Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Establishment Consensus

“I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites. Billy Connolly said: “Don’t vote, it encourages them,” and, “The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever being one”… I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance; I know, I know my grandparents fought in two world wars (and one World Cup) so that I’d have the right to vote. Well, they were conned.” - Russell Brand

The turnout for the 2010 UK general election was 65.1%, meaning 34.9% of the electorate - more than one in three members of society - did not vote. By age the picture was/is bleaker, with only 44% of eligible voters between 18 and 24 years exercising their voting rights. The most successful party - the Conservative Party - garnered 36.1% of the votes cast. With the entire electorate factored in, this equates to only 23.47% of the citizens of the UK voting for the party which has (with the aid of Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats) imposed a radical privatization and 'austerity' agenda upon the poor, old, sick and disabled.

This is not a representative system by any stretch of the imagination. Not only have more than three out of four (76.53%) of the UK's citizens been forced to swallow an extreme ideology they did not vote for that serves only the already extremely wealthy, more than one in three people chose to play no part in their country's election.

Any discussion of political opinion in the UK is meaningless when this demographic - the largest by far - is not included. 10.7 million people voted Conservative. 15.9 million people did not vote at all.

The standard mainstream response to this conundrum is dismissive, with pundits aplenty happy to spout the conventional wisdom that apathy, stupidity or laziness is the reason for this failure of democracy, and that those who do not vote have no right to complain as they themselves choose not to take part in the electoral process.

As is almost always the case, conventional wisdom is flat wrong. A 2013 Guardian/ICM poll found overwhelmingly that anger is the reason for not voting, particularly amongst the young, men, and those from the north of the nation among others (see link for details).

The inescapable conclusion is that the largest voting demographic of the nation views every single viable choice as unacceptable, sees the political classes as ideologically and morally bankrupt. The main reasons for anger in the poll were broken promises (64%), MP's perceived as being 'on the take' (46%), politicians not saying what they believe (34%), parties being so similar that there is no meaningful difference between them (26%) and parties not representing voters' mix of views (25%). Only 2% cited inconvenience as a reason not to vote.

Contrary to the accusations of laziness and apathy, therefore, the decision not to vote of those who profess anger towards the system represents true democracy: exercising the right to vote for 'none of the above' because, in frank terms, 'none of the above' stand for them; representing instead the ruling and corporate classes - the 'establishment consensus': the continuation and entrenchment of the status quo.

Indeed, an analysis of turnout by age is telling. The rule of thumb is the younger you are in the UK, the more likely it is you will not vote, suggesting that younger people in the face of a hostile environment (debts incurred from student loans, lack of work, high rents etc.) see no realistic solutions from the choices on the election menu.

The major campaign issues pushed by the big parties and echoed faithfully in the press are all safely within acceptable debate limits: red herrings that raise passions like immigration or vague, PR-produced gobbledygook repackaged as pledges. Marvel at the Ed Miliband obelisk photo op:

A BETTER PLAN.
A BETTER FUTURE.

1. A strong economic foundation
2. Higher living standards for working families
3. An NHS with the time to care
4. Controls on immigration
5. A country where the next generation can do better than the last
6. Homes to buy and action on rents


Safely ensconced in Downing Street, criticism of any and all of these 'pledges' can be easily refuted via the imaginative use of statistics - a practice of politicians since the dawn of time. Absent from these pledges and any manifestos of the only parties that can win is any discussion of the true threats to civilians and democratic principles:

A. The NHS Sell-Off

1 – PropCo

NHS Property Services Ltd (PropCo) was launched in April 2013 and now owns £3 billion worth of NHS land and buildings. These assets were once held by the now-abolished Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities; now PropCo is responsible for selling them off to property developers. Furthermore, while the government currently owns all of PropCo’s shares, the Act that created PropCo allows for private firms to buy the majority of these shares. Thus large swathes of NHS land could quickly pass into private hands.

2 – PFI/PF2

You’ve probably heard of the Private Finance Initiative and its sequel, PF2. You may think these are merely expensive loans with Wonga-style interest rates. Certainly these deals are bad value for the taxpayer and have pushed many hospitals into the red, but they’re more than just that. For at least the 25-30 year repayment period, the private firm providing the loan actually owns the hospital. Thus, more than a hundred NHS facilities are owned by banks and shell companies.

