Policing the People's Jury, the spirit of cricket and passing the buck

Peter Wilby sizes up the fight against the “feral elite”, sympathises with Charles Moore, shouts as

I like the term "feral elite", coined by assorted peers, academics, journalists and writers for those responsible for phone-hacking, the financial crisis and other misdemeanours. Presumably, those who have petitioned for a "people's jury" to explore how to bring it to heel - they include the author Philip Pullman, the former BBC director general Greg Dyke, the Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, the Labour peer and barrister Helena Kennedy and the Compass chair, Neal Lawson - would call themselves the domesticated or herbivorous elite.

Unfortunately, the jury doesn't have the smallest chance of getting the public finance it requires, particularly under a Conservative-led government. Besides, a randomly selected jury of 1,000 is unlikely to agree on such an abstract remit as how "to put the British public interest first". In courts of law, juries of 12, after hearing a strictly controlled range of evidence, are asked a simple "guilty or not guilty" question, not: "How can we stop people committing crime?" Some jurors, I fear, will think the public interest best served by reintroducing capital punishment, or keeping out immigrants.

Perhaps Dyke et al hope to emulate the US Tea Party by whipping up a grass-roots revolt, but pointing it in a different direction. The Tea Party, however, organised rallies and headline-grabbing events and gained a significant foot­hold in an established political party. It is a very British notion that anything can be achieved by setting up a super-sized committee under benign liberal supervision.

People, get ready

Among the initial signatories to the People's Jury petition, I see no recognisable names from the right. The organisers are missing a trick. Principled right-wingers are as troubled by the "feral elite" as those of us on the left - more so, indeed, than the not very principled New Labour crowd, which looks more discredited by the day. Among the tortured souls is Charles Moore, the former Daily Telegraph editor and biographer-elect of Margaret Thatcher. In a recent Telegraph column, he asked: "Is the left right after all?" No, this was not some elaborate wordplay. His piece, except for a few paragraphs, was a stirring call to the barricades. For example: "Democratic politics, which purports to enrich the many, is actually in the pocket of . . . bankers, media barons and other moguls." Here is a solemn pledge. If the petitioners get Moore to sign up, I shall do so, too.

Sex wars of the sectarians

Members of the Kensington (London) mosque, otherwise known as the Daily Mail headquarters, are mightily excited about posters announcing sharia law in east London. These demand no gambling, porn, prostitution, drugs or alcohol. To secular eyes, they seem indistinguishable from an average edition of the Mail, which consistently campaigns against casinos, drugs of all kinds, extended licensing hours, bare ankles on TV before 9pm, and men who visit prostitutes to satisfy odd sexual preferences. It is often hard for outsiders to fathom arguments between religious sects. Perhaps Ayatollah Dacre, the Mail's "editor", will explain.

For whom the Bell tolls

What should have happened when Ian Bell was run out for England during the Test match against India at Trent Bridge is as follows. The England captain, Andrew Strauss, should have announced over the public address system that Bell and the rest of the team accepted the Indian appeal and umpires' decision as legitimate. Thinking it was time for tea, Bell left his ground before the umpire called "over". The Indians were sharp enough to spot it. Good for them, bad for Bell. Would spectators please refrain from booing and accord visitors the usual courtesies? That would have affirmed the "spirit of cricket", if there is a such a thing.

Instead, Strauss and the coach, Andy Flower, trooped off to the Indian dressing room to instruct the colonials on the game's unwritten laws - invoked when it suits England - and to ask the Indian captain to withdraw the appeal. After such a request, he had no alternative but to accede, not least because the knowledge that it had been made would have enhanced and legitimised any subsequent abuse towards the Indian team and its supporters. An Australian or white South African captain would not have felt thesame pressure, and quite probably the request wouldn't have been made at all.

Robbing Peter

As critics point out, the deal between Democrats and Republicans to ease the US debt crisis will be largely at the expense of the American poor. But other poor people play a role in this drama. They live in China. Their country is the largest single holder of US foreign debt, accounting for a quarter of the total. In effect, the Chinese shore up the dollar so that Americans can continue buying their cheap manufactured goods, produced by children working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and sleeping by their machines in the factories.

China holds more than a third of its GDP in US dollar reserves, either in cash or in treasury securities. Yet in a society where inequality is moving close to African and Latin American levels, spending on social security is pitiful. It will probably stay that way until China's ruling elite have forced every last rural peasant into an urban sweatshop.

We should sympathise with American workers whose wages have been forced down to "compete" with China and who will now bear reductions in public services and social security so that the rich can keep their Bush-era tax cuts. But we should remember that, every time it raises the debt ceiling, the US is taking another subsidy from Chinese workers.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 08 August 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Slum rule