Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Does Britain Need a New Party?

To discuss this I’m going to need to take you through the short term future of politics in Britain. Here is a (subjective) diagram which highlights where our main political parties stand on the political spectrum at the moment. Just a quick glance demonstrates how the parties and so our political discourse has become bunched together on the right-wing. This is dangerous and disenfranchising since it allows politicians to make the frankly absurd claim that there is only one solution to any given problem, safe in the knowledge that their competitors will not stray too far from their dogma. It also limits the debate around political and economic issues that can take place since no one is presenting an alternative to the 'Big-Business-is-Best' argument that currently prevails.

NB.. I use the word capitalism in the diagram to denote an emphasis on free markets.

Clearly there should be something of an appetite among the electorate for more socialist policies in 2015, given the effective privatisation of the NHS and the further erosion of rights and services by the coalition. For this reason, Labour will engage in a great deal of rhetoric as a veneer for not very much policy. The issue is this, Labour do not need to be left of centre to win an election. The poorest people in Britain who benefit most from socialist policies, have fairly set voting patterns in that they tend to be either staunchly Labour or staunchly Conservative. Thus even though they are the clear majority in the country they will not determine the outcome of an election. Therefore Labour only need to be to the left (or seen to be to the left) of the Conservative party to compete, and so they will continue to target their policies at Middle England and London where the majority of the floating voters are located. They will frame themselves as the alternative to the unpopular right-wing policies of the Tories without actually offering a real alternative.  Because of this, most of their campaigning will be negative and focus on the bad things that the Coalition has done during their time in office. Labour's position is also likely to harden with the potential loss of Scotland from the Union as the Scots constitute a part of their traditional left-leaning base. Labour will therefore have to place even more emphasis on luring traditional Tory voters and so their creep to the right which began in earnest under Blair, will continue and accelerate.

In contrast, the Conservatives are masters at selling the unsellable and having set out their stall on the far right during this term, they cannot backtrack without looking weak – political suicide. They have masterminded the right's high-jacking of the agenda over the last four decades using the media to mobilise the poor to vote against their own interests. They have also been remarkably successful at using propaganda to link socialism with communist experiments in other parts of the world. Sobriquets such as the “Loony Left” have forced left and centre parties to the right, creating a climate where dialogue around alternative economic models has been impossible and so all major parties now attempt to use the same tools to achieve only slightly different ends. In ideological terms there is no realistic electoral threat from the left and on the right the Conservatives will have no serious concerns about UKIP’s relatively modest vote share.
They will be conscious of the damage to their image among Middle England voters from their ‘austerity’ and ‘squeeze the middle’ policies and so they will play to the patriotism of the British, most likely by attempting to provoke another war with Argentina in the run up to the election – the scrapping of naval assets has virtually been an open invitation to the Argies to attack the Falklands. Of course this will bring with it expense and therefore a further mandate for austerity after the 2015 election. Nonetheless, they will not communicate a commitment to further austerity until after the 2015 election since it will certainly be a vote loser. They will attempt to force the coalition to collapse about a year to eighteen months before the contest, and then roll up the most politically damaging policies and hang them around the necks of the Lib Dems - they do not need to be completely successful in this endeavour, they merely need to create some doubt concerning their percieved 'nasty party' antics. They will follow this by embarking on a charm offensive based on spun statistics of what is likely to be a jobless recovery much like that in the US. - More manufacturing and technical jobs will quietly move  to cheaper countries overseas while the vacuum continues to be only partially filled by low paying 'flexible' service sector jobs which will allow the Tories to claim unemployment is being reduced. Money is likely to be pumped into the real economy (instead of into the banks) for a short while roughly eighteen months to a year ahead of the election to create something of a feel good factor, but this will only be spent on short term projects that can be ditched without drama, after the election.

A Note on Patriotism in Politics
Digressing briefly on the subject of patriotism since I mentioned it above, politicians speak of it conveniently when it suits their interests. Threats to our freedom, Terrorism, the Axis of Evil, and malcontents who want to hold the country to ransom all figure prominently in their hyperbole. No real reference to patriotism as a love for your country and fellow citizens is ever made though. It can’t be, otherwise we would have the contrasting relief to see how treacherous our leaders and their financial backers really are. Our politicians should take a leaf out of Hollande’s book who notes that the wealthiest should pay higher taxes in France since it is their patriotic duty to contribute to the welfare and prosperity of the nation; to help the people whose efforts have provided their wealth. Unfortunately that can’t happen in Britain since we still equate patriotism with the glory of the Crown.  With an outdated imperialist vision that sees us line the streets as our young people die in wars that they don’t understand and ignore the fact that many people profit from their deaths. Regardless of the questionable motives for war in Iraq, who do you think profits when embargos are lifted as a result of Saddam’s passing and the free flowing oil that results? Who profits from the government’s purchase of weapons to fight an extended war in Afghanistan or incursions into the Middle East? Whether or not you believe in the moral or legal cases for these military campaigns, no-one can ignore the money trail. Meanwhile the donors to all political parties and the lobbyists and politicians who have supported the conflicts, auctioned our public services and sold our rights, store the proceeds off shore and avoid even contributing a small portion of their blood money to the cause of the public good. Talk of patriotism is a smokescreen, a front to manipulate the easily led and poorly informed to think, act and vote as will be required to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor.

