with other agencies” rather than catch criminals and, at least as far as The Met goes, are embroiled in corruption scandals. Our politicians, with a few honourable exceptions, have been exposed as expense-fiddling, venial, self-serving careerists who seem to believe that they can get away with anything while lecturing the electorate on the need for restraint, belt-tightening and blah blah blah. Bankers have proved to be gamblers with their clients’ money and have driven Western economies into the ground. Journalists are, thanks to the allegations made about Murdoch’s empire, suffering a similar fate; phone and computer hacking with its associated illegalities, undue influence on the political process and corporate malfeasance are just some of the charges laid against them.
We have become so used to hearing about corruption, and behaviour which is just plain wrong, that we no longer care. We just shrug our shoulders and say “I told you so”. Given the above, this is understandable but it is very dangerous. Our society is founded on the assumptions that politicians work in the national interest, a fair civil service enacts political policy, financial leaders are acting in a decent, responsible manner while our police and news media maintain a vigilant eye on the transgressors of these ideals. As these assumptions fail so does our belief in our institutions and society as a whole.
There is a Masonic saying which I think is apt: “A man should live respected and die regretted”. How many of our politicians, bankers, police and journalists can make that claim?