Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Welcome to Brown's corporate state

Gordon Brown, who becomes prime minister today, may have a different style to Tony Blair, but the substance of New Labour remains the same. In fact, Brown’s politics are in many respects more explicit than Blair’s when it comes to promoting corporate-driven globalisation as the answer to everything. The architect of many of the government’s big business policies over the last decade, Brown is almost fanatical about the alleged virtues of unfettered globalisation. His speech to the assembled bankers and speculators gathered in the City of London for the Lord Mayor’s dinner last week could easily have been written by Goldman Sachs or a director of one of the private equity funds currently rampaging up and down the land. He congratulated the City for the fact that 40% of the world’s foreign shares are traded in London and that over 30% of the world’s currency exchanges (more precisely, speculation) takes place in the City. In a recent study of the top 50 financial cities, the City of London came first. Brown remarked: "So I congratulate you Lord Mayor and the City of London on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London."

This "golden age" is, of course, the era of obscene wealth, where traders have walked off with seven-figure bonuses, house prices have soared beyond the reach of new households and inequality in Britain has grown sharply. So, forgive us prime minister Brown if we don’t join you in offering congratulations to the City for turning Britain into a rich man’s casino. Or that we don’t cheer when you say: "The financial services sector in Britain and the City of London at the centre of it, is a great example of a highly skilled, high value added, talent driven industry that shows how we can excel in a world of global competition." Or when you applaud the fact that Britain has the lowest rate of corporation tax of the major economies.

Brown talked of Britain being "pioneers of free trade and its leading defenders" with "a deep and abiding belief in open markets" and said that in the next stage of globalisation success will flow to countries which "which are open and not closed, stable, pro competition and flexible, able to adjust quickly to change". Britain, he warned, must be "ready to become even more flexible". To this end, each school in Britain will soon have a "business partner", and employer-led skills academies. A "National Council for Educational Excellence" will be created to implement the new business-driven education agenda. And who are its members? They include Sir Terry Leahy, otherwise known as the chief executive of Tesco, who dominate food retail, and Damon Buffini, a venture capitalist who runs one of the private equity funds currently enjoying the best tax breaks going.

Which brings us to the real mugs in this transition from Blair to Brown – the trade union leaders. They steadfastly refused to countenance any opposition to Brown in the hope that he would offer them some concessions when he became prime minister. To that end, they helped to block the attempt by socialist MP John McDonnell to challenge Brown in an election for the leadership of the party. Instead of concessions, the union leaders are about to receive the order of the boot. Brown intends to curb their power to put motions to the annual conference. Instead, party members will get the final say on policy through individual ballots. In effect, this means ending the conference's role as the policy-making body. Having created Britain PLC as a playground for the global economy and city speculators, Brown is to turn New Labour into a kind of shareholder institution. Welcome to Brown’s corporate state.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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