Friday, July 22, 2011
Five-star hotel Claridge's 'threw us out for being white and English'
Staff wanted to serve wealthy Arabs instead, claims socialite Taki Theodoracopulos
One of Britain's most exclusive hotels has been accused of throwing out a visitor - for being white and English. Claridge’s in Mayfair, central London, has been a favourite venue for the rich and famous and is often referred to as 'an extension of Buckingham Palace'.
But socialite and writer Taki Theodoracopulos has accused the establishment of favouring rich Arabs who spend frivolously over British aristocrats.
Theodoracopulos said that he was with a group of friends at the hotel's bar when he was asked to leave because the staff 'were hoping for Gulf people'. 'We were neither drunk nor obstreperous but we were refused a table although the place was less than one third full,' Theodoracopulos wrote in his Spectator magazine High Life column.
Theodoracopulos said that he had dined nearby with his group of friends, including the Marquess of Worcester and his brother Lord John Somerset. The 74-year-old Greek-born writer said that he wanted a table but was asked to leave. Theodoracopulos, who has homes in London, New York and Switzerland, is demanding an apology and calling for a boycott of the venue.
'Harry Worcester had the brilliant idea to go to Claridge’s bar for a drink,' he wrote. 'After politely suggesting that the management should give us one, the maitre d’ came over and asked us to leave. 'Lord Worcester protested, as did his brother Lord John Somerset. I was at the bar and unaware we were being given the heave-ho. Once I caught on, it was too late. My party was out the door.
'So here’s what I think happened and why I am outraged. We were speaking English, we were white and we had not demanded myriad bottles of champagne.
'The staff were obviously hoping for Gulf people, whose moolah (slang for money) derives from the theft of their countries’ resources. 'The idea that four English-speaking European gents with four ladies in tow are asked to leave Claridge’s is as outrageous as it’s foul.'
The hotel has denied any knowledge of the incident and rejects the idea that they prefer wealthy Arabs as guests. 'We have checked. There is no record of such an incident. I think he is being deliberately provocative and mischievous,' a spokesman told the Daily Telegraph.
But Theodoracopulos said he stands by his story is 'still very upset by what happened.'
“Of course I support a free press, but …”
All-party support for regulating the media threatens to reverse the historic gains of the struggle for press freedom
You would be hard pressed to know it from the madness of recent news headlines, but there has been an even more important issue at stake in the hacking furore than whether Rebekah Brooks would lose her key to the News Corp executive washroom, or whether a committee of British MPs would get to enjoy an orgasm of outrage in front of Rupert Murdoch this week.
What matters far above and beyond all of that is the future of a free press. And it already seems clear that, no matter who might eventually get convicted of what and how far Murdoch’s shares might fall, the biggest loser will be press freedom.
We have entered the age of ‘I support a free press, but…’ Every leading British politician who has spoken on this subject of late has begun by assuring us that of course they want to see a free, even a ‘raucous’ press, one that ‘can make our lives miserable’, etc. This just the warm-up, going through the motions.
Then comes the punchline: ‘But….’ In the light of recent revelations, they conclude, the ‘culture’ of the press must, of course, be made more responsible, to produce a more ethical servant of the ‘public interest’. And to ensure the raucous Fleet Street Kids behave themselves along these lines, new proposals for more intervention in the news media have been streaming off the presses with the support of all parties – parliamentary hearings, police investigations and a judge-led public inquiry empowered by the government to ‘craft a new system of press regulation’.
The notion that more official regulation of the media is a good thing for the people goes against the tide of history. The fight to free the press from state control has been central to almost every major struggle for liberty and democratic revolution.
It was in the midst of the English Revolution of the 1640s that John Milton wrote his pioneering pamphlet against the system under which nobody could publish anything without a licence from the king, so that ‘unoffensive books must not stir forth without a visible jailer in their title’. Milton asked only for a ‘free and open encounter’ between Falsehood and Truth.
When the American revolutionaries wrote the Bill of Rights into their new Constitution in 1789, the First Amendment could not have been clearer about the principle of the press being freed from state control in a democratic society. ‘Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.’
