The Guardian

The Guardian August 29, 2001


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Efficient? Over my dead body!

The next time someone in your hearing parrots that line about privatised 
enterprises being more efficient than public ones, just tell them about the 
interesting experience of the police service in Britain.

The Police used to be responsible for moving crashed vehicles from accident 
sites, including removing dead bodies and collecting body parts from 
mangled wreckage.

To reduce staff and still clear the same (or greater) workload  the 
definition of "efficiency" under capitalism  the authorities in the 
majestic British Isles have reduced the number of police available to 
attend accidents.

Instead, they now call in private contractors to clear accident sites. 
"Their" primary interest is to do the job as quickly as possible with as 
few people as possible, and get on to the next job (and the next fee from 
the Police service).

The (wholly predictable) result is that "nearly ten per cent" of cars 
involved in fatal accidents have been found to still contain body parts 
when the cars are sent to the wreckers' yards! Charming. But "so" 
efficient.

Britain, of course, is the country which keeps its aristocracy intact to 
distract the people from their declining standard of living, loss of public 
housing and public services, run-down health care, etc.

As long as there are nobs riding down the main street in a gilt coach 
escorted by colourful cavalry some of the people will swallow the official 
line about Britain still being "great". And as long as they do that they 
won't pay so much attention to what a sorry state the country's "really" 
in.

That's how the theory goes, at any rate. But as poverty spreads across the 
land, the increasing wealth of the top aristocrats is proving to be a bit 
of an embarrassment.

The top aristos of course are the Royal Family, who take a fortune out of 
the public purse each year in return for a bit of light sightseeing and 
dining (the much vaunted "burden" of being Royal).

It's actually a very successful business empire (but that doesn't stop them 
expecting and accepting big subsidies from the State  you can never have 
"too" much money). The rest of the capitalist world may be suffering an 
economic slowdown, but the Queen and the rest of her Firm haven't noticed 
it.

In the last financial year the Queen's private estates alone brought in 
L7.3 million. That's an "increase" of 26 per cent over the previous year!

My mother used to do housework for a rich lady who lived in the Sydney 
harbourside suburb of Edgecliffe. This woman had someone who came in once a 
week just to clean the silver.

The Queen, of course, has lots of silver, and must also employ a lot of 
suitably deferential folk just to dust the tiaras and clean up after the 
corgis and do all those other jobs that rich people seem incapable of doing 
for themselves. But increasingly, the British people are asking themselves 
whether the Royals are worth it.

The age of keeping royal parasites ended in the first half of the 20th 
century, with the overthrow of capitalism in Russia. Royals are a hangover 
from feudalism which capitalism finds a useful and decorative diversion, as 
I said earlier.

But just as capitalism creates its own grave diggers, in the form of 
exploited workers, so the Royals, by their opulence and their conspicuous 
and extravagant consumption, create their own tumbrel builders.

* * *
Propaganda? Not on TV
From 1965 to 1974, Efrem Zimbalist Jr starred in a US TV series shown here called "The FBI". It was not only made with the co-operation of J Edgar Hoover's outfit, it was overseen by the Bureau. Scripts had to be approved by the FBI before they could be produced. One writer later told how his script, about the real-life bombing of the Southern black church in which two little girls died, was approved subject to necessary changes: the incident had to be moved from the South to the North; the church had to be white as did the two victims. And of course, the reason for the bombing had to be changed from racism to something more acceptable, like extortion or a "crazed bomber". The writer found this blatant racism extraordinary considering that combatting civil rights abuses was supposed to be an FBI task. Naturally the series never brooked any criticism of the FBI. Nor was it ever allowed to fail. It was, in short, propaganda for J Edgar and his boys. Political propaganda and whitewashing masquerading as TV drama is back in the news with the upcoming release of a host of new shows about the CIA (with the CIA's full co-operation, of course), nebulous "government departments" looking a lot like Ollie North's clandestine operation from the White House basement, and of course the FBI. As the Washington Post puts it, "No fewer than five new network series depict the exploits of people with civil-service pay grades, shiny employee identification badges and very large guns." They also have a sinister propaganda message, but I'll talk about that in more detail next week.

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