The corporate rule. Illustration by Alberto Ruggieri www.albertoruggieri.net
The Real Power in Politics
7th March 2014
Environmental campaigner and former politician Donnachadh McCarthy on the power of political lobbyists and the damage they do to democracy.
The political classes are now the lobbying classes, with voters left powerless
Millions of people across the globe are trying to save our planet’s ecosystems from the mega-crises bulldozing them into oblivion. But despite all this impressive positive global effort by humanity, the destruction continues. The oceans are getting more acidic, CO2 emissions have broken the catastrophic 400ppm barrier, and a wave of human-caused animal and plant extinctions is sweeping the Earth.
The 2011 Occupy movement forced me to stop and ask why. My conclusion was that we no longer live in a functioning democracy but rather in what I think of as (and this is the title of my next book) The Prostitute State. This state has four distinct pillars: a corrupted political system, a captured media, a hijacked academia and a criminal tax-haven system.
ONE: A Corrupted Democracy
As a senior Lib Dem I got a wide range of eco-friendly policies democratically adopted by our party conference. But invariably the corporate lobbyists in the leadership’s inner circle smothered almost every one of them. Legions of the party’s top echelons are or were corporate lobbyists. It is the same in the other major parties. It is corporate lobbyists, not we the voters, who are calling the shots.
Take for example the nuclear industry. Almost every former Labour Minister for Energy is a lucratively paid nuclear lobbyist. Despite the public’s favouring renewable power over nuclear by a large margin, all three main parties are now committed to pouring up to £420 billion into yet more nuclear behemoths, instead of investing this money in making poorer households energy-efficient and freeing them from exorbitant energy bills.
Vast swathes of government are now under direct corporate influence due to the revolving door between our civil service, armed forces and police and even our regulatory systems and corporate lobbying departments. To a large extent the political classes are now the lobbying classes, with voters left powerless.
The UK’s proposed new Lobbying Bill entrenches corporate lobbying still further. Whilst merely requiring about 1% of those engaged in corporate lobbying to join a register, the main thrust of the bill is to hobble civil society’s ability to campaign against the iniquities of the prostitute state by clamping down on their campaigning expenditure prior to general elections.
TWO: A Sponsored Academia
Our sacred halls of learning – be they primary schools, secondary schools or university research departments – are increasingly being sponsored by corporations. Even in inner-city Peckham, London, the local academy’s teaching policies are now dictated by a Tory Party donor rather than by professional teachers.
The national think tanks that frequently guide government policy are often merely corporate PR fronts, whether they are oil corporations or disgraced banks. All of the right-wing think tanks refuse to reveal their donors, despite being described in the captured media as “independent”. The increasing corporate domination of our education system is undermining the crucial freedom of thought required for the education of our future democratic citizens.
THREE: Tax Havens
My efforts to clean up dubious Lib Dem party funding by rich donors who then received peerages or personal access to the leader were opposed by senior Lib Dems connected to those offshore tax-haven cartels. I only made the connection after resigning from the party’s federal executive over its refusal to halt the untenable practice of Lib Dem peers selling their political-lobbying services to corporations.
When I then examined fundraising in the other two main parties, I realised they were all dependent on funding from tax-haven-associated companies or individuals.
Nick Clegg’s treasurer, for example, was a lobbyist for the globally infamous Cayman Islands. And almost all Tory treasurers have been linked with tax havens (as were nearly all of Labour’s millionaire donors during the Blair years).
The UK’s tax havens are the core instrument being used to shift the UK tax burden from corporations to ordinary people and are largely responsible for our enormous public-spending deficits. They are also the route by which the wealth of the poorest nations on Earth is funnelled into Western banks, leaving a trail of poverty, disease and environmental destruction in their wake. Tax-haven funding of our democracy ensures their control over international finance and power.
FOUR: A Captured Media
But it is the final pillar that ensures that the corruption of our democracy is carried out without fear of the population rebelling to defend the rights and interests of our ordinary people. Five tax-avoiding billionaires control over 80% of UK daily newspapers; 18% of the rest is largely in the hands of international financial corporations, leaving only The Guardian at 2.6% to represent the interests of the non-billionaire section of society. These five billionaires also own a significant proportion of our TV, film and book industries, thus exerting an iron grip on vast swathes of British culture.
As long as Murdoch (Sun/Times), Desmond (Express), Rothermere (Mail), the Barclay Brothers (Telegraph) or their successors monopolise our captured media, we will never create the social and environmental justice that so many of us dream of and work so hard for.
To summarise, if the ultra-rich control the production of thought, the dissemination of thought, the implementation of thought and the funding of thought, then we no longer live in a democracy but in a prostitute state.
So what, if anything, can be done? Whilst the forces ranged against our ecosystems and social justice are immense, societies have successfully overcome such odds before. The first and simplest thing is for each of us personally to stop feeding it our money. Buy local products, install or use green energy, read The Guardian, invest ethically, and eat unbranded organic food from farmers’ markets. Every penny we remove from the corporate world helps cut the funds from the lobbyists undermining our democracy.
Sadly, whilst personal action is crucial for personal integrity, it is not enough. Community action is also vital. Join whatever political movement your soul feels drawn to, whether that be Unlock Democracy, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, FoE, Greenpeace, the Green Party…
Great Democratic Reform Act
Finally and most importantly we must call on civic society, from the National Trust to our trade unions, from our churches to our credit unions, to urgently call for a 21st-century Great Democratic Reform Act, as they did in the 19th century when popular pressure from the people overcame the entrenched aristocracy through the Reform Acts.
Under such an Act politicians would be barred from becoming lobbyists, our precious Fourth Estate would be reclaimed, academia freed from corporate interference, and the tax havens closed. We have no time to lose. Global environmental catastrophes and the ever-increasing erosion of social justice are in danger of overwhelming us if we do not act immediately.
But above all it is the captured media that must be our first target. No longer should our very futures be held hostage to the financial interests of a tiny handful of the ultra-rich. Without the support of this pillar, the other pillars will crumble.
By acting from our hearts with unity and spiritual fortitude, we can and we must cleanse the temples of our democracy and restore them to their higher purpose of advancing our common social, economic and environmental justice.
Donnachadh McCarthy is a former Deputy Chair of the Liberal Democrats. His third book, The Prostitute State, will be published later this year. He is currently a member of no political party. www.3acorns.co.uk
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