I wonder exactly what is my problem with the line from Bob Dylan which is currently being bandied about in Parliament in connection with the enquiry into the heinous activities of Murdoch and his people.
The line is relevant, appropriate and apposite: "that the ladder of the law has no top and no bottom". And it was quoted by Tom Watson, the politician who began the investigation of the Murdochs and News Corporation before it became fashionable and was himself subjected to some of their more pernicious practices.
But it jars. At least with me.
I think it is because the line comes from a song which addresses so many issues which were and are far more important than the activities of multi-billionaires looking to increase their riches even more and not caring how they do it. This is, after all, what these guys do and we shouldn't be surprised that they do what they do.
The song from which the line comes is 'The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll', which tells the story of the murder of a “'maid of the kitchen” and the subsequent verdict, William Zantzinger being let off 'with a six month sentence', which was deferred to allow him (or his workers) to harvest his tobacco crop, and was to be served in a county jail.
Phil Ochs, somewhere, tells of listening to this song with Bob before it was released, and recalls that it was the song that moved him the most.
It is a story of race and racism. But it is also a story about class. Bob doesn’t mention that Hattie Carroll is black; she is a ‘maid of the kitchen’ who ‘never sat once at the head of the table’. Whereas Zantzinger has “rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him/And high office relations in the politics of Maryland”.
And the judge? Well, the judge pounds his gavel, stating unequivocally that ``the courts are on the level'', that ``even the nobles get properly handled'', and “that the ladder of the law has no top and no bottom''. That’s before he pronounces sentence.
Watson’s point is that even the Murdochs must be held accountable. As must Wade. As must Coulson. As must Hunt. As must Cameron.
But I doubt if they will be. As Anatole France pointed out, “the law forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges”. And as the divided committee has shown, there is one party which will continue to protect the Murdoch empire and its political wing to the end.
We shouldn’t be surprised at this. Appalled and angry, but not surprised.
However, we should be angrier still at the endemic racism of the police and our other institutions. We should be angrier still at the ways in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We should be angrier still at a society which encourages privilege without responsibility.
Now is the time for your tears.
Today’s listening: The Beach Boys, Holland. And especially The Trader.