3 – Commissioning Support Units

Although CCGs were created by the 2012 Act to decide where the money goes, it is the CSUs that provide the infrastructure. CSUs are there to run tenders, manage contracts, provide IT and HR services and other back-office admin functions. The Act created CSUs as part of the NHS structure, but from 2016 the CSUs will become independent businesses to be bought out by private firms. In fact, the sale has already begun. If private firms take over the CSUs they will have a huge influence on the funding and rationing of healthcare in this country.

4 – Personal Health Budgets

Personal Health Budgets (PHBs), in which an individual is allocated a limited amount of money to cover their healthcare needs, are already being introduced in England. While there is the obvious spectre of ‘top-up’ payments for those who exceed their allocated budget, there is another issue here. The classical pattern of funding in the NHS is that money is allocated to Trusts according to the amount of work they need to do. PHBs allow for a move to the private insurance model, where everyone pays in a premium (in this case their PHB) and the private firms then decide who gets treated/which claims to pay out on. You can just imagine the worried well opting to pay their PHB into a private insurer in return for cheaper gym membership and money off their holidays. Meanwhile, the genuinely-ill would end up paying top-ups to access increasingly rationed basic NHS treatment. Combine universal PHBs with privatised CSUs and you get an American-style health system.

5 – Foundation Trusts and Mutualisation

If the land, buildings, back office and budgets have all been privatised, what does that leave? That’s right, the NHS Trusts themselves. All hospital trusts now have a mandate to become independent businesses known as Foundation Trusts. These are standalone organisations which have to keep themselves in the black, and can do so by taking on as much private work as they want. As with the CSUs, the FTs are units ripe for privatisation, which in this case is dressed up as warm and fuzzy “mutualisation“. This means passing from public ownership into the hands of ‘stakeholders’. That’s right, privatisation.


[See link in heading for sources]

B. MPs Conflict of Interest (Health Industry):

Instead of promises to end conflicts of interest between MPs and the NHS, over which they can wield enormous power, Labour has made crowd-pleasing pledges such as the £2.5 billion NHS Time To Care Fund and promised to cap private providers' profits at 5%, pledges which do nothing to halt the overall sell-off to the highest bidders or the obvious systemic corruption laid out in the above list of seventy MPs [see link], designed merely to make voters' heads nod in approval in the short term.

[Note also this list of Conservative Lords with financial links to companies involved in healthcare (from 2012)].

C. The TTIP

The TTIP (like the TPP) is a stone-cold corporate coup d'etat. George Monbiot writes:

The central problem is what the negotiators call investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). The treaty would allow corporations to sue governments before an arbitration panel composed of corporate lawyers, at which other people have no representation, and which is not subject to judicial review.

Already, thanks to the insertion of ISDS into much smaller trade treaties, big business is engaged in an orgy of litigation, whose purpose is to strike down any law that might impinge on its anticipated future profits. The tobacco firm Philip Morris is suing governments in Uruguay and Australia for trying to discourage people from smoking. The oil firm Occidental was awarded $2.3bn in compensation from Ecuador, which terminated the company’s drilling concession in the Amazon after finding that Occidental had broken Ecuadorean law. The Swedish company Vattenfall is suing the German government for shutting down nuclear power. An Australian firm is suing El Salvador’s government for $300m for refusing permission for a goldmine over concerns it would poison the drinking water.

The same mechanism, under TTIP, could be used to prevent UK governments from reversing the privatisation of the railways and the NHS, or from defending public health and the natural world against corporate greed. The corporate lawyers who sit on these panels are beholden only to the companies whose cases they adjudicate, who at other times are their employers.

As one of these people commented: “When I wake up at night and think about arbitration, it never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all … Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.”

So outrageous is this arrangement that even the Economist, usually the champion of corporate power and trade treaties, has now come out against it. It calls investor-state dispute settlement “a way to let multinational companies get rich at the expense of ordinary people”.


D. Foreign policy/Defence

The Conservatives can, of course, be relied upon to aid the US and NATO in their imperialist adventures. What choice is on offer, then, for voters who do not desire their tax money to be used in such ways? In a detailed analysis of Ed Miliband's likely approach to foreign policy, Ian Sinclair concludes:

What all these examples show is that far from being anti-war Miliband has repeatedly supported wars of choice, often with dubious legal and moral justifications (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq 2014), most of which have turned out to be a disaster for the country he claimed to be protecting and the wider world (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq 2014). Like the deeply unpopular Tony Blair, Miliband has publicly stated he would support military action without a UN Security Council resolution. When he did oppose military action this was either done in private, thus minimising the danger to his future political career (Iraq 2003), or has been presented as a clear, moral stand, when in actual fact his position was difficult to distinguish from the government’s own position – and based on ignoring the will of the United Nations (Syria).

