The democratic deficit.

The widespread failure of politics.

With the NaNoWriMo book completed, it’s back to normal in terms of postings on Learning from Dogs. Subscribers will also be receiving in 30 minutes time Chapter Sixteen with subsequent chapters coming out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next three weeks.

George Monbiot
George Monbiot

Next, I have long admired the writings of George Monbiot and today’s essay is a classic example of both his perception of the world around us and his clear and direct way of expressing same.  In these unsettling times we need observers, such as G. Monbiot, who will challenge what is happening in our societies and ask the questions we would all wish to ask. That George frequently reports for  the highly regarded Guardian newspaper is no surprise.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to George asking for permission to republish his essay on Why Politics Fails.  I was delighted not only to receive that permission but also a general permission to republish his essays, with one condition.  That is that they appear in digital format only and not in print.  Could I ask anyone who is thinking of reposting from Learning from Dogs to respect and honour that condition.  Thank you.

Finally, there have been a number of new subscribers during the month of November when I have been distracted by the NaNoWriMo event. It felt a good time again to explain to my newer followers why this blog for most of the time isn’t about dogs; well not directly.

I use the qualities of dogs as metaphors for the qualities that, to a great extent, appear to have been overlooked by man in the last 100 years or so.  Many of the behaviours of dogs that were of critical importance to the species before domestication are still very much in evidence in the family pet dog. I’m speaking of behaviours like unconditional love, living in the present, respecting boundaries, faithfulness, loyalty, honesty and forgiveness.  A group of behaviours that one could define in a single word: integrity.

Dhalia - domesticated but still the wild dog shows through.
Dhalia – domesticated but still the wild dog shows through.

So, hope that makes sense.  My posts predominantly illustrate both what is wrong with our 21st C. society and examples of how we can correct our ways.

OK, to George Monbiot.

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Why Politics Fails

November 11, 2013

Nothing will change until we confront the real sources of power.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 12th November 2013

It’s the reason for the collapse of democratic choice. It’s the source of our growing disillusionment with politics. It’s the great unmentionable. Corporate power. The media will scarcely whisper its name. It is howlingly absent from parliamentary debates. Until we name it and confront it, politics is a waste of time.

The political role of corporations is generally interpreted as that of lobbyists, seeking to influence government policy. In reality they belong on the inside. They are part of the nexus of power that creates policy. They face no significant resistance, from either government or opposition, as their interests have now been woven into the fabric of all three main parties.

Most of the scandals that leave people in despair about politics arise from this source. On Monday, for example, the Guardian revealed that the government’s subsidy system for gas-burning power stations is being designed by an executive from the company ESB, who has been seconded into the energy department(1). What does ESB do? Oh, it builds gas-burning power stations.

On the same day we learnt that a government minister, Nick Boles, has privately assured the gambling company Ladbrokes that it needn’t worry about attempts by local authorities to stop the spread of betting shops(2). His new law will prevent councils from taking action.

Last week we discovered that G4S’s contract to run immigration removal centres will be expanded, even though all further business with the state was supposed to be frozen while allegations of fraud are investigated(3). Every week we learn that systemic failures on the part of government contractors are no barrier to obtaining further work, that the promise of efficiency, improvements and value for money delivered by outsourcing and privatisation have failed to materialise(4,5,6). The monitoring which was meant to keep these companies honest is haphazard(7), the penalties almost non-existent(8), the rewards stupendous, dizzying, corrupting(9,10). Yet none of this deters the government. Since 2008, the outsourcing of public services has doubled, to £20bn. It is due to rise to £100bn by 2015(11). This policy becomes explicable only when you recognise where power really lies. The role of the self-hating state is to deliver itself to big business. In doing so it creates a tollbooth economy: a system of corporate turnpikes, operated by companies with effective monopolies.

It’s hardly surprising that the lobbying bill – now stalled by the Lords – offered almost no checks on the power of corporate lobbyists, while hogtying the charities who criticise them. But it’s not just that ministers are not discouraged from hobnobbing with corporate executives: they are now obliged to do so.

Thanks to an initiative by Lord Green, large companies have ministerial “buddies”, who have to meet them when the companies request it. There were 698 of these meetings during the first 18 months of the scheme, called by corporations these ministers are supposed be regulating(12). Lord Green, by the way, is currently a government trade minister. Before that he was chairman of HSBC, presiding over the bank while it laundered vast amounts of money stashed by Mexican drugs barons(13). Ministers, lobbyists – can you tell them apart?

That the words corporate power seldom feature in the corporate press is not altogether surprising. It’s more disturbing to see those parts of the media that are not owned by Rupert Murdoch or Lord Rothermere acting as if they are.