Liberal Democrats (although I’m not sure there’s much point…)
As far as the Lib Dems are concerned, they are fighting a losing battle to the point where it’s hardly worth wasting a paragraph. Their unpopularity as a result of their sheepish, whipped  support for Tory policies is irreversible whether or not they now terminate the association. Clegg knows this and I would guess his escape route is already assured, probably as a conservative MEP or some ‘non-partisan’ figurehead position such as taking over from Chris Patten at the BBC. The Lib Dems will try to present a new Clegg-less face of hope and leftward reform. This will not wash however, and the Libs vote share will be halved at best, making them even more irrelevant than they have been in coalition. Because everyone knows this, they will struggle to garner the corporate sponsorship that is now a pre-requisite for election success in that it is the basis for the expensive smearing campaigns that are now a necessity.

The corporate donor issue will also cripple any idealistic plans Labour might have too. As much as many MP’s and party members will champion a movement to the left, the leadership will be well aware that they need to get elected first and foremost, so they will have to chase funding from the super-rich corporations and donors that this government is creating with its current and its historic Public Sector “reforms”. Promises will clearly have to be given about 'favours' to be delivered in return, for such is the nature of politics in a corporate fascist democracy. Not buying it? Ed Miliband acknowledged this recently, stating in a speech that no political party can afford to be anti-big-business.

General Election 2015
In reality then, little will change in the run up to 2015. The Conservatives will stay ultra-right and attempt a PR coup to maintain power. They will have a vague manifesto and a plan to shade the election and continue their policies to make the rich richer and the poor and disadvantaged work harder for their scraps. Labour will decide that all they need to do to beat the Tories, is to not be the Tories (not being Bush won Obama a Nobel prize remember), and so their policies too will be vague and effectively they will maintain the status quo if they attain office. For Labour – and because the public will always equate them with the left no matter how misguided this is - it means a slow drift ever further rightward which will contribute to the on-going reduction of confidence in the party and a strengthening of the belief that the only way is the Tory way. Fundamentally, this means the only choice we have is a faster or slower movement to the right now, and an unavoidable accelerating movement right as we head further into the future.

An Alternative?
There is another way however. If another party were created and supported, if a modern party of nationalisation, employment rights and responsibility for all were to emerge. A number of things would change. Yes there is the threat that the left would be divided, but this is only a concern to those who seriously believe we still have a party of the left. A new party would offer the potential for a wider popular movement which could then begin to seriously discuss equality and rights in the public domain. More importantly though, it would put pressure on the Labour party - precisely because their vote share would be threatened. They would be faced with the choice of committing to the left or holding the moderate right. No longer would they be able to coast into elections without real convictions and values beyond stopping the Tories. No longer would they hold their position as the major opposition to Conservative rule, by promising only to not be as bad as the Tories. If they hold the centre-right they will condemn the Lib Dems to long term extinction, and if they move left they begin to provide a real alternative to the corporate fascism that we currently endure, as was their function in the early 1900’s. The Tories too would need to respond, they would need to renew their message that capitalism can be socially responsible, and in all likelihood they would commit to promises of greater regulation (probably in the financial sector) since this is the cheapest guarantee (both in terms of spending and their own private interests in large corporations) that they can give in the near-term. Again, this would put pressure on the Labour party to move further left to differentiate themselves and thus go some way to putting social and economic justice back on the agenda. Unfortunately though, the emergence of a new party at this late stage is somewhere between unlikely and the second-coming. This has to be the long term plan, in the immediate future we must seek to limit the damage.