If this is how Miliband acts in opposition, what can we expect from him as Prime Minister when he is likely to be under intense American and domestic pressure (from a combination of the armed forces, the intelligence services, the press, his own cabinet, his own party, the opposition party) and is keen to show he is “tough enough”?

It is clear the fight against the UK’s aggressive foreign policy will have to continue after the election, whether it is David Cameron or Ed Miliband sitting in 10 Downing Street.


The last disastrous war that the Labour Party led the UK into was the Iraq War. A recent report says a million Iraqis were killed, 5% of the entire nation's population.

E. Climate Change

The Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) recently published its findings:

Summary:

There is strong evidence of advanced acceleration in:
• Arctic warming and sea ice decline in a vicious cycle
• Substantial ice loss in Greenland with potential massive loss due to unstable glaciers
• Disruption of jet stream behaviour, with abrupt climate change leading to crop failures, rising food prices and conflict in the Northern Hemisphere
• Rapid emissions of methane from the Arctic seabed, permafrost and tundra.

The tipping point for the Arctic sea ice has already passed.

Conclusions:

The meltdown is accelerating and could become unstoppable as early as Sept 2015
Immediate action must be taken to refreeze the Arctic to halt runaway melting
• Greenhouse gas emissions reduction, however drastic, cannot solve this problem
• Calculations show that powerful interventions are needed to cool the Arctic
Any delay escalates the risk of failure
• Arctic meltdown is a catastrophic threat for civilisation.

AMEG therefore calls for the immediate setting up of a task force, specifically mandated to ensure that the Arctic is cooled as quickly and safely as possible.

[Emphasis (bold) mine]

Yet the environment issue is far down the campaign agenda.

Where are the discussions of tax havens and the trillions stashed in them? The Labour Party talks of funding its NHS Time To Care fund (£2.5 billion) with a mansion tax on properties worth over £2 million along with tobacco levies and new taxes on hedge funds when it could more easily target the huge sums avoided by tax dodgers every year:

In November 2011, when the Tackle Tax Havens campaign was launched, a study it carried out revealed that more than $3.1 trillion in tax is evaded, 4.9% of the world's GDP at that time. It also found that in the UK 'a staggering £69.9bn is illegally kept from the exchequer every year, equivalent to 79.8% of the NHS budget'. [Source]

Voters need to ask why tax havens are being left well alone by both parties. While Labour has made pledges with regard to closing the 'non-dom' status tax loophole, does anyone expect serious measures toward closing the global tax haven network?

It is literally the Roman Senate prioritizing something like road maintenance as the Visigoths swarm over the hill. Discussion of the extreme nature of the threats facing the UK and other 'modern democracies' is swamped in the media, drowned out by the vapid and insipid 'analyses' of careerist journalists, all intent on enhancing their 'portfolios', access to the rich and powerful, and number of Twitter followers. Every 'gaffe' and 'twist and turn' of the campaign is hyped out of proportion into something 'potentially game changing' - until it is forgotten when the next one comes along.

Business as usual. John Hilley writes:

Thus, from Labour, the 'best hope', we're assured, for those struggling to survive and dependent on food banks is some supposed 'rescue' through promises of 'renewed growth', notional promises to end zero-hours contracts, and a few paltry tax inducements to all those 'hard-working families'.

And that's about the sum of it; the 'as-good-as-it-gets' limit of 'radical reform'. Decades of 'neoliberal realities' have conditioned politicians, the media and the wider public to the very idea of what's even mentionable, never mind politically doable.

Little wonder so many voters feel deeply alienated from the political system. We're expected to be passive, compliant consumers of supermarket politics and brand-name parties, all hard-selling 'extra-special' versions of the same old generic product.

And the political fare on offer is all manufactured and presented to placate big business, to court corporate approval and to ensure that the ways in which we vent our dissatisfaction is safely-boundaried by QuestionTime-type 'participation'.

So you will hear endless party gushings on the need to 'tackle poverty' and 'create prosperity', but never how to liberate people from the mentally-oppressing anguish, fear and distress of market life.


