Policy Making through a Public Prism

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Policy Making through a Public Prism 

By Tony Stoller

In this lecture, Tony Stoller, Chair of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, considers the relationship between popular discourse and policy-making. Drawing upon recent examples from a wide range of sectors, including adult social care, welfare reform, housing and broadcasting, he assesses the impact of giving undue priority to managing public debate over the task of designing and delivering effective policies.

Extracts

We no longer inhabit the age of mere ‘Government by spin’. What we have now is a completely new paradigm for public policy-making, dominated and managed by what we can call the ‘new elite’. It is a coalition of politicians, policy wonks, commentators, journalists and media owners, who both shape and comment upon policy. They are the masters now, and they jointly take part in a symbiotic dance, which the public is encouraged to believe they are part of, but from which they are in reality consciously excluded. 

For the moment, let us just say that we can now identify the closest of inter-relationships between many media owners and commentators on the one hand, and elected politicians, policymakers and some senior officials on the other, going beyond anything which had been normal practice in the past. Within this ‘new elite’, think tanks have taken over much of the policy-proposing role of the professional civil service, as the latter’s numbers are reduced. That potentially widens the circle of policy-making, and is proving valuable in the devolved administrations in that way, but it also means that a century and a half of civil service expertise is being sidelined. Add to that the extraordinary revolving doors between posts in Government, think-tanks, special advisers, media and regulation, and you have a new paradigm run by a ‘new elite’.

The changed relationship between those whose job it is to make policy, and those whose nominal role is to report on and criticise it, is undermining our ability as a nation to formulate, properly debate, and then implement public policy. 

The language of ‘benefits’ and the ‘welfare state’ have become ‘dog-whistle’ words of implicit abuse. Politicians assert that housing benefit is designed for “those who lie in bed with the curtains drawn”. Those on benefits are ‘scroungers’, ‘benefits cheats’, and the like. The picture we have of those who are poor is that provided by television programmes like Shameless, reinforced by the patronising toleration of stereotypes by members of audiences in television programmes from Question Time to The Jeremy Kyle show.

The media presentation of ‘facts’ which are nothing of the sort exacerbates the problem. For instance, we all read about, and eventually subliminally come to believe in, the supposed massive problem of teenage girls who get pregnant in order to get themselves local authority housing.

The concern is also over the partial use of statistics, promoted as part of this managed discourse rather than as grist for genuine debate.

What actions can we undertake to manage the new policy-making paradigm for the common good?

First, we must return to policy-making properly based upon valid data; insist that that data is effectively open source, available un-packaged by opinion to those who wish to participate in the debate; and ensure that we are informed by those voices that are usually unheard. 

The second task for all of us is to prevent the Leveson report, and the action which should follow from it, being undermined by the very processes which it has exposed.  

Third, we need to be alert to the growing trend to let go the impartiality requirements on broadcasters. 

And last, we need to help the public as a whole to understand social media, to appreciate its strengths and weaknesses; to know what represents a genuine view ‘trending’, and what has been artificially set up to appear as such; to realise that there are those around who regularly offer to sell us another hundred or thousand followers. The social media could be about a genuine upwelling of public opinion, but they are open to manipulation as never before. 

Gresham College Lectures 

The transcript and downloadable versions of all of the lectures are available from the Gresham College website:
http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and…

Where is this ‘Free press’ that needs protecting? Does it report the reality of Welfare Reform and Climate Warming?

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Having endured another few days of bleating about 300 y of the ‘free’ press, I’m impelled to ask ‘free’ from what/whom?  ‘Free’ from their super-wealthy owners?  ‘Free’ from their corporate links?  ‘Free’ from the diktats of their advertisers?  ‘Free’ from partisan political reporting?

And for whom, are they ‘free’?

We are told that our democracy depends on access to the ‘free’ press … but with notable exceptions, the mainstream media (MSM) just reflects the obvious existing power structures.

Of the 21 national daily and Sunday titles – 62% support the Conservatives; 19%, the Liberal Democrats or centre-left; 14% are social-democratic and only The Morning Star could be said to report a left-wing agenda. Whilst the Mirror group consistently supports the Labour party, the Guardian has always been a Liberal paper with a fair sprinkling of Labour-supporting articles.  This spread is hardly a reflection of the opinion polls and there is virtually no representation to the left of what is perceived to be the ‘centre’ ground.

