Wednesday, 29 September 2010

How our sham democracy works

So you think you live in a democracy? Well, you are right, you do. But it's not quite the democracy you probably think. I just pulled this definition off my Mac: - "control of an organization or group by the majority of its members " . To me, that is a satisfactory definition. You could substitute 'organisation' with 'country' and 'members' with electorate', and you would have a definition which fits the UK. The key word though is 'control'. In a democracy 'control' means that the will of the electorate can make change happen - including fundamental change.

So why is our democracy a sham? It works like this: You can vote, and you can make change happen but there are certain things that can't be changed, really important things like our economic system, which determines the kind of society we have. Why can't 'we' make those fundamental changes? Because the market, or call it big business or capitalism if you prefer, is in control. How does this work and how did it happen? If we look at recent history - in the past 40 years or so our politicians have ceded control to the market. It has happened through the capture of institutions. The European Union is a good example of this. European treaties contain clauses which dictate how our economy works. In effect they create a European constitution which binds us to the market through so called 'liberalisation'. It means that we have to follow a right wing ideological economic programme

This 'free' market programme is neoliberal and its one that is followed by almost all governments in the 'West'. It means that corporations can dodge taxes, trade unions get disempowered, environmental regulations are watered down and countries are run for the benefit of the 1%.

The USA is still the epitome of capitalism but its doesn't say in the constitution that the country has to be capitalist. Those kind of ideological-cum-economic statements have no place in a constitution. What has happened is that politicians have put commercial interests above our democratic rights. On a lower level it works in the UK like this. If a multinational wants to build a superstore in your town centre your local council can't stop it from happening. The citizens of that town can't take a democratic decision that they don't want it. The 'rights' of the multinational have been put above our democratic rights. Of course we can still vote, and we can still decide to do things like introduce gay marriage, but we can't run our economy in the way we choose.

Our politicians never asked us if we wanted this. If they had they know we would have rejected it. But the point is that many if not most of us are unaware of exactly what happened. Where people have kicked back, such as in the referendums in France and Ireland where European treaties were rejected, the politicians have fixed it so they got the result they wanted in the first place. It's not just the EU but all the major institutions such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank now adhere to this neoliberal ideology masquerading as economic policy. The plan is to ensure that a particularly nasty, laissez faire version of capitalism is completely dominant. Social and collective concerns are subsumed to the agenda of big business.

Despite this, our democracy is still worth something. We can put democratic rights back on top. But we can only do this if we first understand what's really happened, and have the will to re-capture our institutions from those who have 'stolen' them. At the very least we need to tame the markets and bring them back under democratic control. If we can't do this it's hardly worth voting at all.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Ed is not a leftie

Congratulations to Ed Milliband on winning the Labour Party leadership. As a Green Party member it doesn't really matter to me who is leader of Labour, but its good to see that the party has rejected brother David, who was a little too keen to defend New Labour for mine and many other people's liking.

I'm not expecting the Greens to replace Labour as the mainstream party of the left anytime soon - although there is no doubt our policies are to the left of Labour - but I am hoping that the Labour Party can, like us, offer an alternative to the economic and social devastation of neo-liberalism. The left needs to unite and fight on an anti-cuts agenda.

Of course, the so-called free press will try to paint Ed as a raving lefty, and a willing stooge of trade union militants. I don't believe that will stick because it's simply not true. Baroness Warsi was the first to wade in and say this though as far as I'm aware she's never been elected - so who is she to criticise someone who was elected as an MP and party leader and what is she doing in government? I don't believe people will be fooled. I just hope that Ed is able to lead the Labour Party in the right direction.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Vince is wrong and so is Digby

Its been an interesting day with Vince Cable launching an attack on capitalism at the LibDem conference. According to Vince, who's speech is worth reading:

"On banks, I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers who did more harm to the British economy than Bob Crow [general secretary of the RMT union] could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies, while paying themselves outrageous bonuses underwritten by the taxpayer."