In the 1840s, the first articles a young Karl Marx had published in a German newspaper were a polemical series against the control of the press by the Prussian state. Marx argued that ‘The free press is the ubiquitous vigilant eye of a people’s soul, the embodiment of a people’s faith in itself…. It is the spiritual mirror in which a people can see itself, and self-examination is the first condition of wisdom.’
This is just part of the history of struggle that has brought us to something imperfectly approximating a free press. Yet now, in twenty-first-century Britain, it seems the authorities are agreed upon the project of turning back the clock. More than 200 years after the American Puritans declared that politicians ‘shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press’, our allegedly liberal British politicians appear bent on doing just that. The fact that the new anti-press regulations have this time been justified as a defence of victims rather than of kings, and as an attack on the power of Murdoch rather than on the liberties of the public, does not alter the fact that they represent a poke in the ‘vigilant eye of a people’s soul’.
Worse, as this is the UK 2011, and our elected politicians lack the nerve to do things in their own name, they have handed over the future of press freedom to a judge: the unelected and unaccountable Lord Justice Leveson, who now apparently has the authority to reverse the gains of history. Tory prime minister David Cameron told parliament this week that, although a new legal regulator of the press might be needed, of course he did not personally favour ‘full statutory regulation’. But the judge’s inquiry was free to consider all options, and if m’lud decided to bring the press under full state regulation then, said Cameron, ‘we will have to be guided by what this inquiry finds’.
So the government and the judges are out to restage the battle for a free press. Yet where are the Miltons and Thomas Paines of today? Most of those who would claim to be liberals have not only gone over to the other side, but are leading the regime’s cavalry charge against press freedom. Liberal journalists waving their anti-Murdoch banners have been in the forefront of the campaign for more legal and police action to control the tabloid press, using high-profile victims such as murder victim Milly Dowler’s parents as human shields in their propaganda war. Some allegedly liberal commentators have even proposed that journalists should once more be licensed before they can publish anything. Great idea – why not go the whole historical hog and say the queen has to endorse the licence? Or maybe in the age when celebrities rule the Earth it might be more appropriate to put Princess Kate in charge of licensing the press.
It is quite a thing to realise that these supposedly cynical journalists and campaigners are naive enough to imagine that new regulation of the written word will only affect the ‘bad’ tabloid press, not the ‘good’ outlets that they write for and read. It is reminiscent of the left wingers in the 1930s who campaigned for and applauded the introduction of a Public Order Act to counter the fascists – and were then astonished when the state first turned the new laws against them.
We do not actually live in an absolute monarchy or a Prussian police state. The British newspapers are not all about to be closed down (unless they go out of business) and the internet is flourishing. But the danger to a free press comes not only from censorship. The more insidious threat is conformism. The current drive to tame the tabloids can only reinforce the consensus that there are things than cannot be said, ideas that cannot be questioned, and issues that should not be investigated. If the one-note drone of the media and the Twittertariat during the hacking scandal – all repeating the same moralistic message, over and over again – is a sign of things to come, then the free press is already on the missing list.
There is a long record of self-censorship in the British media. George Orwell noted it in his 1945 essay, ‘Freedom of the press’, which he wrote as a preface to Animal Farm (though it has rarely been published with the book). Orwell observed that, even during the national crisis of the Second World War, the state had not been a heavy-handed censor: ‘The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary…. Things are kept right out of the British press, not because the government intervenes but because of a general tacit agreement that “it wouldn’t do” to mention that particular fact.’ We are now faced with a new generation of gutless, risk-averse self-censors at the forefront of the illiberal liberal media, telling us that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to say that.
The judge’s inquiry may be free to consider all options, but we can be reasonably sure that he will not conclude that there is already too little freedom and too much regulation of the press, both formal and informal. Whatever the outcome of all the investigations and inquiries, the tabloid press has been found guilty. It’s time to make a stand for a raucous, irreverent and offensive media that is prepared to question everything, before we find ourselves convicted of practising irresponsible journalism without a licence.
Corruption behind British correctness?