In addition, it seems obvious that rather than inform:

The real mass media are basically trying to divert people. Let them do something else, but don’t bother us (us being the people who run the show)…. Let everybody be crazed about professional sports or sex scandals or the personalities and their problems or something like that. (1)

And who are the journalists feeding their copy into the ‘free’ press?  Over 50% were privately educated unlike 93% of the general public … and how many attended the incestuous, hot-house of Oxbridge, being educated and socialising with the very politicians, judges, public ‘intellectuals’ and the super-rich who constitute the ‘power elite’, that they, as journalists, are supposed to hold to account?

Those of you who have been through college know that the educational system is very highly geared to rewarding conformity and obedience; if you don’t do that, you are a troublemaker. So, it is kind of a filtering device which ends up with people who really honestly (they aren’t lying) internalize the framework of belief and attitudes of the surrounding power system in the society….

[Journalists] say, quite correctly, “nobody ever tells me what to write. I write anything I like. All this business about pressures and constraints is nonsense because I’m never under any pressure.”   Which is completely true, but the point is that they wouldn’t be there unless they had already demonstrated that nobody has to tell them what to write because they are going say the right thing. … The same is mostly true of university faculty in the more ideological disciplines. They have been through the socialization system(1)

Moreover, all of the above, presupposes that there is an adequate level of competence, knowledge base and honest intent from journalists and their editors … the questioning of which led to the Leveson judicial review. Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling highlights this, when he refutes the Daily Mail’s claim, … that benefit spending accounts for 24.2% of “Britain’s total income” is as truthful as we’d expect from the Mail – which is to say ‘utter bollocks.’ (2)

Executive editor and editorial director of Guardian Sustainable Business, Jo Confino asks the question ‘Why are journalists failing to hold firms to account over sustainability?’  He answers himself:Ownership structures and old-fashioned thinking means social and environmental performance is not challenged by the media.’ (3)

However, with a valiant attempt at optimism, he also writes:

One of the reasons I work at the Guardian is because I believe we are different….  The simple truth is that the media sector can be either part of the solution or part of the problem. At the moment, it is largely the latter, overwhelming us with tittle tattle and further embedding a culture of consumption.

What comes to mind is the image of the orchestra playing ragtime and waltzes as the Titanic started to sink.

Those with disability and long-term illness can certainly identify with the description of the Titanic sinking, particularly when faced with the further £10bn of Welfare cuts which is likely to be included in George Osborne’s Autumn Review.

The current negative and scurrilous reporting about benefits and benefit claimants is nothing short of scandalous. Apart from Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, there has been virtually no comprehensive or rigorous analysis of the likely impacts of the Welfare Reform bill and the Universal Benefits programme in the ‘free’ press.

Turn2us commissioned a major academic research study assessing the impact of stigma and other social influences on those applying for benefits. The study’s analysis of media coverage of benefits, in national newspapers (1995 to 2011), found that while newspapers contained both positive and negative representations of claimants, the content of press stories was indeed skewed towards negative representations.  Furthermore, they found that both the language and content of ‘negative’ coverage had changed substantially over time.

While fraud remains very important in negative coverage,  articles are much more likely now to refer to lack of reciprocity and effort on the part of claimants than they were previously. (4)

In other words, the contents of recent negative press stories were skewed towards the Tory/LD’s agenda which is essentially the Victorian cliché of ‘deserving, hardworking families’ and an ‘undeserving, feckless poor’.  It is the ‘fault’ of the unemployed for not having a job. It is suggested that they are lazy, scrounging and taking society for a ‘ride’ whilst those on Disability benefits are portrayed as probably ‘swinging the lead’.

However, it is a simple matter for journalists to determine the reality of these charges.  Government’s own figures estimate benefit fraud at less than 0.5%; the numbers seeking work are five times the number of vacancies; most benefit claimants have been employed and paid into the system; and that overwhelmingly people in receipt of housing benefit are in work, albeit low-waged.

