Monday, 29 October 2012

Conrad's Heart of Darkness

I come not to bury Conrad Black… nor to praise him.

Did you see this interview on Newsnight last week? My favourite bit was Conrad expressing a wish to smash Jeremy Paxman's face in. He also turned up to be interviewed on Sky by Adam Boulton: amidst the arrogance, he rather wonderfully paused to ask for Boulton's name - a slight which will have hurt that pompous presenter more than physical violence ever could.

If you're unsure who he is, Conrad, Lord Black of Crossharbour is a viciously rightwing Canadian newspaper magnate who quit the wide open prairies to own the Daily Telegraph and various other British and American newspapers, motivated by twin greeds for power and money. Citizen Kane-eh, if you like.

Being obsessive about free markets, it was somewhat of a surprise to find that when he sold his newspaper empire, he took 'non-compete' fees: essentially bribes not to start competitors to the publications he'd sold. Hardly free-market economics. He was convicted of several counts of fraud and dishonesty, some of which have been overturned on technicalities.

I rather like Conrad. He's rude, blustering, arrogant, entirely devoid of reflective qualities. He's nakedly greedy and incapable of considering anything objectively - and is therefore top quality copy. More importantly, I think he needs to be taken less seriously. He's been used, for the last few years, as a mini-Murdoch: a Capitalist Bogeyman with which to scare the kids. Don't be like Conrad, they'd say, with his silly fancy dress costumes and his Marie Antoinette wife and corporate jets. He's bad, mkay?

It's a distraction. Conrad's a pantomime baddy, the jester of corporate capitalism. He's the disciplinary model: if you're not behaving like him, you're OK, seems to be the message.

This is wrong. Conrad ripped off some other greedy scumbags and got caught. Paraded through the courts and interviews, we're all meant to boo and hiss, then return to our lives safe in the knowledge that the Bad Guys always get caught in the end.

Total bollocks, of course. The real bad guys don't nick the occasional private jet, or filch a few million here or there. The real bad guys don't need to break the law, because laws are made and unmade for them. They deal in multiples of billions and they don't wear fancy dress, at least not in public. They dress down and stay out of the papers. They trash entire countries and even global economies. They're bailed out by you and me, paid for by cuts in disabled children's welfare funds (true) and hospital closures. You'll never know their names and they'll never take responsibility.

So laugh at Conrad if you like, but while you do, the real heist is happening elsewhere.


The Red Witch said...

When Conrad Black bought the Dominion grocery store chain, he gutted the worker's pensions and kept the money for himself. He got away with that one too. He has committed some heists, maybe not as much lately because his conduct is coming under closer scrutiny but he is a crook.

The Plashing Vole said...

Totally agree - he is a crook who has made life uunbearable both for his employees and those whose media became his playthings. But he's useful in the corporate world as an abjected tumour, to make them all look respectable.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, he's not Canadian anymore. Gave up his citizenship (with many snide remarks) when he became a British Lord.

And you're welcome to Lord Crosspatch. We don't want him back.