How to become a lord

This blog originally appeared as a column in the Andersonstown News

I wonder how Michael Fawcett is feeling these days. He used to be chief executive of one of Prince Charles’s charities,  but whether he was pushed or jumped, he is no longer so. That’s because there were accusations that he’d helped secure a knighthood for a Saudi billionaire. My guess is that Mr Fawcett is feeling some resentment and even a touch of bewilderment today.

Because he probably assumed, like the rest of us, that that’s how these things are done.  An investigation by The Sunday Times  and Open Democracy found what looked very like a direct link between cash shovelled the way of the Conservative Party and the granting of peerages. It worked like this: the multimillionaires took on a temporary role as party treasurer, forked out at least £3 million in donation to the party and bingo – they positioned their well-padded posteriors on the red benches of the House of Lords.  So it wasn’t as if Mr Fawcett was asking too much for his Saudi billionaire – it was a mere knighthood. Even Jeffrey Donaldson has one of those, so they can’t be that hard to procure.

But maybe if Mr Fawcett had studied American politics in the twentieth century, he would have learnt a universal truth: when establishment people are threatened, they will toss their granny, when and if necessary, to the wolves. President Richard Nixon disowned the Watergate burglars who were in fact CIA men, he shed underling after underling in an attempt to evade blame, until he finally was down to  his two head honchos, H R Haldeman and John Ehrlichmann. When that happened he was left with no protection, and was  forced to resign the presidency in 1974.

But regardless of time or place, that’s how higher-ups operate. We see this in our own tormented NE corner of Ireland. Recently, John Teggart representing the Ballymurpy families who had lost loved ones in 1971, spoke of their satisfaction that their names had been cleared in an inquest.  But that didn’t mean those who carried out the killings were punished.  On the contrary. The only soldier eventually brought to trial arrived with a chestful of medals, was lauded by many, made his way along a line of unionists waiting to shake his hand. When he caught Covid and died in mid-trial, he was buried with full military honours.

If  the Ballymurphy families are hoping that they’ll get justice by following the line of authorisation all the way to the top, it’s not going to happen. People at the top, the people who gave a green light for these soldiers to act as they did – they’ll never accept guilt, any more than Prince Charles will open up and confess that knighthoods and peerages get bought all the time.

Ballymurphy, Bloody Sunday, Pat Finucane, the dozens of cases involving the Glenanne gang: in all of these we know there were people higher up the food chain giving the green light to the killing of paddies. But the idea of them being answerable for their deeds is laughable. A feature of Winston Churchill’s life not often discussed is the fact that he diverted food to British soldiers and countries like Greece, leaving some four million Indians to starve to death.  But then Churchill never did like  Indians, and anyway that part of his career is little discussed as today he is hailed as one of the greatest Englishmen ever.

Maybe Mr Fawcett would have been better prepared for being dumped if he’d made himself familiar with Psalm 146:3 : “Put not your trust in princes.” I guess  he was off sick the day his Religion class did that bit.  

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