It's just done more subtly in Britain -- and in good taste, of course
Britons love to lecture the world about integrity and the rule of law, but the News of the World phone hacking scandal has laid bare a web of collusion between money, power, media and the police.
Far from the innocent, upright democracy of its self-image, Britain is showing a seamy side that anti-corruption campaigners say is getting worse and may be politically explosive as society becomes more unequal due to the financial and economic crises.
Behind a facade of probity, London offers a haven for oligarchs and despots, a place where foreign media magnates have bought access to and influence over the government.
The scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch's media empire has already destroyed a newspaper, cost two top police officers their jobs, seen the arrest of powerful media figures and embarrassed the prime minister and political elite.
But it points to a bigger problem in British society -- overly cozy relationships among elites that are ethically dangerous, even when they do not involve outright criminality.
Britain says it has been bolstering its legal and regulatory system. Just this month a new law on bribery tightening rules for UK firms operating abroad entered force.
But some of the world's leading transparency campaigners say that the hacking scandal exemplifies unhealthy links between power and money.
"The bottom line... is that for some time there has been undue influence on UK governments and public policy by powerful private interests," says Daniel Kaufmann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC.
"It is ... often a more sophisticated form of high-level political corruption. It may not be strictly illegal -- or it may be more subtle -- but that does not mean it is not very costly for society or the economy," said Kaufman, a former director of the World Bank Institute and creator of the closely watched Worldwide Governance Indicators.
If unchecked, "elite capture" of political systems can become "privatization of public policy" -- a growing danger in both Britain and the United States, he said.
As with media barons such as Murdoch, the influence of the financial services industry is so strong, Kaufmann argued, that politicians have long avoided questioning it.
That acquiescence contributed to the global financial crisis. It has also made Britain one of the key banking centers for the world's most corrupt oligarchs and despots.
Financial secrecy arrangements -- such as Britain's system of financial "trusts", which allow powerful figures to mask the ownership of assets -- have rarely if ever been challenged by the government, say financiers and campaigners.
When power elites in the Middle East looked for somewhere to send their money during the "Arab Spring" uprisings this year, wealth managers told Reuters London was the prime beneficiary. Much may have been legitimately earned, some almost certainly not.
Both Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's son Gamal and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif owned property in London through complex trusts and front companies in Panama and the British Virgin Islands.
Through its close links with tax haven satellites such as the Channel Islands, Gibraltar and the Isle of Man, experts say Britain is at the center of many such schemes.
"London has become the money launderers' destination of choice," says John Christensen, a former economic adviser to the Channel island of Jersey, who now runs the Tax Justice Network, a group campaigning for tighter regulation.
"If you look at the way we talk about and measure corruption in the West, it's either Africa or Asia which comes out worse. But we are using a distorted prism."
It's not just Britain. A Reuters investigation this month showed how some U.S. states -- notably Wyoming and Delaware -- were failing to meet international standards, offering "shelf companies" to help hide assets and avoid tax.
Christensen argues that states have been losing control of the financial system for more than 30 years and now find themselves increasingly at its mercy.
Even groups such as Transparency International -- which has traditionally focused on criticizing "conventionally" corrupt states in emerging economies -- are beginning to shift their attention to developed world corruption.
TI published a report earlier this month entitled "Britain: more corrupt than you think", showing that a majority of people believed corruption was worsening in the country.
"It is not that corruption is endemic in the UK as it is in some other countries but there is a worrying degree of complacency," said Chandrashekhar Krishnan, Executive Director of Transparency International UK. "The focus (now) is on corruption in the media and allegations about bribing the police... but we are also particularly worried about political party funding, parliament, sport and the prison system."
Even recent gains are not always what they seem. For example Transparency International points to the UK Bribery Act. The law's introduction was delayed after frantic lobbying by companies who said it would make them uncompetitive, prompting officials to effectively water down some of the guidance on how rigorously it would be enforced.
The institution responsible for enforcing it, the Serious Fraud Office, is also suffering budget cuts -- as are other bodies aimed at tackling grassroots corruption in prisons, police, local government, and taxation. The previous government halted bribery investigations into arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing the national interest.
