The cracks all the way to the top of the small feudal island-state of Great Britain became visible this week, as a show trial and exposure of police and state security activities exposed the means the regime retains power.
For centuries Britain has endured a caste system, where those at the bottom had little education or career prospects, while those in the ruling "upper class" lived an entirely separate life -a life that began with a segregated education from their school, "eton", to their universities, oxford and cambridge and then employment in "the city" or political power in "parliament". Similar to the French Polytechniques system, while it guarantees uniformity and consistency amongst the hereditary rulers, the lack of diversity reduces adaptability. Thus the elite of this island have had trouble leading it out of the crises that have befallen it since 2008 -when it became clear that it offshore tax-haven financial system had outgrown the rest of the country. The emergency measures taken after the near-collapse of the countries economy have worsened the lives for all outside a small elite -exacerbating the risks of instability.
This month some of the curtains on the inner dealings of that ruling oligarchy were lifted, giving the rest of the country a glimpse into the corrupt life of the few. A show trial of the editors of a newspaper showed how the media channels -owned by a few offshore corporations- were granted free reign by the rulers, in exchange for providing the politicians with their support and the repetition of a message that placed the blame for the economic woes on the previous administration and outgroups such as asylum seekers and "welfare scroungers".
A disclosure of how the media were creating stories based on intercepting the voicemail messages of anyone of interest forced the government to hand a few of the guilty to the legal system -while hoping that the intiminate relationship between these newspaper editors and those in government do not get emphasised. Even so, this scandal has already forced the government to postpone approving a transaction that would give a single foreign oligarch, Murdoch, near absolute control of television and the press. Public clamour for some form of regulation of the press has also forced the regime to -reluctantly- add some statuatory limitations to their actions. It remains to be see what effect this has -and whether the press will exact their revenge on the country's rulers.
A few miles away, in the country's "parliament", the MPs exercised some of their few remaining privileges of oversight. The "plebgate" affair represented a case in which the feared police, "the Met" were grilled over their actions. Normally the Met is given a free hand to suppress dissent and ensure stability across the lower castes, but in "plebgate" the police were caught on CCTV and audio recordings making false accusations about one of the rulers. The thought that "the Met" could turn on their masters clearly terrifies them: the grilling of the police chiefs represents the public part of a power struggle to define who exactly is in charge.
Alongside this, the heads of the state security apparatus were interviewed over the increasingly embarrasing revelations that they had been intercept the electronic communications of the populace of the country, "the subjects" as they are known. This comes as no surprise to the rulers, who recognise that with the mainstream media being part of the oligarchy, any form of organised dissent will be online. Monitoring of facebook and google is part of this -during the 2011 civil unrest, calls even were made by the press and politicians to disable some of these communications channels. Again, the rulers have to walk a fine line between appearing concerned about these revelations, while avoiding worsening those relationships which are critical for keeping the small hereditary elite in power.
Given the interdepencencies between the rulers, the press and the state security forces, no doubt these cracks will soon be painted over. Even so, irrespective of the public facade, it may be a while before the different parts of what is termed "the establishment" trust each other again.