Michael Meacher writes that the proper role and rationale of a free press is to maintain a properly functioning democracy:

…its real objectives should be twofold: to keep the electorate fully informed about the key issues that affect Britain and thus to provide a genuine national agenda, and secondly to speak truth to power and thus to lay the foundations for systematically holding the government of the day to account.   With some honourable exceptions Britain’s media have fallen far short of these democratic responsibilities. (5)

Clearly, with respect to Benefits and Welfare reform, our so-called ‘free’ press has in large part failed on both counts.  Similarly, Jo Confino finds the press failing to hold firms to account over sustainability, and this is seems likely to be representative of criticism across the whole spectrum of political reporting.

Michael Meacher warns:

Prepare for weeks of vilification of Leveson and the lampooning of his position as the voice of censorship.   We are already seeing that when it comes to the struggle for power and the capacity for dominance over the State and its ideology, the methods are ruthless, the lies are vicious, the cries of the victims and the mistreated count for very little. (6)

Two things are clear.  Firstly, that Cameron believes that it is imperative to back the press barons if he is to stand any chance of winning in 2015.  Secondly, that there are very good reason why corporations like News International and super-wealthy individuals like the Barclay brothers, want to own papers in spite of their lack of profitability.  The reason has nothing to do with the romance of ‘loving newspapers’ or ‘newspapers being in their blood’.  It has everything to do with holding the power to intimidate (and control) politicians, and with their capacity to set the news agenda:

“Even if the [media] does not mold our every opinion, it does mold our opinion visibility; it can frame the perceptual limits around which our opinions take shape. Here may lie the most important effect of the news media: they set the agenda for the rest of us, choosing what to emphasize and what to ignore or suppress, in effect, organizing much of our political world for us. The media may not always be able to tell us what to think, but they are strikingly successful in telling us what to think about … the media teach us tunnel vision conditioning us to perceive the problems of society as isolated particulars, thereby stunting our critical vision. Larger casualties are reduced to immediately distinct events, while the linkages of wealth, power and policy go unreported or are buried under a congestion of surface impressions and personalities.

In sum, the media set the limits on public discourse. They may not always mold opinion, but they do not always have to. It is enough that they create opinion visibility, giving legitimacy to certain views and illegitimacy to others … This power to determine the issue agenda, the information flow, and the parameters of political debate so that it extends from ultra-right to no further than moderate center is, if not total, still totally awesome.”

Inventing Reality Michael Parenti

I have no doubt that Leveson is sincere in wanting a free press in the public interest, and that he was at all times considering the public interest.  However, my doubt is that a truly ‘free’ press can be constituted when the crucial issues of ownership and concentration of ownership are ignored (7) – regardless of whether it has statutory underpinning or not. Furthermore, the proposal is that it will be regulated by another committee, which will doubtless comprise ‘the great and the good’, albeit from the non-media power elite… so expect more of the same homogeneity of attitudes and assumptions.

If governments really took the democratic role of the local and national press seriously, it would not rely on a ‘market’ solution as the means of  ‘keeping the electorate fully informed about the key issues that affect Britain, providing a genuine national agenda, and to speak truth to power’.  It is the ‘market’ which is putting both the MSM and local media under enormous staffing and financial pressures.   As Nick Davies writes in his book ‘Flat Earth news’… ‘the average Fleet Street journalist now is filling three times as much space as he or she was in 1985′.

Where once journalists were active gatherers of news, now they have generally become mere passive processors of unchecked, second-hand material, much of it contrived by PR to serve some political or commercial interest. Not journalists, but churnalists. An industry whose primary task is to filter out falsehood has become so vulnerable to manipulation that it is now involved in the mass production of falsehood, distortion and propaganda. (8)

There is, therefore, a good democratic case for some sort of arms-length government funding, particularly of local newspapers… the obvious comparison is with the BBC but given its current inadequacies (9) (10), I would prefer comparison with the World Service which at least offers some background information and a critique of current economic dogma.  I would also argue for the political perspective of individual journalists and the newspaper to be indicated at the beginning of every article.  This could easily be achieved by using the political compass (11) and would place their writing within its subjective context.