He also went on to talk about capitalism "killing competition". Well, its good to see a government minister having a go at the fat cats and telling a few home truths, though I take exception to the stuff about Bob Crow fantasising about harming the economy. I don't believe this is true and just shows Vince's anti-trade union bias.

The point about Vince is that he's no tiger, he is a pussycat. The speech was purely political and designed to appease the LibDem conference and make the government look less slavish to big business ahead of the savage cuts in the public sector. The speech is symptomatic of the government's nervousness now that the 'fairness' of the cuts has been rumbled - otherwise Cameron would never have approved it. Vince is just as slavish in his admiration for capitalism as Gordon was - he's just a more astute politician - capturing the mood of the times. And Vince proved that he is committed to capitalism in his speech by announcing the privatisation of the Royal Mail with a mere 10% of the shares going to postal workers. If Vince had been a real revolutionary he would have mutualised instead of privatised.

But Vince did upset Digby Jones, the self-appointed spokesman for capitalism UK. Digby was gnashing his teeth on the Today programme this morning, and no wonder, because he is so used to government ministers doing what he tells them to.

So Vince's speech had its desired effect but was anyone really fooled? The fact is that Vince and Digby have both got it wrong, capitalism doesn't create wealth - working people do. Capitalists expropriate that wealth for themselves, creating poverty in the process and dumping costs onto society and the environment. We need an alternative economy to get us out of this mire, one which doesn't depend upon the 'free' market. The way to do this is by putting the 'means of production' into the hands of employees by mutualising corporations, thereby creating wealth for workers and the communities they live in. Co-operatives have a better record than privately owned businesses, they are rooted in the communities they serve. Vince had the chance to do that with the Royal Mail and he blew it.

Friday, 17 September 2010

It's aggressive religionists that are attacking secularism

Once again, with the visit of the Pope to the UK, secularism is under attack from religionists. The Pope 'warned' about 'aggressive secularism' as a prelude to his visit. Personally I find this a bit baffling because what I see is religionists attacking atheists and secularists - not the other way around.

Why is this happening? I think there are two main reasons. Firstly, the automatic deference that was once shown to religious leaders like the Pope is dying out. This really enrages many of the faithful. The fact that we non-religious types have the effrontery not to bend the knee to the likes of Benedict is one cause of the howls of outrage. Some religionists see this as an 'attack on religion' in itself but clearly it isn't. The second reason is much more significant - religion is dying. I'm not for one moment suggesting that religions are finished or that there won't continue to be a significant number of religious people on the planet. The fact is that a majority of people in society are either not religious or not strongly religious. There are many people who like the idea of there being a god but who don't want to go to attend religious services or get involved with any church.

In historical terms, until fairly recently a large section of the population in Europe were Christians because they had to be. They had no choice. We lived in a Christian totalitarian society, like Islam still is in countries such as Iran. When people are given a free choice, a large number choose not to be religious. As religions decline the remaining religionists become ever more extreme and ever more shrill in their denunciation of the non-religious, and as they become more extreme they will continue to alienate people and accelerate their own decline. Amen to that.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A load of bollocks

Tony Blair is one of those people (men usually) who seem to have an obsession with certain male appendages. Tony admires people with balls. In Tony’s world there are people you admire, people like Bill Clinton and Alastair Campbell and boy, do these guys have great big cojones or what! Great clanking balls of steel is what they have. To be fair, Tony does admire women as well. Cheri and Anji feature pretty highly on his admiration list but, being women, they don’t appear to possess great big cojones themselves - not like the boys do anyway, but still, they do pretty well without them.

But I digress. The purpose of this post is to seek to shine a light into the dark heart of New Labour. It’s not too difficult as Tony starts to reveal all round about page 94 of his compelling autobiography – A Journey. The secret of New Labour is aspiration. You see Tony found the magic key to electability. Sometime in the 1990s, after years of thinking, he, and polling guru Phillip Gould, realised that what people in Britain wanted most was to ‘get on’. They wanted things like bigger TVs, a second holiday or a new house. It turned out that if you appealed to this desire to ‘get on’, you could get elected. There was one other really important factor – never be anti-business, never do things that business doesn’t like - increasing corporation tax for example. So Tony set out with a ruthless mission to get elected and made sure he trampled over the Labour Party and its democratic structures to get his way. He had to, it was the Labour Party or him, and it had to be him.

