Tag: Democracy

Labour MPs speak out against the TTIP and investigation opens into the impacts on environmental protections

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The impact of the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade deal on environmental protections in Europe is to be investigated by parliament. Opposition MPs will examine if the agreement could weaken regulations on chemical and pesticide use, oil and gas extraction and genetically modified food.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a planned free trade agreement between the European Union and the US. Those who support it claim that it will “boost” economies. However there have been many concerns raised regarding this agreement. Critics say that not only have the economic benefits of TTIP have been overstated, it will additionally put downward pressure on regulation in sectors such as health and the environment and poses a significant threat to national democratic decision-making.

Worryingly, moves by a future democratically elected government to put the deregulation process into reverse and bring our public services – including our NHS, railways, water, energy and other utilities – back into public ownership would be confronted by an international court system (ISDS) where lawyers will judge what is or is not a barrier to “free trade”. And it will be carried out behind closed doors. Corporates can go on to sue nation states that stand in the way of “free trade” and threats to future as well as actual losses to profits.

In August 2014, Labour MP Katy Clark urged David Cameron to stop the EU-US trade pact from opening more public services to the private sector.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which has remained under negotiation behind closed doors, “would let companies sue if national governments pass laws that hurt profits,” Ms Clark warned.

This is bad news for our existing public services such as the NHS, or other services that we may wish to take back into public ownership such as the railways.

“Private companies already run certain services but under the new plans the government would never be allowed to run these again, as doing so would hurt the profits of the companies involved.”

Since discussions on the content of the Treaty have remained secret, its exact content is unknown, (including to the Labour Party) but private firms on both sides of the Atlantic are keen to use competition rules to force open what remains of the public sector.

During a parliamentary debate in February, secured by back bench Labour MP John Healy, Labour MPs, including Katy Clark, raised many concerns about the TTIP.  Jeremy Corbyn said: “Why is there such secrecy surrounding the negotiations? Why are not all the documents on the table? Why are the demands made on European public services by the American negotiators not made public? Why are not the demands made in the other direction also made public? I suspect that, if the agreement ever comes to fruition, every Parliament in Europe and the US system will be presented with a fait accompli: they will be told that they have to accept it.”

Ian Lavery  commented: “A number of people have said that there must be a good business case for the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. I think that we need much more than a good business case. I am concerned that there are huge inherent dangers in the TTIP for many working people and for public services in the UK. My major concern is that the trade agreement has the potential to dilute workers’ rights.”

Katy Clark, the North Ayrshire and Arran MP, wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to protect public services and pointed out that France won the right to continue supporting its film industry and that the US had blocked any deal on its finance sector.

She said: “If the leaders of these countries can protect what’s important to them, then David Cameron can do the same for Britain.”

Neil Clark from the Campaign for Public Ownership, said the Labour MP’s warning was timely as people had “still not woken up to the consequences of TTIP.”

“It is fundamentally undemocratic, since though large majorities of the public are in favour of renationalising key services such as the railways or energy, subsequent governments would be unable to do so without breaking the terms of the pact.

“But it would impose privatisation forever and must be stopped in its tracks.”

Angela Eagle said: “I know that following widespread public concern, the European Commission halted negotiations on the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) section of TTIP pending the outcome of a public consultation. I appreciate that there are serious concerns about the potential impact of the ISDS provisions and I hope that the European Commission will consider the responses to this consultation carefully.”

In November last year, Labour MP Clive Efford, with the backing of the party’s leadership, called for the exemption of the NHS from the trade deal. It was a victory for the Private Member’s Bill to repeal the Tory privatisation of the NHS and Exempt the NHS from the TTIP Agreement. Mr Efford said: “The Bill will not save the NHS overnight – only the election of a Labour government can do that. But it does give all MPs the opportunity to accept that the 2012 Act has been a disaster and to begin to create an NHS which puts patient care at the centre of all it does, not private profit.”

Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, claimed that signing TTIP could jeopardise the founding principles of the health service. The many critics of this trade agreement fear that the deal would leave the NHS vulnerable to takeover by American healthcare giants and undermine the principle of a service free at the point of delivery.