How would we know if the press was moving in the right direction?  That’s easy.  When we read that there are alternatives to Mrs Thatcher’s neoclassical economics.  That climate warming is not some sort of optional faith-based belief system but a reality which needs to be urgently addressed.  And that it was a banking crisis, not government spending which increased the national debt and furthermore, we do not need to borrow from private banks to create full employment.

In the meantime, let’s just agree to stop confusing the issue by calling the current state of the press ‘free’.

 

(1)  http://www.chomsky.info/articles/199710–.htm

(2)  BENEFIT SPENDING: A QUICK HISTORY

(3) http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/media-hold-account-corporate-sustainability

(4)  http://www.turn2us.org.uk/about_us/media_centre/news_archive/benefits_stigma.aspx

(5)  http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2011/10/what-do-we-want-from-a-free-press/

(6)   http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2012/11/leveson-camerons-betrayal-not-the-end-of-the-story/

(7)   http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/29/leveson-inquiry-clever-silence-on-ownership

(8)   http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/feb/04/comment.pressandpublishing

(9)  http://think-left.org/2011/11/11/inadequacies-of-bbc-coverage-of-the-eu-financial-crisis/

(10)  http://think-left.org/2012/10/08/the-puppeteers-at-the-bbc-more-dishonesty-disharmony-and-broken-strings-from-the-bbc/

(11)  http://www.politicalcompass.org/ 

Blair at Leveson

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By Liam Carr

First posted at http://liamrcarr.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/blair-at-leveson.html

A protestor at the Leveson Enquire accused Tony Blair of war crimes. He may well have a point.  I was one of the million or so people who marched in protest against going to war in Iraq. But despite what I think about that one decision, I do not vilify Blair as much as some Labour supporters do.

His priorities were in order.  Education reform made a noticeable difference.  Investment in health was also welcomed, even if the way the money was raised, has since been called into question.

Blair was also electable, which is important.   A Labour government will always be better for people from normal backgrounds than a Tory one. Even a Labour government, with what many on the Left of politics would see as far too neo-liberal, will offer more protection to the vulnerable than this ideologically driven Coalition.

What is more interesting than either the protest, or the reaction to Blair being back in the spotlight, is what the former PM actually said.  His strategy was never to take on the press. Cameron’s strategy was the same. In stark contrast, Ed Miliband and a few labour MPs, namely Tom Watson and Chris Bryant, started the rage against the Murdoch Machine. This is a massive shift.  All parties have previously courted the media, now they line up to criticise the media.

How people vote in a general election depends on a variety of factors;  the media do play a role, and the most popular newspapers remain highly influential.

Ed said at the Labour Party Conference ‘I am not Tony Blair’ and was applauded for it. He has shown by his actions in openly criticising News International that he is not like Tony Blair…  but he must be at least a little like Blair in one vital aspect.  By 2015 and in spite of any revenge that is taken by the Sun or other papers in the run up to the General Election, Ed must be a leader of the Labour Party who has enough popular support to eject an inept, shambolic Tory led Government from office, just as Tony did in 1997.

What does Leveson tell us about the Tories and their plan to wipe out state services?

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At first, they ignore an inconvenient truth.  Then they ridicule it.  Then they attack it … and finally the omnishambles of the Tory-LD government has become self-evident.

 Nevertheless, this government is very successfully dismantling the NHS, state education and what remains of the post-war consensus for the profitable benefit of the transnational corporations, the financial sector (in other words themselves, their friends and relatives); a fact still largely ignored by the mainstream media. This raises a number of important questions about the nature of our democracy.  The Leveson inquiry sheds  significant light on government’s interaction with a transnational corporation like News International, and corporate expectations of government.

