Neoliberalism and Democracy do not go together.
The Tory-LibDems have trampled on every sort of parliamentary procedure from reducing the number of MPs without cross-party agreement to dismantling the PCTs and SHAs before the Health Bill has been passed in Parliament. Now, it has been revealed that the ‘strange’ decision to reshape constituencies to be of equal numbers of registered voters will potentially remove 10M voters who will disproportionately comprise expected Labour supporters:
As many as 10 million voters, predominantly poor, young or black, and more liable to vote Labour, could fall off the electoral register under government plans, the Electoral Commission, electoral administrators and psephologists warned . (1)
Furthermore, the boundaries for 2020 will be based on 2015 registration and are likely to further amplify the disparities. Tristam Hunt, Labour MP, said “These plans show how little this government really cares about democracy or fairness….This is designed to wipe the poor and the young off the political map.” John Stewart, chairman of the electoral registration officers, said the drop-off was likely to be 10% in “the leafy shires” but closer to 30% in inner city areas.
Characteristic of Neoliberalism are undemocratic secret agendas, of policies not being what they seem to be, of hidden clauses, and of creating distractions for the press to pursue, whilst the important agenda is slipped through. For example, is it just a coincidence that the ‘selling off of the forests’ was announced just before the first reading of Lansley’s infamous Health and Social Care Bill?
A vitally important piece of hidden EU legislation has been exposed by Linda Kaucher. In January 2009, she wrote of the push to get the Doha round of the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services (2)) negotiations ratified ‘Why do these seemingly obscure and boring trade talks make a difference?’
… GATS also includes temporary skilled labour migration, giving transnational corporations rights to move workers to developed countries to maximise cheap labour ‘comparative advantage’. This ‘reserve army of labour’, though, will inevitably undercut the domestic workforce – in fact it’s the capitalist dream. (3)
On the 25.04.11, Larry Elliott of the Guardian reported that DOHA was collapsing … but it seems that it is still possible for particular sections to be agreed separately. (2)
It is now clear that just such a bilateral agreement, which is due to be ratified by EU member states in December, has indeed been negotiated with Indian firms. This could mean Indian workers being moved into Britain with no workplace rights, no right to remain and no access to the legal system, ‘creating a tier of slave-like labour in Britain’ (4).
Moving a motion against “mode 4” transfers – the World Trade Organisation’s term for moving workers across borders – the RMT union’s president Alex Gordon warned TUC delegates (14.09.11) about the new European Union free trade agreements:
“This is potentially the greatest threat to collective bargaining and workers’ rights for many years,” he said.
Under Mode 4, Indian companies operating in Delhi and London could move low-paid workers from India to Britain, undercutting workers domestically.
“Transnational companies will be able to move workers across national borders and nation states will limit their own constitutional authority over these corporations.
“Workers’ rights will be lost forever to corporate power.” (4)
Linda Kaucher sheds further light on the implications of the agreement:
Moving workers from a lower to a higher socio-economic country is a very profitable business for the transnational corporations that are in a position to benefit, on a par with moving production and service work to cheaper labour areas of the world …..
… Actually these corporations benefit from both sides of the deals. They get the investment opportunities [in the partner country] but also cheap labour brought in [to the UK], and, as this ‘reserve army of labour’ undermines the power of organised labour, strengthening the power of capital in its balance of power with labour…
…Transnational firms will be able to offer cheap onshore outsourcing, using cheaper temporary migrant labour and will also be able to supply labour into other firms allowing them to offload all employer responsibilities….
…. the UK government is even now encouraging the use of a cheap labour supply that not only displaces workers here but also damages the national economy in a variety of ways. Wages are repatriated overseas, the earn/spend cycle needed for recovery is broken, workers become unemployed and the welfare bill increases, the employment future for young people is further curtailed, and skills transfer are lost for the future… (5)
Trade Commission staff have admitted that the EU/India FTA is, in effect, 85% a UK deal. That’s the percentage of the gains which will accrue to the international financial firms based in London … but it is UK workers that will be undermined by ‘the greatest threat to collective bargaining and worker’s rights for many years’.
