Two quite exceptional and significant events have just occurred in London. The police arrived in Downing Street to interview Tony Blair over his party’s awarding of honours in return for huge donations and loans to the party’s funding – which is forbidden by law. Blair’s chief fundraiser has already been arrested. No British prime minister in or out of office has ever been subjected to police questioning. Just imagine what a long way this is from Gladstone or Churchill.
On the very same day, the government announced that the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into bribery of influential Saudis in order to assure large defence contracts – in particular one for 72 Tornado aircraft – is to be called off “in the national interest.” The Serious Fraud Office was on the trail of a vast slush fund, and other unexplained accounts and companies in the British Virgin Islands, while also obtaining key information from Swiss banks. Tens of millions of pounds were evidently slipped to Saudi princes and they resented and feared what the repercussions of their revealed corruption and debauchery would be in a country supposedly a model of Islamic virtue. They have been threatening to cancel the contracts. The government pretends that “No weight has been given to commercial interests,” thus adding mendacity to venality and immorality. In effect, the Saudis have successfully blackmailed Britain.
We have been here before. In the early 1980s, the Saudis in public cut the head off a young girl in the ruling family who had eloped with the man she intended to marry. He too was killed. A British television company made and showed a documentary film of this atrocity. The Saudi rulers threatened dire vengeance on Britain, and the Foreign Secretary of the day flew to Riyadh to apologise for the film. The Saudis thus have a record in successfully blackmailing Britain as and when they like, in effect obliging the British to drop their moral standards and wallow in Saudi sleaze.
In his forthcoming and hard-hitting book The Enemy at Home, the social commentator Dinesh D’Souza speaks of the decadence of Europe as though this were a well-known given fact. I confess I was jolted to see this judgement on the page, stark and menacing as it is. But the police in Downing Street and this abject surrender to the Saudis are evidence of nothing less than decadence. The only consolation is that Saudi Arabia is a society in which the qualities needed to be a pilot, a controller, and in particular an aircraft fitter, are so thoroughly despised that they have to call on foreign mercenaries to do the work. These defence contracts are primarily ways for the Saudi royals to skim money off for themselves. The expensive planes and missiles stay in hangars, largely unserviced, hopefully rusting.