Tories plan to wipe out state services

A leading Cabinet minister has admitted that the Conservatives aim to eradicate the state provision of public services in this country. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister and a former banker, in an extraordinary gung-ho speech to Policy Exchange to mark 10 years of the centre-right think tank, said the Government wants to end state provision – even if it means they end up being run by private equity companies from tax havens….The speech comes as David Cameron’s Government is embarking on a controversial programme to extend privatisation way beyond Margaret Thatcher’s wildest dreams – to Britain’s road network and even the police. (1)

 Noun 1.   confidence trick – a swindle in which you cheat at gambling or persuade a person to buy worthless property   bunco, bunco game, bunko, bunko game, con game, confidence game, flimflam, gyp, hustle, con, sting

sting operation – a complicated confidence game planned and executed with great care (especially an operation implemented by undercover agents to apprehend criminals)  swindle, cheat, rig – the act of swindling by some fraudulent scheme; “that book is a fraud”

 

That David Cameron and George Osborne are ‘arrogant posh boys’ who know very little about economics or seemingly anything else much, has been patently obvious, from the beginning. As Martin Rowson wrote at the time of the Comprehensive Spending Review:

‘… we need to understand various things about George Osborne, this Government’s economic vandal-in-chief. First, he’s almost a victim of his own ambition…. Second, he’s actually a bit of wimp… If you combine these two aspects of his character, Osborne suddenly becomes both more and less terrifying. He’s less terrifying because it’s just an act, the calculated malevolence purely there to cow the rest of us into compliance with his programme of Thatcherite orthodoxy. However, where he becomes more terrifying is when you realise that … he really and truly doesn’t know what he’s doing … There is, in other words, a stench of deranged naivety surrounding George Osborne, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and I fear we might be hearing the phrase “I wasn’t expecting this kind of thing” quite a lot in the next few years, as they survey the wreckage.’ (2)

Versions of this view can now be heard repeated across the political spectrum, and from the far right end, Peter Hitchins complains:

All the pillars of the Cameron delusion have now collapsed. The Tory Party cannot win a majority by any method. Nobody trusts it, and  it stands for nothing except  getting posh boys into office… 
[Mr Cameron] is exactly what he looks like, an unprincipled chancer with limited skills in public relations…. 

George Osborne is not an iron Chancellor with a severe plan to save the economy…. he’s not very good at his job. (3)

Michael Meacher on George Osborne: This man has the touch of genius if the Tory aim is now, as it seems, to lose the next election. (4)

But to be fair, it is not only Cameron and Osborne who have created the shambles of the last six weeks. Other members of the cabinet have contributed their mite, including Frances Maude and his cack-handed attempts to create antagonism to the Fuel tanker drivers and the unions; Theresa May’s inability to get the date right and the chaos at Heathrow; Caroline Spelman’s ridiculous water standpipes; Baroness Warsi comparing UKIP to the BNP; and now the U-turn on a U-turn about the new fighter aircraft.  More seriously in the last two years, we have had the Liam Fox affair; Gove’s multiple apologies to Parliament over the School Building programme; Hague’s inability to organize a boat to evacuate from Libya, the Tory fundraiser and now the emerging evidence of the Levenson inquiry.  In fact, it is quite difficult to know who from the present cabinet could possibly replace Cameron… they have all ‘messed up’.

However, all of this incompetence poses a conundrum.

How can it be that these shambolic, careless, arrogant individuals were able to supervise, let alone devise the immense sophistication of the Health and Social Care bill, the Welfare Reform bill and the Education bill? Not only are these bills profoundly (deliberately?) complicated but they are also deviously tailored to facilitate the ongoing privatization of public services… often by wrecking the state provision thus encouraging take-up of personal private insurance.  In addition, there has been accompanying legislation such as, the not much discussed ‘Henry VIII’ powers to abolish the quangos, and the Legal Aid bill which together will largely prevent any sort of challenge through the courts.

There has also been a highly synchronized time-table orchestrating the passage of these major bits of legislation, getting them swiftly in place, before the first cuts in the benefits system began to be implemented. Arguably, the intention was to get them onto statute well before the public or MPs have had a chance to fully digest their implications.

Additionally, ‘distractions’ have often been choreographed to coincide with contentious legislation.  For example the proposal to sell off the forests, which was bound to cause an outcry, coincided with the first reading of Lansley’s Health and Social Care bill.  This announcement was in itself unnecessary because the Public Bodies bill, which was designed to allow the minister to sell as much of the forests as she liked without any recourse to Parliament, was simultaneously going through the House of Lords.

Presumably, it is this ruthlessly efficient programme, aimed at selling-off what remains of state services, that caused George Osborne to be hailed as a great strategist.. (along with his three dimensional strategy chessboard). However, following his disastrously misjudged budget, few think that Osborne is a brilliant strategist anymore.