Joan Walley MP, chair of the Commons Select Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which launched its inquiry on 8th January, said: “We will be investigating whether it really is possible to sign such a deal and at the same time safeguard European environmental standards, as negotiators have claimed.

Greater transatlantic trade and investment could be beneficial for Britain, but we must monitor these talks carefully to ensure they are not trading-in the rules that keep our food and environment safe.”

A recent report from the Center for International Environmental Law (Ciel) argues that the European chemical industry wants the US system of chemical risk assessment to be adopted, which the group says would allow the use of over 80 pesticides currently banned in the EU. Other campaigners say US biotech companies want to use TTIP to open EU borders to imports of genetically modified food.

Samuel Lowe, from Friends of the Earth, said: “With the potential for essential environmental and food standards to be discarded as ‘trade irritants’, the TTIP presents a unique challenge to the health of our environment. The EAC should scrutinise the proposals and ensure that these serious concerns are no longer brushed under the carpet.”

Absolutely. Labour has said very clearly that they won’t back this Treaty unless the NHS and other key public services are excluded. The crucial inquiry, which Labour MPs have called for is welcome. It`will focus on the potential environmental impacts in the UK of TTIP, including through changes to regulations and product standards and the operation of an “inter-state dispute settlement” regime; and on the potential effects on developing countries. Gathering evidence is an essential when it comes to the process of agreeing, formulating or rejecting policies

 

Further reading:

The coming Corporatocracy and the death of democracy

Just what will TTIP mean for our jobs, environment, consumer rights – and publicly provided health service?

Lord Howe said we couldn’t exempt the NHS because it would place our pharmaceutical companies at a disadvantage.

If we don’t do something about the TTIP it may be all of us who will be at a disadvantage.

And one thing which is clear is that the TTIP will open up the NHS to American private health companies.”

There are some things we just can’t afford to risk – and the NHS is one of them.
Andy Burnham has already been to Brussels to discuss NHS exemptions.
Labour is committed to them.

“The report – on the workings of NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – which has been around for 20 years suggests we may need to go further – and we certainly need far more open discussion of what’s at stake.

This is something the LibDem/Tory Coalition seem very reluctant to have.
Could the pattern of funding of the Tory party have anything to do with that?

We merely ask.” – TTIP/ EU-US Trade Agreement – you can’t trust the LibDem/Tory Coalition with the NHS Alex Sobel MP

 

Pictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone

A reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the UK Coalition have exempted themselves

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How policies are justified is increasingly being detached from the aims and consequences of them, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the current government employs the widespread use of a “malevolent benevolence” type of propaganda to intentionally divert us from the aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies.

An example of such propaganda is the common use of words such as “support”, “incentives”, “responsibility” and “fairness” to legitimise welfare cuts during a recession and the punitive benefit sanctions regime introduced by the Coalition. (I’ve written at length about this elsewhere on this site).

Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

Transparency International are a politically non-partisan, independent organisation whose mission is to prevent corruption and promote transparency, accountability and integrity at all levels and across all sectors of society, particularly in governments. Their core values are: transparency, accountability, integrity, solidarity, courage, justice and democracy.

In 2013, Transparency International undertook their annual opinion survey called the Global Corruption Barometer and found 65% of people believed the UK had become more corrupt in the last two years. 90% said British politics is now run by a few “big entities” who were looking after their own interests.

Corruption is defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.

For example, Cameron’s defence secretary, Liam Fox, resigned over his relationship with the lobbyist Adam Werritty, and his election adviser, Lynton Crosby, is a lobbyist – for tobacco, alcohol, oil and gas companies. Which is why the prime minister came under attack for dropping curbs on cigarette packaging and alcohol pricing. His party treasurer Peter Cruddas resigned after offering access to Cameron for a £250,000 party donation.

Corporate influence extends beyond lobbying, though. Corporate and political interests have become increasingly interchangeable and mutual. The Tory party receives over half of its income from bankers, hedge fund and private equity financiers. The Tory party is bankrolled by a few hundred millionaires. We know that Peers who have made six-figure donations have been rewarded with government jobs. 

