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Playwright and author Meltem Arikan guides you on an exploration of a corruption scandal enveloping a country, by imagining the UK as Turkey
By Meltem Arikan / 3 April 2014
Imagine you wake up one day, start your day as usual; you go on the tube with the Metro at hand and read the news on your way to work. Today, however, you learn that the Serious Fraud Office and Metropolitan Police have detained 47 people, including officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Westminster City Council, as well as the sons of four British ministers. They were all implicated together with real estate developers and the general manager of Bank of England and an Iranian businessman. Moreover, the minister of state for Europe became a potential suspect of bribery related to the Iranian businessman’s dealings in the country. The police confiscated some £10.5 million as money used for bribery during the investigation.
After all that you’ve learned, you start believing that there will be a great change in Britain. Everyone is excited to tell each other the new developments and they start waiting. Waiting…Waiting… After you witness the shoe boxes filled with millions of pounds found next to the money counters and money safes in the houses of the sons of the ministers and the general manager of Bank of England. And after the images of those shoe boxes and money safes start filling social media pages, and people all around Britain start leaving shoe boxes in front of the Bank of England, you start thinking that humour is the only way for the people to maintain their mental health. On social media, only this corruption and of course the shoe boxes, are discussed. The shoe box becomes a dangerous weapon, and when those carrying empty shoe boxes or those who leave them on the street or even those who sell them are arrested, you realise that for Britain, the shoe boxes are much more dangerous than a bribery scandal. For a moment, you wonder if there are any empty shoe boxes at your home, you hesitate to share it with anyone. Even if what’s been happening surprises you, you try to keep your cool. After all, as a nation you are known for your nonchalant attitude.
On 21 December, in total 91 people were detained in the investigation; 24 of them were arrested. You turn on Sky News with curiosity, and you hear that the investigation is part of a so called parallel government coup d’état planned by foreign powers trying to hinder Britain’s developing economy. You find it a little weird that the prosecutor leading this investigation, who is now accused by the government of planning a coup is the same one Prime Minister called a “hero” a few years back. But you don’t lose your resolve… You want to understand what is really happening.
Several newspapers report that a new investigation was expected on 25 December, possibly involving the prime minister’s sons, as well as certain Al- Qaeda affiliates from Saudi Arabia. The police officers in Scotland Yard, newly appointed by the government just a few days before, refuse to carry out the orders from this new investigation’s prosecutor. Similarly, the director of public prosecutions does not approve this new operation either. The man originally behind this second investigation, the prosecutor, is dismissed in the following hours of the same day and immediately a new one is assigned.
It was understood that a second wave of arrests was planned according to this second investigation, and a list was leaked to the press. At midnight on 7 January, a government decree was announced, which removed 350 police officers from their positions, including the chiefs of the units dealing with financial crimes, smuggling and organised crime. The influential leader of a social movement described these investigations as a purge of the country. The prime minister described the corruption investigation as a “judicial coup by the parallel government” by those jealous of his success — namely the secretive leader, backed by foreigners.
Since the beginning of the investigations, the Conservative Party government has been trying to exile both the police forces and the responsible prosecutors, thought to be related to the investigations. Unfortunately, those policemen and the prosecutors who replaced the previous “parallel government” policemen and prosecutors, were found to be also members of the parallel government by those in power. Then, they levelled accusations at these new officials and exiled them as well.
The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice changed the legal judgement regulations during the investigation period. The prime minister blamed the investigation on an international conspiracy and vowed revenge on the aforementioned group; here had been hostility between the prime minister and its leader. The prime minister also threatened the US ambassador to the UK with expulsion, because of his critical comments.
The home secretary and the chancellor of the exchequer, both of whose sons were arrested in the corruption operation, resigned together on the morning of the 25 December. That same afternoon, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs resigned from office and as a member of parliament. Four hundred and fifty policemen in the specialist crimes and operations department were exiled and journalists were banned from entering New Scotland Yard.
Three members of parliament resigned from the Conservative Party on 26 December because of the ongoing scandal. These three ex-members of the Conservative Party were each separately under investigation by the party’s disciplinary committee, accused of opposing the party’s own regulations. They all resigned before the committee reached a verdict.
To understand what’s happening, you now constantly follow social media. However, everything’s happening so fast and it’s so incomprehensible that you have to ask yourself: is this real? You calmly wait, expecting the resignation of the government. In fact, during this wait, you read Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” once again. It feels as though nothing’s happening in Britain, the news only written about on social media pages seems like it’s about a different country. When you get on the tube, you see that those who don’t use social media are clueless, and some who are aware believe that the prime minister has been set up despite all the evidence. It makes you wonder whether it’s the train moving really fast, as if it’s disappearing, or your mental health.
A voice recording said to be of a telephone conversation between the prime minister and his son, is at the centre of the latest political storm. In the conversation, the pair allegedly discusses how to hide large sums of money on the day the police raided houses as part of the corruption inquiry into the prime minister’s government.
Of course, you immediately listen to the recording and don’t know what’s worse — what is being discussed or the pathetic state the prime minister’s son is in. Even though a report from a US sound company was used to try and prove that the recordings were fake, the same company, whose name was revealed later, claimed that they prepared no such report. Still, even though the money discussed is billions of dollars, you are overcome with grief and overwhelmed by the sound of the prime minister’s son’s voice as he says “daddy”…
You think this is the final straw. After this, the government will definitely resign. But there is no movement. It’s as if Beckett has taken control, writing the fate of Britain but this time it’s called “Waiting for Resignation.” We all wait. While waiting, we feel sorry for the Prime Minister’s son. After the empty shoe boxes, you understand how dangerous the word “daddy” can be.
