The fungibility of Rebekah Brooks
Economists have a word for it: fungibility. It describes how replaceable a type of commodity is. Art isn’t at all fungible – every piece is unique. Money is highly fungible. So is Rebakah Wade. So is Paul Stephenson. So is David Cameron.
Unlike Salvador Dali, Wolfgang Amedeus Mozart or Jane Espenson, these people are easily replaced. Their talents are not unique. They fulfil a function in our social/economic system. If they didn’t do it, someone else would. That person would perhaps be slightly worse at it. Maybe they would be slightly better. But in the same way as we can be sure that without Dali we would have had no Dali’s, without Rebekah Brooks, we can be sure we would still have had dodgy tabloids distracting people from the ways they are being screwed over. Someone would have whipped up fear about paedophiles whilst millions of children faced daily poverty. That someone would most likely have allowed journalists working for them to hack into the phones of dead children, of terror victims and of bereaved families.
This is not to excuse Rebekah Brooks. I am not saying that any of us in that position would have done the same thing. I am saying that in order to get the job of editor of News of the World, you probably have to be an unmitigated arsehole. But there are, alas, plenty of unmitigated arseholes out there: Broken Britain is good at breeding them.
So, yes, let’s cheer the fall of Rebekah Brooks. I first remember hating her when, about a decade ago, she decided to publish the names and addresses of people on the sex offenders register – whipping mobs around the country into a violent frenzy which at one point attacked a paediatrician. Let’s celebrate the fall of Paul Stephenson whose tenure at the Met had already secured him a Bright Green “dick of the year” nomination for 2010 without even considering the phone hacking and corruption scandal. Let’s hope that the flood waters do engulf Cameron – it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
But at the same time, let’s remember this: there is a reason that such people end up running our national institutions. There are reasons for this corruption, this hubris and this malice. There are reasons so many people are implicated in this scandal. Our system of concentrated power breeds corruption.
We could wake up next week and find that every editor of a News International paper has resigned, that the entire leadership of the Met has gone, and that every Government minister has stood down. But would we find, a year from now, or two years, or five years, that the institutions were still rotten? that some other great scandal has taken place? that those who we booted out were replaced with perfect replicas? I suspect so. Certainly Mr Yates’ replacement with the woman who ordered the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes would indicate as much.
Instead, let’s celebrate the resignations. But tomorrow, let’s start to build a different country: a country ruled not by fungible elites, but by the people, for the people. After all, if we’ve learnt anything over the last few years, surely we could do a better job than this bunch?