Whistleblowing is in the news. Banks and bankers are at it again. HSBC is caught with its knickers round its knees. UK tax authorities have allegedly been either negligent or complicit in not having acted on a tip off. Church of England Archbishops have been cosying up to the former chairman of HSBC, himself an Anglican priest, so make of that what you will.
Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that this is unusual. Remember Mr Fred Goodwin and his antics when The Royal Bank of Scotland almost folded? I suspect that if there’s a bank that hasn’t yet made the news for the wrong reasons, it’s only because it hasn’t been found out. And it’s not confined to banks. Any organisation that has power will, in my experience, do everything it can to cling to its precious, at almost any price. Did you see the Belgian series Salamander when it was shown on BBC? The DVD is available, and I look forward to series 2. Is that truth or fiction? The powerless are pilloried by the powerful. Individuals are attacked by the mob. This is the law of the playground bully. If you were in any way unusual at school, you will know what it feels like to suffer at the hands of the unimaginative, and you will know to what ends you had to go to appease them.
For 19 years we lived in Ireland. Hardly a week goes by there without some new revelation of political chicanery, or some report of abuse of the powerless by the Church – an organisation that for reasons of history has been allowed way too much power over society. A dear friend, who worked for years in the Irish psychiatric hospital service, had a mantra that she impressed on me when I was having a spot of bother: “Might is always right and authority always upholds authority, so get used to it and watch your back”. I doubt it’s better here in the UK. It may even be worse: in this more complex layered society, with the networks of the largely public school educated élite who are in charge, it’s easier to hide things out of sight of the great unwashed—that is, you and me.
Whistleblowers always have a tough time. If you tell an unpopular truth, people will criticise you. Far better, it seems, to live in some artificial never-never land of make-believe than to dwell in the courts of straightforwardness and truth. Prophets are never popular. They have always suffered for pointing out the elephant in the room.
Lent is about a spiritual spring clean. The events leading up to Easter include the story of one who suffered for daring to tell it like it is. Pontius Pilate’s question ‘what is truth?’ is the anthem of the pragmatic appeaser. We need more whistleblowers. We need more people who are ready to tell the truth and who are willing to suffer for it. Are you? Am I?