One can only conclude that the ultimate aim of this government for the City is to wreck the UK economy, public services, pensions, and the NHS in order to create the social and economic conditions of the Third world in the UK. Presumably, it might be argued that this would level the ‘playing field’ in order for the UK to be capable of competing with China. The importance of the constitutional changes is to try and ensure that there are no future democratic challenges to these plans.
The TUC has recognized the huge significance of the free-trade agreement and voted to oppose the EU ‘social dumping’ treaty. We call on the Labour Party to make a similar unequivocal commitment; and reject New Labour’s previous stance … Mandelson was the prime mover on this aspect of Doha in his capacity as EU Commissioner.
It is clear that this time it is not just the working class that is under attack. The middle classes need to watch out. Even Charles Moore is beginning to see the light. Perhaps, he may end up agreeing with Noam Chomsky:
In the contemporary world of state-capitalist nations, loss of sovereignty can lead to a diminution of democracy, and a decline in the ability of states to conduct social and economic policy on their own terms. History shows that, more often than not, loss of sovereignty leads to liberalisation imposed in the interests of the powerful. In recent years, the regime thus imposed has been called “neoliberalism”. It is not a very good term, as the social-economic regime in question is not new; nor is it liberal, at least as the concept was understood by classical liberals. The very design of neoliberal principles is a direct attack on democracy. (6)
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Yet another fantastic post, Sue. I have to admit to being shocked at the undemocratic actions of this government, whose very first action was to change the rules for dissolution of Parliament requiring 55 % vote to remove the Government. None of this was mentioned in any party’s manifest, and it should be remembered that no party “won” the election.
It is the most undemocratic government in my lifetime, without doubt, and that includes Thatcher’s governments.
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So much of Neo-Liberal effort goes to disarming Unions and other group of workers, depicting them as the enemy of ordinary people.
It’s incredible that this is believed – the true effect is to pass control of the levers economic power to undemocratic global finance.
Look at the evidence – after thirty years of neo-liberalism in the UK, have ordinary people ever felt so powerless?
Garry that is the simplest and best of all arguments! The strategy of neoliberal capital is to make the policy appear to be the opposite of its true intent and it is often deliberately complicated and boring. People’s own experience of powerlessness and apathy is precisely what the power elite want but they have also created the risk of the angry ‘nothing to lose’ reaction.
Great article. Shared. “Neoliberalism” might best be called “neofeudalism” since this is what it amounts to: a financial aristocracy living of the backs of a working serf class without rights. And they call it “progress”.
As I have said before Chris, ‘neofeudalism’ is a much more apt description. We really are going ‘back to the future’. You only need to read the leaked Citicorp papers to understand that neoliberalism and plutonomy are simply a return to feudalism … even to the extent of describing the non-super-rich as irrelevant.
‘In short, when the day comes where the rest of the industrialized world falls into the same trap as Greece, the middle class will be pushed down into the lower class, and a global socio-economic plutonomy will emerge. The middle class cannot survive the perfect storm of fiscal austerity, increased interest rates, inflation and ‘Structural Adjustment.’ We are entering a global age of austerity, where our political leaders commit social genocide for the benefit of the global banks, and at the behest of the institutions that represent them. The IMF and other supranational institutions increase their own powers and authority in order to punish and impoverish large populations. What has been done to the ‘Third World’ – the ‘Global South’ – over the past several decades is now being done to us, in the industrialized North.’
‘Tory plans to establish a Whitehall hotline for CEOs at Britain’s corporate giants were branded an undemocratic new era of “back-channel government” by PR watchdogs today.
They issued the warning after a Department for Business spokeswoman confirmed proposals for an official “buddy” system between Britain’s bigshot CEOs and Cabinet ministers.
The scheme, set out in a white paper earlier this year, will allow the top 50 FTSE-listed firms privileged access to the heart of government.’
if my comment this evening is too long or too strong or contains too much detail, then please feel free to delete it. I won’t mind, in the least.
Forgive me if I’m mis-reading the first few paragraphs, but it seems the danger is being misunderstood. A reduced number of registered electors would mean fewer urban constituencies, to the disadvantage of the Labour party, but the drop-off itself won’t change the number of people voting for Labour or any party – as the 10m are the people who regularly don’t vote anyway.
