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Conrad Black Headshot

Off With the FT's Head

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I am groggy with disbelief, as readers of my comments last week may imagine, at the London Financial Times' suggestion, also last weekend, that British justice should now, having preserved its virtue and a reasonable facsimile of due process for centuries, adopt the American plea bargain, at least in corporate matters.

This reflects the group-think shared with the Economist, an affiliated publication, that the plea bargain, as it has evolved in the United States, is anything other than an instrument of prosecution terror and a rape of individual rights.

Now that News Corporation, after generations of Defargist enthusiasm for feeding the guillotine with all apparent candidates, is shaken by the prospect of having its founder, chairman, and dear leader, Rupert Murdoch, trussed up like a partridge, briskly shaved, and fed under the blade for capital retribution over the telephone hacking outrages, the Wall Street Journal has discovered the virtues of due process, and regularly treats its readers to the gruesome excesses of American prosecutors.

There is now a steady parade in its pages of the iniquities of American prosecutorial methods, most recently the story of someone who declined to plead guilty to an offense which, as is standard in the American system, affords immense latitude to prosecutors and judges (most of whom are unregenerate ex-prosecutors) to seek and inflict gentle or severe sentences. In this case, the unfortunate who declined to accept a two-year prison sentence for pleading guilty to beating up and threatening his girlfriend is facing a 50-year sentence for having the insolence to assert his constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial.

This is routine, but it is the tip of the iceberg. The greatest feature of the system that the Financial Times now wishes to rivet onto the mother of the free, the sceptered isle, the dowry of Mary (England), is based on targeting someone, approaching everyone around the target, down to the people who roll his tennis court and deliver his pizza, and accusing them all of conspiracy with the target if they do not jog their memories and miraculously remember inculpatory evidence, for which sworn testimony, they will not be prosecuted and will be given an absolute immunity for resulting perjury.

Three quarters of American prosecutors would be disbarred in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel, Germany, the Netherlands, and most of Scandinavia. This must rank as one of the most insane editorial initiatives in the history of the FT, and this is a newspaper that periodically becomes very neurotic, as when it endorsed Neil Kinnock for prime minister in 1992. (Kinnock was the source of the little spiel about being the first person in his family in a hundred generations who had gone to a university, which was plagiarized by Joe Biden in his stunted try for the presidential nomination in 1992.) The FT has rarely seen a tax it didn't like and vied with the British Communist Party's newspaper for the position of chief cheerleader among the British media for what is now the withered dream of Euro-integration.

Last week, it ran an article referring to World Bank head Robert Zoellick's opinion that gold could play a role in the valuation and stabilization of currencies, and then ran an editorial repudiating its own journalist and quoting the very shopworn Bloomsbury relic Lord Keynes (Who's afraid of John Maynard Keynes?) that gold was a "barbaric" metal.

Of course the Financial Times remains a worthwhile read and often has good opinion pieces and generally has fairly rigorous reporting, but its gradually more neurotic lurchings between hare-brained editorial positions raise a disquieting question of whether the traditional, most enlightened and moderate sources of statist wisdom in Britain especially, and Europe generally, are coming unstrung in the debacle of the dreams that they so long represented as the wave of the future. The pitiful hulk of dyspeptic, demographically shrivelling, almost unarmed, posturing, bankrupt Europe, where the strong are fleeced by the weak, may have induced senescence in what were in olden times the realms of Brendan Bracken and Walter Bagehot.

What is required in Europe is the imposition of policies more widespread and radical than have ever been considered, other than when the font of Western civilization was under the hobnailed, jackbooted influence of Hitler or Stalin. Whatever incentive is necessary to restore natural demographic renewal must be offered. Whatever austerity, entitlement reform, labour market flexibility and tax changes necessary to get 50 per cent of the population to work, must be designed and implemented. The European Commission must be liquidated and rebuilt on rational lines, and the European Constitution, an unspeakable and fraudulent enormity, must be put to the shredder, and replaced by a concise charter of a variable speed Europe that starts with a common market, and has increasing levels of shared jurisdiction for member states that wish to climb that ladder, to the extent they do. The requirement for unanimity on all issues is nonsense and must be scrapped, with all the compulsive dirigisme that extends to the display of fruit in grocery stores and a one-size-fits-all Euro-condom.

Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy should be an executive committee to return to the drawing boards of Jean Monnet and devise a structure and strategic range of objectives for Europe that will take the old continent off suicide watch. Normally, the Financial Times would be a tribune for such a movement. It will not fill that role by advocating the importation of the worst, most corrupt and degraded aspects of an American justice system that Europe generally is adequately perceptive to look upon with grave reservations. If present trends continue, the most insightful apercu of John Maynard Keynes will prove to be "In the long run we will all be dead." It is now a long time since he said it.