We know that venture capitalists such as Adrian Beecroft have influenced Tory employment policies, and in July, it emerged that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being spent on a venture capital fund overseen by Beecroft, who is one of the Conservative Party’s biggest donors, and head of the private equity group that administers the high profile barely legal loan shark operation Wonga. The Wonga “business model” is basically to prey on the poor, vulnerable and absolutely desperate by offering them exploitative loans at eye-watering interest rates of 5,853% APR. Tellingly, even in the globally renowned haven of free-marketeering – the United States – such outrageous loans are illegal, but in the UK the Tory party are defiantly resisting efforts to regulate the so-called Payday lending sector and introduce maximum APRs.

Following the tide of sleaze and corruption allegations, Cameron “dealt” with with parliamentary influence-peddling by introducing the Gagging Act, which is primarily a blatant attack on Trade Unions (which are the most democratic part of the political funding system) and Labour Party funding, giving the Tories powers to police union membership lists, to make strike action very difficult and to cut union spending in election campaigns.

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At least 142 peers linked to companies involved and invested in private healthcare were able to vote on last year’s Health Bill that opened the way to sweeping and corrosive outsourcing and privatisation. Tory MP Patrick Mercer also resigned the party whip when details of yet another lobbying scandal emerged, in May 2013, following questions surrounding paid advocacy, he was an Independent MP representing the constituency of Newark in Parliament until his resignation at the end of April 2014 after the Standards Committee suspended him for six months for “an unprecedented, sustained and pervasive breach of the house’s rules”

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The Tories have normalised political corruption and made it almost entirely legal. Our democracy and civic life are now profoundly compromised as a result of corporate and financial power colonising the State.

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill is a calculated and partisan move to insulate Tory policies and records from public and political scrutiny, and to stifle democracy. There are many other examples of this government removing mechanisms of transparency, accountability and safeguards to rights and democracy.

Transparency International have flagged up many areas of concern in their report: A mid-term assessment of the UK Coalition Government’s record on tackling corruption

Here is a list of the main causes for concern, many of which we have reported also:

  • There is no coordinated strategy or action plan to combat corruption in the UK. Data on corruption are not currently collected or are subsumed with other data such as fraud.
  • There is no strategic plan or clear channels of accountability; this is symptomatic of the lack of coordination surrounding Whitehall’s anti-corruption efforts.
  • Resources available to the institutions responsible for fighting corruption have been significantly reduced by the Government. Notably, the Serious Fraud Office’s budget has been cut from £51 million in 2008-9 to £33m in 2012-13. Its budget is expected to fall further to £29m by 2014-15.
  • The Government is seeking to amend the Freedom of Information Act to make it easier for authorities to refuse requests on cost grounds.
  • This Government is threatening to reduce the access of civil society and others to use judicial review mechanisms.
  • Legal Aid is being cut extensively,  this is likely to deny access to justice to individuals and groups who are victims of corruption.
  • The Government’s Localism Act abolished the Audit Commission, which in addition to overseeing and commissioning audit for local government and other bodies like the NHS, had statutory functions for investigating financial management and value for money. There was insufficient public discussion and consultation on the decision to abolish the Audit Commission and to debate and discuss the alternatives to it.
  • The Leveson enquiry and associated criminal investigations revealed a disturbing picture of the cosy relationship between politicians and the media, the bribing of police officers by journalists and the lack of will to hold the media accountable even when laws had clearly been broken.  Concentration of media ownership remains a significant corruption risk. The Government has thus far failed to implement the Leveson reforms or any alternative.
  • Labour’s Bribery Act has succeeded in encouraging many private companies to implement adequate procedures to combat corruption. However the Coalition  has reduced resources for investigation and prosecution.
  • The “Generals for hire scandal” in October 2012 suggests that the current system of controls and oversight of movement between the Governmentand the private sector is insufficient. There have been too many similar scandals. In July 2012 the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) recommended that Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA) be replaced by a new, statutory, Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. This recommendation has been ignored by the Government.
  • The Government has failed to address the problems with Tory political party funding.
  • Cash-for-access scandals indicate that donations to the government are a major source of vulnerability to corruption. Current funding rules lead to a lack of public trust in political parties. 42%  of voters believe that donations of over £100,000 are designed to gain access and influence over the Tory party.
  • It has been estimated that billions of pounds of dirty money is laundered into and through the UK each year. Currently the UK and its Overseas Dependent Territories and Crown Dependencies do not require companies to declare who the ultimate beneficial ownership are of companies and trusts. Action taken against the facilitators and enablers of corruption is inadequate, for example, the lawyers, bankers and accountants that handle corrupt transactions.