The danger lies in the legalised cheating that would become possible.
The Conservative Govt propose to make it voluntary to register on the electoral roll, and to create constituencies of equal number of registered voters, and to have fixed term parliaments, and to have boundaries revised at regular predictable intervals.
Thus, two fictional examples of potential cheating would be :
a) in 7 adjacent safe Labour northern seats, the keenest Tory supporters could avoid registering in Autumn 2015, knowing there’s no legal requirement to register and knowing that the boundaries for 2020 would be drawn on the 2015 numbers. Then those Tories could register as normal in 2016-17-18-19 and vote in the 2020 general election. Crucially, to meet the equal size diktat, the Boundary Commission might be obliged to reduce the 7 seats to 6 seats – which neatly takes out one Labour MP.
b) in a Labour-held southern marginal surrounded by Tory seats, the keenest of Tory supporters could avoid registering in Autumn 2015 (as detailed above). This could force the Boundary Commission to expand the marginal seat geographically, which might turn it into a Tory-won marginal.
And these are just two hypothetical examples of crude cheating. More complex electoral frauds could be designed and perpetrated. And local constituency parties of all colours could get embroiled in dirty tricks. It would depend on how ruthless and exploitative they were prepared to be, and how efficient any local party might be at mobilising its foot-soldiers for unethical activities.
Voluntary registration is definitely an anti-democratic proposal (yes, actively anti-democratic, rather than merely undemocratic), and it deserves to be rejected outright. Tristram Hunt’s words are pathetic; polite words about the undermining of civic duty are insufficient, tribal words about the disadvantage to Labour won’t impress anyone. The best way to protest is to describe the effects as “unforeseen” or “unintended consequences” and to highlight the scope for fraud and cheating. – to give the Govt enough opportunity to withdraw and drop the plan.
ALL political parties ought to be outraged by the potential for legalised cheating and criminal fraud.
Phil C .. Far from wanting to delete your comments, I would want you to write it up so that we could publish it properly! My purpose in writing the article was to highlight a general principle rather than the specifics of electoral reform so I am delighted that you can correct the danger of my ‘being misunderstood’ and provide greater insight into potential consequences. As I say please write it up and send it to us (one of those smiley face thingies!).
ooh, no, I wasn’t meaning to sound as if in disagreement. Sorry!
Actually, I agree completely with your general principle – I regard neoliberalism as being inherently anti-democratic.
And you’re spot-on about the secret agendas, and policies not being quite what they appear to be.
But, as everyone seemed to be focussing on the obvious potential of the drop-off, I was wanting to look beyond the obvious and add that voluntary registration could have a further insidious effect. Local party activists and partisan electors could be empowered to abuse the system, at the expense of the silent majority of voters. Optional registration, if misused for tactical reasons in key years, would have the potential to distort constituency boundaries and thus to distort election results.
However, the idea may yet be dropped. The only helpful snippets I’ve been able to find online – on 2 Lib Dem sites – indicate it’s likely the Govt will have to drop the proposal for voluntary registration because (a) many Lib Dems are against it on the grounds they want the electoral roll to be as complete as possible and (b) the Lib Dems have other objections on principle and on technicalities.
Although voluntary registration is a tacked-on “late in the day” proposal, by a junior Tory minister, to an all-party agreement on change-over from household to individual registration, the Cabinet member with responsibility for political & constitutional reform is the Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, and he’s said he’s in favour of “compulsion” (his word).
Sorry to disappoint, but I genuinely don’t have sufficient knowledge to write a whole piece for your website.
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If we are to be starved of legal tender then the way to fight it would be to create a network of local currencies throughout the country, keeping people supplied with the essentials. This has been tried before in times of artificial austerity and has worked so well it’s had to be outlawed wherever the approach is used. I doubt the authoriies could make such a ban stick in this day and age though.
I agree. Down here we have the Lewes pound organised by the Transition Towns movement. It is so successful that they keep having to issue more 🙂 Local currencies also support the local economy as they can only be spent in the area. The whole area of how/what and where money is created is not discussed in the mainstream media but is at the very root of our present banking crisis.
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