There are a couple of curious things about this heady New Labour brew that Tony doesn’t fully explain. Firstly, he doesn’t explain why it is OK to be anti-union but you have to be pro-business. He talks about creating a level playing field between business and employees – “(employees might have additional rights but not collective ones)”. So under New Labour you can have your extra few days maternity leave but you can’t go on strike to protect your job. That seems profoundly anti-union to me and not a level playing field at all. Collective action is what unions are all about. Secondly, Tony has a rather narrow view of aspiration. If you aspire to improve your lot or ‘get on’ by taking industrial action, in order to get a fair reward for your labour, this doesn’t seem to count as aspiration or ‘getting on’. The nearest we get to an explanation is that; according to Tony it’s just not ‘modern’ like the other form of aspiration, and therefore not allowed.

The plain fact is that Labour would have been elected in 1997 if John Smith had still been leader. The Tories were exhausted and in disarray, the country was sick and tired of Thatcherism and desperate for an alternative. No doubt the gloss of poster boy Tony helped the majority, but it was not crucial to Labour’s success. Nor was New Labour’s continued Thatcherism. Labour could have taken a different path. What’s curious about Blair’s undoubted success is that it was really down to chance rather than his penetrating insights into electability. He was in the right place at the right time. No self respecting Party would have put up with someone like Blair had they not spent eighteen years in the political wilderness.

I don't spend much time commenting on my male friends' testicles but there are some people I admire. I admire people like union representatives who voluntarily help their colleagues with such issues as bullying and harassment, discrimination at work, and the petty vagaries of management stupidity. These people often put their own careers on the line to help others. Now that takes real balls.

Monday, 13 September 2010

'Free' market capitalism is the engine of inequality

We live in a world of inequality, yet we rarely question where this inequality comes from. By inequality, I mean inequality in power and wealth, and these two inequalities are connected. In a democratic and just society we all, as citizens, ought to wield equal power as voters, and we all ought to expect economic justice - a fair reward for our work and an equal say in how our workplaces are managed and controlled.

Inequality creates social degradation, social division, underachievement, criminality and great unhappiness. It is iniquitous and corrosive to the social fabric. So why do we have inequality? Some people would have us believe that the source of inequality is purely down to individuals. In our capitalist society this seems logical. Don't some 'work harder' and 'do better' than others? Don't some 'get on' while others don't? So it seems. But it's not like that. We live in a capitalist society. Our economic system is a great big engine which drives inequality. You can't have an equal society with capitalism, which is why inequality seems natural to us, because we have lived with it all our lives.

But there is nothing natural about this inequality - it is manufactured by capitalism. You cannot have capitalism and a socially just society. The two are mutually exclusive. Karl Marx explained to us how capitalism generates economic inequality through the mechanism of surplus value - through which workers work for free to provide profit for their employers. This is an inevitable consequence of capitalism, the mechanism by which capitalism works. It is what creates great inequalities in wealth between worker and capitalist. Over time it creates the society we live in now with a small number of super-rich and billions living in poverty and deprivation.

I've just been reading some of Tony Blair's book 'A Journey'. It's a fascinating read in a dark bizarrely comic way. Tony Blair built New Labour around 'getting on' and the chimaera of meritocracy. But Blair, like all those who believe in the 'free' market, was and still is, deluded. He tried to achieve social justice by employing the very market methods which work against it. He failed. The proof of the pudding is that after 13 years of these policies Britain is more unequal than it was before.

If you believe in a creating a socially and economically just society you have to eliminate capitalism. You need to create an alternative economy based on public provision, mutualism and the private sector. It's important to understand that the private sector does not equal capitalism. Rupert Murdoch is a capitalist, your local hairdresser is not. There is plenty of room for local private and social enterprise in a socially just society. Just no room for capitalist corporations and their shareholders.