Not everyone despairs. Some argue that the Internet and social media may prompt a new era of transparency, raising the reputational risks for governments that fail to clean up their act.
The Brookings Institute's Kaufmann argues that antimonopoly regulations and diverse political systems involving more than two main parties could help by making it harder for oligarchs to control the system.
Activists warn of growing public discontent. In Britain, lobby group UKuncut has organised direct action including flash mobs outside firms they accuse of avoiding tax -- although they say they had no hand in throwing a cream pie at Murdoch on Tuesday at a parliamentary committee.
"It's a bit like the beginning of an avalanche where it is very hard to predict where it will end up," said Tim Hardy, a left-wing blogger describing himself as a cheerleader for the officially leaderless group.
Nor is discontent limited to the political fringe. One former senior British official said on condition of anonymity that groups such as UKuncut "have more of a point than they know".
Political advisers to banks warn of a growing global anti-establishment backlash.
John Bassett -- a former senior official at the British signals intelligence agency GCHQ and now a senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute -- says that coming after the financial and economic crises the hacking scandal "has revitalized the narrative of a corrupt elite.
"The long-term result is likely to be a further erosion in the credibility of the British establishment, particularly the media and police, in the eyes of citizens."
It's not the media that's invading our privacy, it's the government
Comment from Australia
PRIVACY and Freedom of Information Minister Brendan O'Connor claimed yesterday in The Australian, "This government believes in a free media and freedom of expression, and we also believe in the right to a private life."
Perhaps he does but the actions speak louder than words. It's not the media that is invading everyone's privacy, it's the government.
In one after another aspect of life state and federal governments have dispensed with any presumption that your behaviour, opinions or associations are none of anyone else's business.
An increasingly large share of our tax dollars is being used to employ a growing army of people to prescribe, monitor, enforce and report on activity that ought to be considered private.
A serious review of privacy should open up debate about the effectiveness or desirability of present prohibitions on private action.
A serious privacy review might consider, for instance, why we don't allow an adult video game classification or the public value of last year's decision to ban a gay zombie film from being shown at a Melbourne film festival.
In most cases each individual intrusion is innocuous; in some cases the short-term impacts are arguably beneficial, such as the curbs on smoking. But it's a part of a trend to regulate recreation, speech and consumption even further.
It is, for instance, illegal in NSW to raffle cosmetic surgery, although cosmetic surgery and raffles remain legal. It's also illegal to use a solarium if you're under 30 -- an age of consent without precedent anywhere else in law -- and it's illegal to box until you're 14, although horse riding remains a more dangerous sport. In Queensland it's illegal to skateboard, scooter or roller blade after dark. "I'm not anti-fun, I'm pro-safety," Labor politician Rachel Nolan said when announcing the changes. "This is just as much about common courtesy as it is about common sense."
Her press release and subsequent statements offered no data on the safety case or indeed the courtesy case but, then, one can generally be guaranteed an absence of facts when government resorts to claiming a measure is about common sense.
The election of the Baillieu government in Victoria ensures it will no longer be the only state in the federation where a smoking enthusiast can indulge the no doubt twilight years of their hobby with a water pipe.
Last year fireworks were finally banned in the ACT after continuing complaints not of human injury but of nervous animals.
On the horizon or under consideration for bans in various states and territories at the moment are energy drinks, junk food advertising, "offensive" T-shirts, helium balloons, "exploitative" advertising, trans fats and canals.
Elsewhere additional resources are being applied to crack down on activities that have long been regulated but that warrant a fresh think about how useful or desirable this prohibition is. More resources than ever are being applied to the regulation of prostitution, firearms and drugs without a clear picture of the specific public benefits to be obtained or comparative analysis of competing approaches.
Meanwhile, every day that passes without a resolution to a serious challenge such as indigenous literacy seems to usher forth yet another resource-devouring intrusion into private life. If the government is serious about privacy its first task should be to identify those areas where government could improve privacy rights simply by keeping its own nose out of other people's business.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.