by Paul Goodman
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Charles Moore's recent scourging of Britain's banking elite struck a nerve – and not only among bankers – so the new campaign trailed in today's Guardian to rein it in may strike another one. The campaign says that –
"A 1,000-strong "public jury" should be selected at random to draw up a "public interest first" test to ensure that power is taken away from "remote interest groups" which currently treat the public with contempt, according to the group's declaration."
But hang on a moment.
- The campaign lumps together bankers' bonuses, MPs' expenses and illegal phone hacking. But are, say, bankers, MPs and senior figures at Trinity Mirror PLC all part of a single "elite"? How many MPs are bankers – or have any contact with banking? How many Mirror journalists had any contact with MPs expenses, other than writing about them?
- But let's concede the existence of a private sector elite for the sake of the argument. By the same token, isn't there also an elite which gains from a bigger public sector? And aren't former Director-Generals of the BBC, such as Greg Dyke, and Guardian columnists, such as Polly Toynbee, part of it? Needless to say, they're among the campaign's supporters.
- Shouldn't the "public interest first" test which they propose, therefore, apply to all big interests that could be considered vested, not just some of them? Is it in the public interest that the BBC consumes 70 per cent of the viewing share of national and international news? That the state provides public services as well as commissioning them? That it treated Fiona Pilkington or Baby P as it did?
- And if there is to be such a test, why should only a thousand people in a country of over 60 million have the privilege of applying it? Wouldn't an elite selected by lot be an elite none the less? And end up producing exactly what the campaign is complaining about in the first place – namely, an elite exercising disproportionate power?