What Now?
So then, either the Tories get re-elected, or Labour edge it without making any 'risky' ideological changes. Even in the latter scenario Labour merely keep the government benches warm until the Conservatives return at the following election. And return they will, with a reinforced argument to criticise their most obvious competitors on the basis of their limited achievements during that period, and continue their looting of our country. Once we strip away the PR, the spin and the mainstream-media smokescreen, modern politics is not about patriotism, policy, conviction, ideology or representation. It is about one thing and one thing only – career politicians getting elected! This means that manifestos will get progressively more vague, rhetoric ever louder and real debate ever marginalised until something changes, or something is changed. Until as a populace we create a viable conviction based leftward challenge that represents real political plurality. Until then we have only the choice between staying right or moving further right, and that means a smaller Public Sector, the eventual complete loss of free healthcare, education and the police. The gradual disappearance of employment rights, corporate regulation, our progressive tax system and the abolition of our already diluted democracy. In concise terms we as a nation will head further into the neo-liberal wilderness as the wealthy become the overlords of a post-modern feudalist state. As people, our status as resources will be solidified and our ability to protest or force change irrevocably compromised for another generation at least.

We need a new political movement to make change - real change - because the truth of the matter is that the Labour Movement has fizzled out. Either it has been infiltrated by the more priviledged classes or its political leaders, like the pigs in Animal Farm, have fallen pray to the spoils on offer in our society for the wealthy and well connected. They are now themselves part of the top 1%, and too many of them will have too much to lose by implementing the policies that would really help the majority in our country. In 2015 we all need to vote anywhere but Tory; to vote for the person standing against the Conservative candidate with the best chance of beating them (best to avoid BNP though). Not just to protect the poor, but because we all deserve a stronger, fairer and happier society where we value each other as free individuals rather than inanimate factors of production.

But after 2015: Yes, Britain does need a new political movement and a new political party. We need them because in the long-term, we will have to create our own alternative to resurrect our democracy.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Secret British Coup

Do you ever wonder who really runs our country?

In a speech this week Nick Boles MP outlined his vision for a leaner Public Sector. In his view the Public Sector should only be a mechanism for the advancement of the productivity of the country as a whole. Thereby demonstrating his ambivalence for anyone who cannot or does not produce. The BBC quote him thus:
…only those tax and spending policies that can explicitly be seen to increase competitiveness of the UK workforce should be supported.”
If I were feeling pedantic I could discuss the comment he made about us all wanting further spending in the Public Sector on NewsNight the previous evening. If I were in this mood I might reference the cheering in the House of Commons from MPs which greeted the latest round of cuts as evidence that this is not the case. I could also mention that with proper taxation and tax collection from the wealthiest individuals and organisations, this is more than possible since it would more than wipe out our national deb. However such arguments would be tantamount to an ethical debate over the design painted on a nuclear missile. The debate should not surround individual policies, terminology or spin, but must focus upon the ideology that is being adopted among our political representatives as the basis for their actions.

I use the word “representatives” quite deliberately. It is the basis of our democracy in that it would be rather awkward to have a functioning government of 64million people each shouting to be heard. For this reason we each elect a spokesperson from our residential areas to put forth our views in Parliament. I would contend however that this no longer occurs, if it ever did. Instead huge corporately funded political parties use their financial muscle to dominate the list of candidates. The candidates then differentiate themselves based upon vague ‘promises’ that bear little resemblance to what they actually plan to do. These people expect us to trust their judgement as they write laws and formulate policies, despite the fact that we have no idea what they plan to do, and therefore no guarantee that the actions that are taken are actually in our interests as the electorate at large. In short, we do not have democracy if we have no idea what we are voting for. How many people would have voted Conservative had they known prior to the 2010 election that the party were already paying for advice from a company on how to carve up and sell the NHS? Some perhaps, but I suspect considerably less than actually did. If there had been enough popular support for the plan it would have appeared in the manifesto rather than the somewhat contradictory words “no top-down reorganisation of the NHS”. Once again I could be pedantic and ask what could be more top down than changing the actual owners of services? But this is not the point I wish to make.

Here I want to take a closer look at the ideology (and where it comes from) that is the basis for our government’s approach to running our country. Much has been written about cuts, welfare reform and privatisation (not least by me), and the financial case that has been set out for these actions have already been completely discredited – despite the fact that our media chooses not to report this on many occasions. Since they have been advocating the policies that the coalition is implementing for far longer than anyone else has been discussing them, I shall look to the Tax Payer’s Alliance as the source of the ideology we are following, and here’s why.