The question must be asked, therefore, to what extent is it plausible that Lansley, Gove or IDS were the primary movers in devising their respective bills?  Do we really believe that Oliver Letwin, the dumper of official mail in a public park waste-bin, was the brains co-ordinating the strategy?  It is also clear that civil servants can have had a very limited input given that the bills were up and running so quickly after the general election.

It seems so much more probable that the global management consultants, such as KPMG and McKinsey, and the transnational corporations, were simply allowed free-rein to write the legislation to suit their needs … with no apparent safeguards to secure and protect the best interests of UK* citizens from vested interests.

In this scenario, government ministers would then simply be the front-men, the PR…  which would fit with why, when criticized, the Coalition ministers peculiarly focus on the inadequacy of the way that a policy was presented.  As Douglas Alexander said:

George Osborne is apologising for spin of the budget, when he should be apologising for the substance.

The incestuous relationships between politicians, civil servants, think tanks, lobbyists, donors and corporate advisors have been discussed widely outside of the mainstream media … and also in a number of previous Think Left articles including: Welfare Reform and the US Insurance Giant Unum (5);  Lobbyists are destroying the democratic process. (6);  Transnational Corporations have not let a good crisis go to waste. (7)

The Leveson inquiry gives another level of authority to the supposition that:

‘Britain’s political class in particular and ruling class in general collude, connive and corrupt both systemically and systematically…. The evidence has laid bare the intimate, extensive and insidious web of social, familial and personal ties between the political, corporate and legal forces that govern a country: a patchwork of individual and institutional associations so tightly interwoven that to pick at one part is to watch the whole thing unravel.’ (8)

Furthermore, Gary Young writes:

… these interactions mock the very notion of democracy on which the nation’s illusions are based…. With the culture secretary described by Murdoch’s lobbyist as a “cheerleader” for News International, it seems as if the takeover was to all intents and purposes a done deal, prevented only by the fallout from the hacking scandal. All the kinks ironed out on horseback and settled in time for the main course. Parliament would have been a mere rubber stamp. Oversight reduced to an afterthought in a House of Commons…. (8)

Again as a result of Leveson, Anthony Barnett identifies a highly significant aspect about the nature of this Tory-LD government:

The scandal has now clarified a far more breathtaking question: is Britain governed by a big lie?

Of course there was not a “deal” in the narrow sense of a written contract…. It was a partnership … between people who decided to get into bed with each other and help each other obtain their interests at the expense of public life in Britain.

… no person of sound judgment could conclude anything other than that there was indeed a grand collaboration worked out before the election by the Murdochs and Cameron and Osborne and then implemented after it….

Any government whose duty is to secure and protect its citizens would necessarily seek to ensure that NewsCorp’s power is limited, checked by regulation and competition.

Today, how can Leveson pass judgment on the nature of the understandings reached by Rupert’s Rebecca when she went horse riding with David Cameron beyond the reach of judicial standards of proof? Without the clear evidence of the metaphorical ‘smoking gun’ to make a verdict of a conspiracy against the public interest simply unavoidable, it becomes his judgment-call to force the Prime Minister and Chancellor from office, for selling out the country with their utterly inappropriate relationships with team Murdoch. It is a power he’ll naturally resile from using….

But the bigger issue remains… It is one thing to kow-tow, to cultivate, to grant some concessions to (to seek not to make an enemy of) a man who controls 40 per cent of the press. This may be revolting but it is – or was – political reality in Britain. It is quite another to agree to reshape the all-important media environment of our democracy for the advantage of a player whose coverage is not only notorious for bias and the dishonourable destruction of people’s lives but who is also known to bribe the police and break the law.

This was the Rubicon that Cameron and Osborne plotted with Murdoch and Son to cross. While the Murdochs may be confounded, their agents remain in place in 10 and 11 Downing Street. They have shown themselves as people not fit and proper to run a government. (9)

So if we extrapolate from the Murdoch case, Barnett’s words could be re-written as:

But the bigger issue remains… It is one thing to kow-tow, to cultivate, to grant some concessions to (to seek not to make an enemy of) the transnational corporations and the financial sector. This may be revolting but it is – or was – political reality in Britain. It is quite another to agree to reshape the all-important public services of our democracy for the advantage of players whose primary concern is a ready, stream of profits which will doubtless end up untaxed in some offshore secrecy jurisdiction.