For example, for five days every week the BBC’s Today programme starts with a  business report in which only insiders are interviewed. They are treated with a deference otherwise reserved for God on Thought for the Day. There’s even a slot called Friday Boss, in which the programme’s usual rules of engagement are set aside and its reporters grovel before the corporate idol. Imagine the outcry if Today had a segment called Friday Trade Unionist or Friday Corporate Critic.

This, in my view, is a much graver breach of BBC guidelines than giving unchallenged airtime to one political party but not others, as the bosses are the people who possess real power: those, in other words, whom the BBC has the greatest duty to accost. Research conducted by the Cardiff school of journalism shows that business representatives now receive 11% of airtime on the BBC’s 6 o’clock news (this has risen from 7% in 2007), while trade unionists receive 0.6% (which has fallen from 1.4%)(14). Balance? Impartiality? The BBC puts a match to its principles every day.

And where, beyond the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, a few ageing Labour backbenchers, is the political resistance? After the article I wrote last week, about the grave threat the transatlantic trade and investment partnership presents to parliamentary sovereignty and democratic choice(15), several correspondents asked me what response there has been from the Labour party. It’s easy to answer: nothing.

Blair and Brown purged the party of any residue of opposition to corporations and the people who run them. That’s what New Labour was all about. Now opposition MPs stare mutely as their powers are given away to a system of offshore arbitration panels run by corporate lawyers.

Since Blair’s pogroms, parliament operates much as Congress in the United States does: the lefthand glove puppet argues with the righthand glove puppet, but neither side will turn around to face the corporate capital that controls almost all our politics. This is why the assertion that parliamentary democracy has been reduced to a self-important farce has resonated so widely over the past fortnight.

So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics. I haven’t given up yet, but I find it ever harder to explain why. When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political funding system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians of the three main parties stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/10/gas-industry-employee-energy-policy

2. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/10/planning-law-changes-help-bookmakers-minister

3. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/nov/08/g4s-expand-contract-freeze-government-work

4. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/05/privatisation-public-service-users-bill

5. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9742685/Total-chaos-after-pet-dog-counted-on-translators-database.html

6. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/22/disabled-benefits-claimants-test-atos

7. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/07/government-outsourcing-problems-g4s-serco-a4e

8. http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2013/jul/17/ifg-government-outsourcing-privatisation-skills

9. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/09/financial-transparency-privatised-nhs

10. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/rail-privatisation-train-operators-profit

11. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/feb/07/public-sector-outsourcing-shadow-state

12. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jan/18/buddy-scheme-multinationals-access-ministers

13. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/jul/24/lord-green-hsbc-scandal

14. http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/our_work/breadth_opinion/content_analysis.pdf

15. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy

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I’m staying with this theme tomorrow when I want to discuss a recent interview with Lyn Carson who is a professor with the Business Programs Unit at the University of Sydney.  The interview is on the subject of Improving Democracy Through Deliberation.

6 thoughts on “The democratic deficit.

  1. Scary stuff. Very reminiscent of the ‘Citizens United’ segment of the ‘Greedy Lying Bastards’ movie that I watched and reviewed recently. Apart from 1996-2003, I have been a life-long Conservative voter but I really do not know why. The party does not look after my interests and, sadly, like Monbiot, I have a very jaundiced view of business (or at least a cynical view of the motives of most business executives). Take the recent BBC expose of working conditions for shelf-pickers in Amazon (i.e. people who run around picking customer orders off shelves so that other workers can package them ready to be dispatched) – ‘Amazon: The Truth Behind the Click’.

    BBC journalist Richard Bilton secured the co-operation of an intelligent and physically-fit young graduate, who agreed to get a job in an Amazon distribution warehouse and smuggle-in a hidden camera. On reviewing the video evidence, an expert on work-related stress said it was as if Amazon had gone out of their way to make the job as stressful as possible: with workers under immense pressure and having no control or autonomy… Amazon’s response was to say that “…the Health and Safety of our workforce is our highest priority…”. However, this is patently not true (for Amazon or any other company). The first priority of any company is to maximise its pre-tax profit. The second priority is to minimise its tax liability. The third priority is to avoid being exposed as unethical by investigative journalists (especially in the run-up to Christmas)…

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  2. Yes, sure. Nothing new. But worth saying, again, in case the public did not notice it. Big corporations control the world. But who owns the corporations and what possesses their owners? A plutocratic magma and power-hungry, muddled, sadistic thinking, respectively.

    When the fractional reserve system was allowed to run amok, not only was a monster created, but an inspiration for even greedier plutocrats.

    I’m presently writing still another piece on the theoretical connection between government and economy.

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      1. Such as?
        The democratic deficit in, say, France, is different from UK/USA, because the French informally revolt. They are cynical enough to do that. So the government has to be more careful.

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