Forget Dame Shirley Porter, says Theodore Dalrymple. If it’s real scandal you are after, consider the millions wasted as a result of public service corruption
Dame Shirley Porter is the unacceptable face of corruption, a rich woman taken in gerrymandering (had she started off poor, no one would have minded). But though the sum of money she was initially required to pay Westminster Council in restitution was enormous, and the sum she agreed finally to pay pretty substantial by the standards of 99.99 per cent of humanity, these sums are small beer by comparison with what the thorough-going moral and intellectual corruption of the British public services costs the taxpayer every single day.
There never was a golden age, of course, when every last public employee worked his fingers unselfishly to the bone for the general good. In my vacations as a student, I sometimes worked as a hospital porter and saw at first hand the amiable villainy of a certain type of worker who would go to great and elaborate lengths to avoid work. And Dickens, after all, described the Circumlocution Office a century and a half ago. ‘How not to do it’ would be described nowadays as a mission statement (were it not for its honesty).
Still, there is little doubt that something has changed, and changed profoundly, in the British public services. It isn’t that our public officials are lazier, exactly (I only wish that they were): I would say rather the opposite. If you go into an average government office — the headquarters of an NHS Trust, for example — you will at once be struck by the look of intense worry on everyone’s face. It is as if a furrowed brow were a token of deep public responsibility.