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Cambridge Analytica: a movie in the making?

March 20, 2018

George Sanders

A few perspectives on a couple of the dramatis personae in the Cambridge Analytica furore.

First, Carole Cadwalladr has played a blinder. Speculation on CA’s role in recent political developments has rumbled away for some time, but Carole had led the pack. She has written other pieces on the subject in the Observer over the past year, on which I commented at the time:

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Jamie Bartlett, in his BBC series on Silicon Valley, also did a jaw-dropping interview with a person who was involved in Trump’s online campaign in 2016, in which Facebook and CA featured prominently.

But up until now, official comment, and even media coverage (apart from the Observer’s) has been on the lines of “yeah right, very worrying, but the elections are over, so let’s move on”. Admittedly the UK’s Information Commissioner has been investigating electoral malpractice in the EU referendum, but at what appears to an outsider to be at a snail’s pace. Until yesterday.

But now the whole thing has exploded, and everyone’s excited. Will Cadwalladr, a journalist many of us have never heard of, turn out to be the Woodward and Bernstein of the current decade? Maybe not, but all power to her nonetheless. This must be her career-defining moment. She surely deserves a medal for showing that the traditional skills of investigative journalism – integrity, determination, meticulous research and the protection of sources – are not dead.

Then there’s Alexander Nix, the Cambridge Analytica kingpin.

Once upon a time, Hollywood used to characterise the English – using actors like George Sanders – as cads and villains. I’ve never met Mr Nix, but if, as is highly possible, someone eventually decides to make a movie on the whole Trump/Bannon/CA saga, I would definitely exhume Sanders to play him. Not that I’m suggesting that the gentleman in question is a cad or a villain, you understand. It’s just his manner that brings Sanders to mind.

Mr Nix was educated at Eton. In the old days, scions of Britain’s elite private schools, of which Eton is one, would go into politics, run the empire, join the army or husband their family wealth, and sometimes all four of them. A few would become adventurers and some of them ended up in jail. Winston Churchill – an aristocrat who lacked the essential ingredient of wealth – might well have been tempted to embark on a less illustrious career had he not managed to acquire a seat in Parliament after his heroics during the Boer War.

These days Old Etonians still end up in politics. David Cameron and chancer-in-chief Boris Johnson are recent examples. But a good number go into other fields in which their finely-honed communication skills and excellent all-round education – topped up at Oxbridge, of course – serve them well. Advertising, public relations and corporate finance, for example, where they can capitalise on their well-tailored suits, excellent manners and impeccable connections, but where morality sometimes takes second place to self-interest.

As I said earlier, I don’t know Mr Nix, but to hear him boasting to Channel 4’s undercover reporters about his contacts in MI5 and MI6, and the mysterious Israeli contractors to whom he has access, you sense that here’s a person who is quite happy to wade through dirty waters, yet who is confident that none of the muck will splash back at him. A bit like Mark Thatcher, actually, but probably more intelligent, and a good deal more charming.

I may not know him, but I’ve met people in my time who gave a passable impression of pirates in pinstripes even if they were perfectly upstanding individuals. And a few seemingly upstanding individuals who ended up revealed as pirates in pinstripes. Not surprising, given that I went to one of those smart schools.

It’s not for me to speculate whether Alexander Nix and his Tigger-like sidekicks who featured in the Channel 4 programme will end up in some kind of trouble. That’s for officials such as the Information Commissioner, now that they’ve been presented with potential evidence that will be hard to ignore. Until anyone can prove otherwise, he and his associates deserve the benefit of the doubt. As I hasten to point out, just because someone might look, talk and walk like George Sanders, that doesn’t mean they’re a cad.

But I return to what I wrote six months ago, as Carole Cadwalladr was posting dispatches on the path that led to the bombshell she’s just detonated:

… if it was legally permissible to do so, I would be happy to see certain individuals put in a darkened room and asked some very hard questions in the harsh glare of a spotlight.

Common sense says that the government would go to any lengths to avoid such an inquiry, since it could quite possibly undermine the legitimacy of the referendum, and therefore of the government’s subsequent acts.

But it’s conceivable that as more information emerges about the possible subversion of the US election, and especially if that information also relates to the British referendum, the government might find itself forced to react, no matter how traumatic the consequences.

Well, more information has emerged, so one would hope that those hard questions will now be asked, whether or not they are posed in a darkened room.

Oh, and all is never quite what it seems. George Sanders, the archetypal English screen nasty, was born in Russia.

From → Business, Politics, UK, USA

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