Friday, 17 June 2016

Time to take our country back?

One of the benefits of having more money than you can really spend is that you have a little to spare for useful investments. Like buying a government.

Now don’t get me wrong. The super-rich don’t necessarily engage in what could be viewed as strictly illegal behaviour. They don’t, or at least don’t usually, pop bundles of banknotes into politicians’ pockets or transfer colossal sums to numbered accounts in off-shore banks. 

No, what they do is fund election campaigns or whole political parties.

Donations to parties or individuals are naturally made in a spirit of altruism. They come from corporations or people of huge wealth whose concern is with giving something back. They don’t expect any benefit for their contribution. 

And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

One gift generates an appetite for the next. Clearly, if you do things that will upset the giver, the chances of another installment sink rapidly. So it’s vital to keep these big donors on side. If that means trimming the odd policy here and there, well, that’s quite literally the price you pay.

That the British Conservatives behave this way is obvious. They are, after all, the party of the super-rich, doling out the tax cuts, and led by men – mostly men, anyway – from the great bastions of privilege, the most prestigious public (i.e. private) schools.

What’s less obvious is that Labour too is prone to this kind of behaviour. In 2009 Peter Mandelson, then a Labour Business Secretary, announced that the party was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” That demonstrated that he, and many of those around him, had been infected by the same inability as the Opposition to take on the people who exercise self-interested power with no requirement to account for it.

In a different context, a pre-Second World War Conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, spoke of “power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.” We really don’t need Labour being relaxed, intensely or otherwise, about such harlotry.

Don’t forget that the people who make sure we get the best government their money can buy, already own a disproportionate proportion of the country. The Equality Trust points out that Britain not only has a high level of income inequality compared with other nations, but the situation is even worse when it comes to wealth: the top 10% own 45% of the wealth, the top 20% own 64%. At the top end of this range are the people who own the Conservatives, and too easily influence even Labour.

It’s that influence, making Labour far too intensely relaxed over matters that ought to concern it more, that is most worrying. If Labour doesn’t speak for those whose voice is least heard, who will? The Conservatives are already firmly anchored in the deepest pockets.

The EU Parliament.
But are these really the most toxic faceless men?
Our remedy is to keep Labour focused where it should be, and find a way to return it to power. At the same time, we need to turn where we can for support against the owners of the country, and the EU has shown it can help: whether on working hours, pensions or holiday pay, Brussles has adopted some measures which at least set a floor below which rights should not be pushed. A floor we badly need, with a government which decided that the appropriate response to the crash of 2007 was austerity. This is a policy that forces the poor to pay for the bankers’ foolhardiness, while preserving or even improving the living standards of the rich (incidentally giving them still more financial power to buy government).

In this context, it’s curious to hear workers demanding their country back. They aren’t wholly wrong. It certainly doesn’t belong to us. Where they’re mistaken is in thinking it ever did, that its a matter of getting it back. It’s always belonged to people with huge means, firmly rooted in this country, not some group of bureaucrats from abroad.

Far from being a threat, those bureaucrats, the term used as a popular shorthand for the EU, offer some limited bulwark against our own unscrupulous wealthy.

Workers who demand a vote to leave the EU in order to win back the country from the control of faceless bureaucrats in Brussels, need to be careful what they wish for. They won’t be taking control themselves. They’ll only reinforce the power of the austerity merchants who are inflicting such pain on us already.

Be warned: they’re not just faceless, they’re heartless too.

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