Yes, there are alternatives. The Greens and - especially - the TUSC list sensible policies that challenge the status quo in their manifestos, identifying many of the above unmentionables as critical threats to the UK. However, even those many people who broadly support the policies of these parties have a devastating disincentive to vote for them: the absurd UK 'first-past-the-post' electoral system, which, chiefly among its many evils, ensures tactical voting, where, in a given constituency, if a voter's preferred candidate has little or no chance of winning, he or she is likely to vote for another candidate who is more likely to defeat the least preferred one. This more than anything leads to a society that is woefully unrepresentative of the preferred policies of its citizens.

This is depicted clearly on this interactive election graphic. The TUSC is not even mentioned - just covered by the 'others' label. While the SNP and Lib Dems can expect some influence over the balance of power, the fundamental policies that will ensure continued dominance by the ruling and corporate classes enjoy a broad bipartisan consensus within the two major parties. The austerity policies that have wrought havoc upon the poorest and most vulnerable citizens of the UK will endure, becoming 'austerity lite' if the Labour Party eventually forms a government. No party challenging these policies has any chance at all, and so their supporters end up voting Labour to 'keep the Tories out'.

And so it goes...every five years...like clockwork. And tens of millions fall for it every time.

The big media circus this week in the electoral campaign has been the successful co-opting of Russell Brand. Brand has been useful in helping to highlight corporate abuses and the dysfunction of the UK's electoral system, bringing these issues to millions of young people who otherwise may never have considered them seriously. His actions over the last two years have also been instructive in highlighting how the corporate media respond to a threat to the status quo. His sincerity and desire for radical change is obvious, but his naivete in embracing the glib promises of Ed Miliband is extremely disappointing.

One has to wonder how much his friend, Guardian journalist Owen Jones, had to do with his decision behind the scenes. Jones, who describes himself as a radical, is nonetheless closely wedded to the Labour Party. Brand, who laughably described Jones as this generation's George Orwell, could plausibly have been convinced by Jones to support the Labour cause, arguing that the best hope is for 'change from within'.

One only needs to look at the current sorry state of the UK to see that this Fabian approach to socialism has been utterly discredited as a means of bringing about meaningful change. The nation's institutions are so thoroughly co-opted and dominated in key positions by those with incentives to keep things just as they are that the idea of gradual, incremental change from within is ludicrous. Brand launched his latest Trews video incredibly saying 'Vote Labour for revolution' and even more incredibly taking Ed Miliband's word that he will 'listen to communities' and 'welcomes and wants pressure from below'. He has embraced lesser evilism, one of the oldest scams in the book, and is going to be in for a major shock if Labour win and the inevitable cosmetic changes are implemented.

What activists like Brand and Jones fail to realise - wilfully or otherwise - is that true change almost always takes time, so long that one may not even live to see it. Real change comes from people who don't necessarily have career plans or personal ambitions; it comes from people willing to take a position they know to be the right one and sticking to it, resisting perceived tactical short-cuts like supporting lesser-evil corporate stooges and blindly trusting them to somehow magically bring about justice and freedom for all, all the while making names for themselves and selling books.

This tactical, pandering-to-the-establishment mindset was revealed in Jones when he stated that he would vote 'No' in the Scottish independence referendum, supporting Labour and the establishment that wanted for their own purposes to prevent Scotland from becoming a proud, independent nation. It is a narrow, cowardly, venal and self-serving philosophy that can perhaps be forgiven in the naive, inexperienced Brand, but not in a journalist who makes a living selling himself as a radical. Declaring himself to be anti-establishment, Jones in facts functions as a valuable servant acting not only as a 'liberal-left' media gatekeeper, but also influencing many thousands of voters, especially younger ones, to vote against their interests for the Labour Party and its corporate-friendly priorities.

The 'revolution' will not come from voting Labour. With no other parties with establishment-challenging policies in with a chance of gaining any power, the only course of action (aside from directly voting for the small radical parties in a show of support) is to opt out of the electoral system that sustains this farcical state of affairs and work towards direct revolutionary change.

The standard establishment response to this call not to vote is to chastise, to remind such an ignorant 'nihilist' that 'people died for the right to vote'. Indeed they did, but they did not die for a meaningless vote, which is precisely what the UK election offers. They died for true representation of the people, not the tired illusion of freedom of choice paraded out every five years in a prolonged circus orchestrated by media owners who benefit directly from its eternal continuation.

'Demos' comes from the Greek for 'common people'. 'Kratos' comes from the Greek for 'rule' or 'strength'. There is no democracy in the UK.

Written by Simon Wood

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