During all this, the fact that you are slowly losing your cool results in an identity crisis. You realise your talent for handling all situations with edgy, British humour is inadequate, which bothers you. But then you see the jokes on Facebook and Twitter, you see the cartoons depicting the situation and you feel relief that your country’s talent for humour has exponentially grown over the course of this huge scandal.
After the release of the first recording, you no longer have time to stop by at a pub for a drink, go to a football game or anything else… You feel like you’re in the middle of a ping-pong game between the new recordings and the perception the government is trying to impose against them. When you read tweets that say “can you hold the agenda for two minutes, I have to use the bathroom” a smile creeps up from your demoralised heart and you realise it’s right.
After the tapes, the world doesn’t end, the government doesn’t resign, the parliamentary questions asked by the opposition are left unanswered in parliament, where the attempts at projecting an illusion of normalcy fails; iPads and punches flying, adding some liveliness.
Suddenly you realise that most Brits are addicted to the prime minister’s tapes. The anxiety surrounding the country when there is no tape that day featuring the prime minister or the ministers worries you.
In the meantime, when you listen to a recording of a conversation between the prime minister and someone from Sky News, you finally believe that this is it. Because you learn that the prime minister personally interferes with the news. Soon after, you find out that the prime minister calls not just Sky News but also Channel 4 and ITV to scold the directors of these media outlets. It doesn’t surprise you to learn the next day that newspapers run the headlines by him, before publishing anything. You don’t know what’s more shocking, the talent of the prime minister or the surrender of the media. You are constantly conflicted because even after all this, there is nothing. When the prime minister makes an announcement saying “of course I’ll interfere” you begin doubting yourself. You think that maybe you and people like you are the weird ones… You seriously start questioning what is normal and not.
But the news cycle doesn’t give you any time to continue doubting yourself. So you think, maybe you should just fly to the North Pole for a while. Maybe if you get away far enough, you can see things more clearly but you can’t. Because now the ping-pong game is over and you are living life on the back of a galloping horse… So nauseating.
Now, social media channels determine the order of the day so the prime minister has to find a way to control it. It’s not surprising that a new internet law is prepared so quickly. You are still so sure that in a democratic country like the United Kingdom, such a controversial law — allowing the government to shut down any internet site without the approval of a court — would never pass in parliament. You can’t imagine it any other way. If it does, you want to believe the Queen would use her power to veto it. However, you are disappointed once again. The law is passed and approved. The Queen makes a statement: “I know that some clauses in this bill are against the law, but I believe the parliament will amend those in time.” In order to make sure your ears aren’t deceiving you, that you understand what’s been said, you listen to the statement over and over again. When you finally realise that you understood right the first time, you are reminded of the “Matrix” movie and think “is someone making everyone take the blue pill?” If you take the blue pill, you believe the illusion, anything that’s absurd becomes normal; if you take the red pill you will think all that was normal is actually absurd…
You secretly question your friends in the pharmaceutical business while you still wait for something to happen… Slowly you start having headaches, because you can’t sleep anymore. You are getting annoyed at listening to yet another fury-induced berating of the crowd by the prime minister. Always angry, always provocative… On the other hand you still wonder “is this the side effect of the blue pill?”
While you try to maintain a healthy mind, the prime minister, once again furious, yells out: “Enough with this Twitter, I will ban all of it” and you think “no way!” But it has been months since you actually saw that line you thought wouldn’t be crossed because there was “no way…”
You start missing the tapes one by one, because there is no way you can keep up, even if the days had more hours. After showering that morning, you reluctantly open your computer to peruse Twitter; you are met with the message: “The access to the site you are trying to open has been blocked.” Now you have to learn the new jargon, understand what DNS is and download new applications, like you have the time. You find it normal that the number of users in the UK increase after the Twitter ban. After you read the tweet by the Queen saying “I hope the ban will be lifted soon” your suspicions are confirmed: everyone took the blue pill.
When the reactions to the ban pour in from within the UK and outside, the prime minister becomes bolder and claims: “The whole world will see how strong we are. We brought Twitter to its knees.” You just don’t understand. Understanding, comprehending, thinking and analysing… Your brain short circuits from all the pressure and all you can do is just laugh.
You are not surprised that YouTube is also banned. There are no longer any straws left, the camel’s back has been broken for months… There is no more waiting… You rip the pages of “Waiting for Godot.” Whoever it may be, you cannot explain away the power-hungry. You cannot blame the blue pill anymore. You feel exhausted and empty.
You understand how far a mind so warped can go for power, and as a result of ever growing anger. This time you focus on the elections, five days away. This time you know you will definitely vote. Your mind is divided. One side says “this is really the end. The Prime Minister will not stay in power after this. His votes will decrease this time.” The other side starts “if he gets more than 40 % of the vote…” You don’t even want to think about it. This election is very important for the future of the whole country… When you go on Twitter, you see “this is not just an election it’s an IQ test” and all you can do is smile.
After months of such tension, what do you feel when you see that the prime minister’s party has received over 43% of the votes?
No further questions…corruption | Facebook | Recep Tayyip Erdogan | social media | Turkey | Twitter
About Meltem Arikan
Meltem Arikan is a Turkish playwright and author.
The autumn 2016 Index on Censorship magazine explores anonymity through a range of in-depth features, interviews and illustrations from around the world. Contributors include former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, journalist John Lloyd, Bangladeshi blogger Ananya Azad and philosopher Julian Baggini. This issue also has a thoughtful essay by novelist Hilary Mantel and illustrations by Molly Crabapple.