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.
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)
* 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