Without the clear evidence of the metaphorical ‘smoking gun’ to make a verdict of a conspiracy against the public interest simply unavoidable, it becomes a judgment-call to force the Prime Minister and Chancellor from office, for selling out the country with their utterly inappropriate relationships with private health providers, private employment insurers, global management consultants, private education providers and so on

Richard Murphy makes the point that the corrosiveness of offshore tax havens stems from ‘a deliberate, legally backed veil of secrecy’ (10). But at the very point that, the ‘imperative of shattering secrecy’ by transparency and country to country reporting, is beginning to be taken seriously and internationally, the Tory-LD government is making our own public services secret, unavailable to public scrutiny, by claiming commercial sensitivity.

As George Monbiot argues:

Private companies now provide services we are in no position to refuse, yet, unlike the state bodies they replace, they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act…

Companies are once again striking remarkable deals, hatched in secret, at the expense of taxpayers, pupils and patients. Last week, for example, we learned that Circle Healthcare will be able to extract millions of pounds a year from a public hospital, Hinchingbrooke, which is in deep financial trouble. Crucial information about the deal remains secret on the grounds of Circle’s “commercial confidentiality”.

… If we are to reclaim power from the corporations that have seized it, first we need to know what that power looks like. (11)

This raises fundamental questions about the nature and power of government.

Shouldn’t there be a responsibility on political parties to spell out their intentions before they are elected?

Shouldn’t there be transparency about the authors and genesis of legislation?

Shouldn’t there be a capacity to challenge governments who have misled the electorate prior to election?  For example ‘No top down re-organisation of the NHS’ and ‘No Tuition fees’.

Shouldn’t there be a legal duty on governments to secure and protect the best interests of their citizens?

Doubtless this list is not exhaustive but the point is, that without this sort of transparency and accountability, in what way can any UK government be said to be democratically elected?  What protection is there for the electorate from a sanctioned coup d’etat?

As Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: “Far from being done by mutual consent, the Government’s plans rest on imposing unpopular ideas on an unwilling workforce.” (1)  At the same time, Professor Prem Sikka reports that Britain’s rate of wealth transference from employees and the state to corporations is unmatched in any developed country. (12)

It seems that this government of the Tory-LDs are intent on transforming the UK* into that which James Galbraith identifies as a Predator State: The state as monopoly collector of taxes and corrupt distributor of the spoils to the private sector. (13)

sting operation – a complicated confidence game planned and executed with great care  swindle, cheat, rig – the act of swindling by some fraudulent scheme;

* The peoples of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are to  varying degrees protected by their own legislatures. It is the NHS and public services of the English which are currently the primary targets.

Dedicated to Phil C., a greatly respected commentator on Think Left, who never did get around to writing us that promised article.  

He will be much missed - R.I.P. 10.05.12

(1) http://www.tribunemagazine.co.uk/2012/03/tories-plan-to-wipe-out-state-services/

(2) http://www.tribunemagazine.co.uk/2010/10/martin-rowson-3/

(3) http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/

(4) http://www.leftfutures.org/2012/05/osborne-sticking-to-austerity-will-the-last-one-out-turn-off-the-light/#more-9579

(5) http://think-left.org/2011/11/22/welfare-reform-and-the-us-insurance-giant-unum/

 (6) http://think-left.org/2011/12/06/lobbyists-are-destroying-the-democratic-process/

 (7) http://think-left.org/2012/03/05/transnational-corporations-have-not-let-a-good-crisis-go-to-waste/

(8) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/06/leveson-murdoch-cameron-brooks-privilege

(9) http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/murdoch-and-big-lie

(10) http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2012/05/07/paradigms-can-shift/

(11) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/07/freedom-information-my-monstrous-proposal

(12) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/23/squeezing-ordinary-people-finances

(13) http://think-left.org/2012/02/16/the-nhs-and-tina-mrs-thatchers-ideological-anti-democratic-political-legacy/