Monthly Archives: October 2014

Defenders of the Free Market

Yesterday a post was made on the website of the Centre for Policy Studies*, a right-wing think-tank that was set-up by Keith Joseph in 1974 to promote ‘Economic Liberalism’ – now more frequently called neo-Liberalism or Free Market Capitalism. Also counting Margaret Thatcher as one of its protagonists, this group of course proved to be very successful, and its policies were subsequently adopted by most Western governments and political parties. For many years, from Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister in 1979 until the Banking Crash of 2008, these economic doctrines were pretty much unquestioned  – I myself was an advocate of free markets during that time.

Margaret Thatcher was Deputy Chairman of the Centre for Policy Studies. Picture © US Govt

However the crash of 2008 changed all that, and many people saw that free markets, far from benefiting everyone, only actually benefit the narrow elite at the top. The privileged few use corporate structures to ensure the wealth that capitalism generates does not trickle down, but instead remains in their hands, which also means that ‘competition’ only really exists at the bottom of society, where workers have to compete for who will work for the lowest wage. Any attempt by the government to redress this wealth imbalance is thwarted by tax avoidance, and in particular hiding money offshore in tax havens. The result is endless grinding poverty at the bottom and ever-increasing wealth at the top. Privatisation of public services of course accelerates the process, and then when you add into the mix the inevitable economic crises (as the financial sector takes greater risks to increase its wealth even further) and the subsequent government bailouts (state funds being use to support private industry) we get to see that, remarkably, Socialism is still alive and well – but only for the wealthy and the world of business. Paid for by yet harsher Austerity, these bailouts serve to accelerate the transfer of wealth from poor to rich, and lead to an ever-more unequal society (hence 500,000 people are now using foodbanks while at the same time Executive Pay soars higher than ever.)

So, to get back to the post from the Centre for Policy Studies, Matthew Rees was commenting on the recent Occupy protests in Parliament Square, and said that if the protestors really were interested in Civil Liberties they should be supporting Free Trade, not opposing it, and highlighted the forthcoming TTIP treaty as an example of this. This was an extraordinary statement.  The TTIP treaty, if it goes through, will allow corporations to sue governments over anything which causes them financial loss. The possibilities here are terrifying. The government wants to stop the use of genetically modified food? Biochemical companies could sue them for potential ‘lost trade’. We decide we don’t want to take the environmental risk of fracking? Fracking companies could sue us for lost business. The government proposes changes to the NHS? Health companies could sue if they think that will cost them money. The government wants to encourage people to cut down on smoking? Tobacco companies could sue for lost revenue. The welfare of ordinary people will come second to the profits of multinationals, and all these disputes will be settled behind closed doors, with only lawyers and corporate cronies having a say in the outcome.

If Matthew truly does believe that such legislation serves democracy, civil liberties, and the will of the people (and if he is not being paid to say such things by the corporations who will benefit) then I can only say that he must be so blinded by his own ideology, that he is unable to accept the evidence of how badly society now operates for millions of ordinary people.

http://www.cps.org.uk/blog/q/date/2014/10/23/occupy-london-giving-civil-liberties-a-bad-name/ 

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The Labour Party is Compromised

Many people will be aware of the corrupting influence that the private funding of political parties has on our democratic process. The Tory Party gets most of its funding from big business (and over half its funding from the City of London) so it’s no surprise they make policies which benefit the wealthy. However the Labour Party, in its efforts to break away from Trade Union influence, has now fallen into exactly the same trap, and events this week demonstrate the extent to which they too are now totally in the grip of big business.

File:Ed Miliband (2010).jpg
Ed Miliband: He may want to create a fairer, more equal society, but will the party’s donors let him? Picture © Mandate for Change

Firstly, one of their biggest donors, multi-millionaire Assem Allam*, who in recent years has given £210,000 to the party, has openly criticised Ed Milliband’s proposal for a ‘Mansion Tax’.  He also made his overall intentions pretty clear when he criticised proposals to increase other taxes on the wealthy, saying the rich should be looked after and encouraged, as they are the people who drive the economy (strange words for a Labour Party supporter you might think, unless he is clearly exercising some kind of vested interest!) Following on from this, other major Labour Party donors voiced similar concerns about the Mansion Tax, including Lord Noon* who described it as ‘hopeless and desperate’; while the party’s biggest donor, John Mills* – who gave them £1.65m last year – also criticised the tax, saying it would produce ‘all sorts of problems’ (especially for him, presumably, if he has to pay it.)

Now you may or may not think the Mansion Tax is a good idea, but it’s for parties to put policies in their manifestos, and then for the electorate to vote on them, not for wealthy individuals to use their money and influence to control government policy regardless of what the electorate wants. What will now inevitably happen is that should the Labour Party get elected, Ed Milliband will be leant on, and with the threat of losing crucial funding, the policy will be quietly dropped, or massively watered down. And with pressure mounting on him to backtrack on this tax, you can be pretty sure that similar pressure will also be applied should he make any other suggestions which increase taxes on the wealthiest and most privileged members of society. Instead, all the party’s biggest donors will no doubt be encouraging him to continue with Austerity: freezing public sector wages, cutting public services,  and slashing benefits given to the poorest members of society.

Many people still no doubt hold to the view that voting Labour is the best way to achieve a fairer and more equitable society, but with Labour now firmly in the grip of big business, that unfortunately is a sad illusion. With both the Labour and the Tory parties offering nothing but endless Austerity, the only way to change things is to vote for someone else at the next election, and hope that a coalition government of some sort will allow alternative ideas to be implemented. And top of those alternative ideas has to be a reform of the entire process of Party Funding, because as long as the wealthy can ‘buy’ the legislation that suits them, the wealth that capitalism generates will stay in the hands of a narrow elite, and millions of ordinary people will be forced to struggle in endless poverty.

*Refs: http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/Hull-City-owner-Assem-Allam-criticises-Labour/story-23074774-detail/story.html and http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/10/06/ed-miliband-labour-john-mills_n_5926844.html

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