“…frontbench Conservatives and business leaders [have been] flocking to the TPA, and at the Tory conference policy after policy seemed to bear the TPA's stamp.” (Guardian)
Indeed, TPA Chief Executive Matthew Elliott has commented that the Tory Party have moved on to their agenda. This however is not a surprise given that many leading associates of the Tory party are also have associations with the TPA. Liam Fox MP, David Davies MP and Eric Pickles MP have recently spoken at TPA events. Other supporters include various large Tory donors including Sir Anthony Bamford (who has donated over £1m to the conservative party), Stuart Wheeler (who has donated £5m to the Conservative party, a range of Conservative MPS and even David Cameron’s former Chief of Staff Alex Deane. Further they are chaired by Stephan Shakespeare who also runs the ConservativeHome website. The Telegraph also reports that No.10 have had discussions about making Matthew Elliott (Chief Executive and Founder of the TPA) Senior Policy Advisor to the government. Nonetheless,  Elliott maintains they are not a front for the Conservative party, and I would heartily agree. Research suggests that the Conservative party are a front for the Tax Payers Alliance since many of the policies that are being pursued by the government are those of the TPA. The Guardian reports:
George Osborne's public sector pay freeze was recommended by the TPA last month and Elliott, who describes himself as "a free-market libertarian", said he had been "banging on about" the idea that no public worker should earn more than the prime minister without the chancellor's approval long before Osborne announced it”
Indeed, the TPA have a running commentary on their website about the progress that this government have made toward TPA objectives:
In tax and spending the Government has introduced a 2-year public sector pay freeze (3/5) and cut middle class welfare (3/5) but has not matched benefit reform with better tax policy (2/5)…”

The Tax Payer’s Alliance however are a difficult organisation to research, despite their insistence on Public Sector Transparency they refuse to hold to the same lofty ideals. This is an organisation which depending on what you believe either has huge influence within the government or has wholly infiltrated it. Yet beyond its claim to have 60,000 members (it doesn’t have any members since it is a corporation, it has this many on its mailing list), it refuses to give information on the identity of either its donors or its members. Since they are a corporation rather than a political party they are under no obligation to reveal this information. Fundamentally this means that within our democracy we have no idea who is formulating the strategies that our country is following. And we are following them – the Guardian again:
“The TPA's proposals include scrapping the secondary school building programme, child benefit and Sure Start centres for the youngest children.”
Sound familiar? I bet it does to Nick Boles. The BBC note:
Conservative MP Nick Boles is also urging a significant further scaling back of tax credits and housing benefit, and a re-examination of the "lazy sentimentalism" of the Sure Start programme of children's centres.”
What we have is a very small number of extremely wealthy people attempting to reduce their own tax burden and that of the organisations that they own which have contributed to their fortunes. They have no concern for the public good, the welfare of children, of the disabled or living standards of the elderly. Nick Boles mirrors this perfectly when he suggests such ideas as cutting benefits for elderly pensioners, notice he is extremely vague on where the line is to be drawn. Since this is floated as a money saving exercise you can be sure he isn’t talking only about millionaires, more likely his idea will consist only of reduced payments to those already in poverty and none to anyone else. Beyond this headline however what Boles is advocating is complete destruction of the welfare state and the Public Sector as we know it in order to make us a harder working and more productive country. The old Conservative maxim of “you make the rich work harder by making them richer, and the poor work harder by making them poorer” is back, and the ideas to live up to it clearly come from the TPA.

I would comment this on Nick Boles’ plans. Our country is not a business, we are not and never should be UK PLC. Our goal should never be to increase the wealth of the minority at the expense of the majority. There is a name for this kind of system, it is called slavery! When we no longer take care of our children, elderly and disabled. When our goals shift from providing the greatest quality of life to the greatest number, not only do we not have democracy, we do not have freedom. We must proceed with care because this hidden lurch to the right signifies the transformation of people into commodities who’s value, who’s only reason for existence is to provide greater wealth to those lucky enough to be born into privileged circumstances. Yes, the TPA/Tory plan is about forcing people to work harder, longer and hitting them with the starvation stick if they refuse. More than that though, the new ideology is not one of individual endeavour rewarded, it is one where the wealthy are absolved of their responsibilities as contributing parts of a larger society. An ideology where the poor are cast adrift as the rich wrestle an ever tightening grip on resources, education, government and the law. This is a grab for a position of total power and zero responsibility.

The fact that the TPA are hidden within our government tells us two things. First, they are not acting in the best interests of the majority. If they were, they would be electable on their own account and would thus form a political party with their not inconsiderable means and implement their ideas directly. Secondly however, it tells us that they have achieved a position of unelected power. Given that we as an electorate have not given a mandate to any party to govern, have never been consulted about the nature and severity of the policies that are being followed and have no powers to hold the TPA accountable to any degree, we must conclude that there has been a coup d’etat. Our government has been replaced by a corporation, a range of corporations who are governing purely in their own short-term self interest. They have no responsibility to the electorate and no incentive to care about the lives of the individuals within it.

The UK no longer has a government of the people, for the people, by the people. The fact that it is so difficult to say exactly what we do have tells us that. Whatever it is though, it does not value you or me or anyone outside of the wealthiest circles. What we have is a system where  you don’t matter beyond your work and your spending. A system where you have few rights and are only as valuable as the things you produce.

How comfortable are you with that?