Hutton and the celebrity victims
spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).
Imagine a news story announcing that ‘Mohamed Al Fayed may decide the fate of the British monarchy at the forthcoming inquest into the deaths of his son, Dodi, and Diana, Princess of Wales’. Preposterous, you say. Yet would it be any more preposterous than the weekend’s headlines announcing that David Kelly’s widow ‘may decide the fate of the Blair Government’ at the Hutton inquiry?
After all, both Mr Al Fayed and Mrs Kelly are grief-stricken victims’ relatives, torn by powerful emotions over their loved ones’ deaths. Which means that neither is in any position to pass political verdicts on the nation’s behalf.
Janice Kelly will give evidence about her husband’s death today. As The Times reported, ‘the quiet anger of a wife robbed of the man she loved threatens to become the lingering image of Lord Hutton’s inquiry.’ The implication of many reports is that Mrs Kelly’s anger and grief best qualify her to judge the Government’s role. In a more rational world, however, the opposite assumption would apply. We would accept that the recently bereaved were in the worst position to bring any objective perspective to public debates that touch on their personal loss. Then again, in a more rational world we would not be witnessing these unprecedented public hearings into the private tragedy of a civil servant’s suicide.
The deference shown to the Kelly family by almost everybody up to Lord ‘I’m in charge’ Hutton is symptomatic of a trend. Ours is an age of emotionalism in which victims are elevated to hero status, and people are valued more for what they endure than for what they achieve.
In life Dr Kelly was an unknown scientific expert. Yet at his funeral it was reported that the church flag flew at half mast and that bells tolled for him ‘across the country’. It was announced that a memorial to the Ministry of Defence man would be erected in ‘his native South Wales’, where he had not actually lived since shortly after his birth. What was really being commemorated here, Dr Kelly’s life, or simply his death? He attained this elevated status only after he had died and become widely seen as a victim of ‘dark forces’. The Kelly family are not the first victims’ relatives to be invested with moral authority to influence political issues. In recent years, almost every emotive campaign has been fronted by victims or their relatives: the parents of Stephen Lawrence, Sarah Payne and James Bulger, the survivors of the Potters Bar and Hatfield rail crashes, the Omagh families. The implicit message is always that to oppose their demands is to offend the victims’ memories, almost to dance on their graves.
Now some hope to turn the newfound moral authority of Mrs Kelly against Tony Blair’s Government. New Labour is effectively being hoist with its own petard.
With their efforts to co-opt the Dunblane parents after the 1996 school massacre, and the infamous ‘People’s Princess’ speech after Diana’s death, nobody did more than Blair and Alastair Campbell to consolidate the cult of the victim and the new politics of sentimentality.
We can all feel compassion for Mrs Kelly. But respect for the bereaved should not cross the line into emotionally-driven deference. When emotionalism comes in the door, reasonable debate tends to go out of the window. On one hand it imposes a you-can’t-say-that code of emotional correctness whereby nobody is permitted to offer an opinion that might offend the feelings of the victims’ relatives. On the other, it encourages an irrational climate in which any old conspiratorial tosh can be taken seriously, providing it touches the correct raw nerve.
Thus many believe that there was ‘something suspicious’ about Dr Kelly’s death, despite the total lack of evidence to support any conspiracy theory. That should surprise nobody in circumstances where, according to one Sunday tabloid survey, one in four people now agrees with Mr Al Fayed’s notion that Diana and Dodi’s fatal accident was really a political assassination.
Having the role of celebrity victim thrust upon her seems unlikely to do much for Mrs Kelly’s emotional health. At her behest, television cameras have been banished from the hearing and her family permitted to give evidence by video link, but she still faces having the intimate tensions of her married life made into a public spectacle.
The only place Mrs Kelly should give evidence is at a coroner’s inquest into her husband’s death – the proper legal procedure which the Lord Chancellor ordered suspended in favour of the Hutton political peepshow. And the only place she should help to ‘decide the fate of the Blair Government’ is at the ballot box, with the rest of us – a democratic right to pass judgment which appears unaccountably to have been usurped by an unaccountable law lord.
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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