It could, of course, happen to any of us, and where an otherwise innocent driver happens to get nicked, picked up by an anonymous camera, we can all feel a degree of “there but for the grace of God…”. The press would - perhaps will - no doubt underscore the fact that this was the EU Transport Commissioner, someone who would have had a particular interest in staying out of this kind of trouble. But there it is. As Harold MacMillan once said “Events, dear boy…”.
My interest, however, is on Lord Kinnock’s sense of justice. His response to the magistrate’s ban was that, although “massively inconvenient”, it was “just”. We could perhaps agree with that, although as implied above, most of us would probably feel that justice was not always applied equally, and that in this case Lord Kinnock had been a little unlucky. What most of us would accept is that while most of us speed, and most of us “work” the cameras, and most of us brake as we spot, or think we spot, police cars ahead, if we get caught we know what’s coming to us. If we get caught.
It will surprise no reader here that my focus is, once again, on the British Council, of which Lord Kinnock is Chair. I am not close enough to the organisation or to its trustees to remark on his qualities as Chair, but I do know that he goes into bat for the organisation with great enthusiasm and commitment. But does he do this with the same “tribal” instinct with which he supports, say, the Welsh rugby team? I’m happy to reserve judgement on that, but my suspicion is that his support is instinctive and uncritical in a post where, whatever the public posture, dispassionate appraisal and a firm commitment to integrity and transparency are essential for the ongoing credibility of British institutions worldwide. There are quite simply too many British Council people (7,600) in too many countries for any other culture to work.
On this blog we have repeatedly aired issues we have in connection with the British Council, and we have done this after all other avenues have been exhausted. The early correspondence relating to our “claims”, so readily and comprehensively dismissed by the Director General, was all copied to the British Council Chair, at that time Baroness Kennedy, and this made apparently not a whit of difference, and so began our vain safari through other Establishment channels in our quest for justice. And so it is that, while the British Council response to our representations has since been characterised by evasion and obfuscation and denial, we have nevertheless gradually uncovered the true story and put our findings here. When the Director-General expressed his satisfaction, twice, in 2004 that there was “no basis” for our claims, not only was there a sound and obvious basis for our claims but as we now know the British Council was ladling whitewash over a most blatant and unmissable conflict of interest. And the British Council staff involved all got caught. I would describe the effect of the organisation’s duplicity as rather more serious than inconvenient, even “massively inconvenient”. Because it matters. And if you get caught the principles should be the same in London as in Abergavenny.
So, Lord Kinnock, what’s just?