Friday, July 15, 2011

The political system is part of the problem not the solution

The somewhat contrived outrage by politicians of all parties over the hacking of phones by the News of the World should not blind us to the permanently changed relationship between Parliament and corporations that goes well beyond Murdoch’s News Corp.

Those who talk of a “triumph for democracy” and the “will of the people” as expressed through the House of Commons following Murdoch’s withdrawal of his bid for the rest of BskyB’s shares, are fooling themselves as well as the electorate.

New Labour became infatuated with Murdoch precisely because his was a global corporation, exercising media power on both sides of the Atlantic. He was symbolic of market-driven globalisation that Blair and Brown embraced before they took control of their party in the mid-1990s.

They sought and won Murdoch’s support at the 1997 general election because New Labour actually believed in his free-booting style of capitalism that symbolised the period. Built on debt, Murdoch’s empire was to be admired, notwithstanding the destruction of trade unions at his British papers.

New Labour, according to the author and journalist Peter Oborne (whose book The Triumph of the Political Class foreshadowed what has been revealed), went on to develop a “corrupt, complicit, and conspiratorial system of government” that in essence matched the way the corporations functioned.

During its heyday, Murdoch’s malign influence was matched by a range of other corporate “interests” equally favoured by New Labour:

- the banking and financial sector, further deregulated and freed from any significant supervision by the ever-so-tame Financial Services Authority

- major supermarkets, allowed to take over and destroy high streets (with Sainsbury and Tesco executives sitting on government ‘task forces’)

- energy corporations like British Gas who allowed to drive up fuel prices according to “market conditions”

- rail companies who fleece commuters and charge the most expensive fares in Europe

- big contractors, who were given access to £90 billion of public sector contracts on exceptionally favourable terms through the so-called public-finance initiative

- house builders who were given control over the market for new homes, driving up the cost of land beyond the reach of housing associations

- IT corporations like Microsoft who became partners in education programmes

- Private health firms that provided treatment centres for profit financed out of NHS funds.

The fact that this relationship turned sour when Murdoch switched back to the Tories in 2009 coincided with the collapse of the whole period of corporate-driven globalisation championed by New Labour.

And, as we well know, when the banks went belly-up, prime minister Brown rushed to their support and used taxpayers’ money alongside unlimited state guarantees to prop up a financial system that was no longer sustainable. Parliamentary sovereignty had come to express no more than the power of the banks.

None of the major parties could or would challenge this effective merger between the parliamentary state and corporate power. As a result, the political establishment lied about the spending cuts that inevitably followed last year’s general election campaign. The Coalition that emerged has no democratic mandate for the onslaught on living standards that has taken place over the last year but instead takes its marching orders from financial markets.

The shock and horror at the underhand, criminal methods used by the Murdoch press is an attempt to get people to view Parliament in a better light, as an institution that will stand up to powerful interests. However, it is window dressing because global corporate power is very much alive in the hearts and minds of ministers, opposition leaders and MPs.

As the Real Democracy Now movement in Spain established, the existing political system remains very much part of the problem and not the solution. A deconstruction of the capitalist parliamentary state and its recreation along truly democratic lines, around a system of people’s assemblies, is an alternative way forward.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

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