Perhaps it is worth a reminder of the Nolan principles, which are The Seven Principles of Public Life. They are included in the Ministerial Code, they were defined by the Committee for Standards in Public Life and they provide the basis of an ethical framework for responsible conduct, expected of those who hold positions in public office. The seven principles of conduct are:

1) Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.

2) Integrity – Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.

3) Objectivity – In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

4) Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

5) Openness – Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

6) Honesty – Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

7) Leadership – Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

These principles apply to all aspects of public life. The Committee that set them out did so for the benefit of all who serve the public in anyway.

The principles were drawn up in 1995 after previous Tory “sleaze scandals”. Recently, both the Guardian and Huff Post report that the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee into Standards in Public Life says in a report that: “MPs should be required to undergo an induction course to teach them about the seven principles of public life that are meant to promote openness and honesty.”

He warned the Prime Minister: “that making sure politicians are aware of their duties to be honest, open, accountable and selfless cannot be left to chance”.

The report is part of the committee’s submission to an inquiry being carried out into standards procedure set up amid controversies over the way MPs self-police misconduct in their ranks, notably in the case of the expenses scandal surrounding then cabinet minister Maria Miller.

In 1997, Tony Blair extended the Committee’s terms of reference: “To review issues in relation to the funding of political parties, and to make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements”.  

However, other ethical matters ultimately come under the jurisdiction of the Commons Standards Committee.

The Standards Board for England, branded as Standards for England was sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Established under Labour’s Local Government Act 2000, it was responsible for promoting  and ensuring high ethical standards in local government. It oversaw the nationally imposed Code of Conduct – now abandoned – which covered elected and co-opted members across a range of local authorities. The Standards Board has been abolished by the Coalition. It is now left to local authorities to make and police their own codes of conduct.

Part 1 of the Local Government Act 2000 introduced a power for local authorities in England and Wales to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area. A similar power was introduced in section 20 of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003.  The well-being power in the Local Government Act 2000 was repealed in 2011 with respect to England,  and replaced with a provision in the Localism Act. Section 1 (1) of the Act provides that “a local authority has power to do anything that [private] individuals generally may do.” This is called a general power of competence.

The Act was certainly not introduced in an open way which promoted any meaningful debate and participation, it was preceded by no White Paper, the rationale for the Bill was left largely unexplained before its introduction, and although devolution was mentioned a lot, ministers advocating the repeal of the well-being power and its replacement with the somewhat lame general competence power, were rather shorter on concrete explanations as to why the Bill was either necessary or desirable.

The Act will divorce local government from clear and transparent accountability mechanisms, making it difficult for local people to challenge its actions effectively.

There is a clear pattern of alarming and extremely anti-democratic policies formulated by the Coalition that are designed to protect the interests of the very wealthy; to stifle debate; challenges and opposition; to encourage corruption whilst obscuring it; to restrict access to justice for victims of government and corporate corruption; to remove accountability and transparency, and there is an increasing detachment of policies from wider public needs and interests.

Legal equality, freedom and rule of law have been identified as important characteristics of representative democracy since ancient times. More contemporary definitions include: political pluralism; equality before the law; the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances; due process; civil liberties; human rights – all of these are considered to be crucial criteria for defining liberal democracies.

Since 2010, many of the essential processes and safeguards of democracy have been dismantled: we no longer have a democratic state.

946487_494193727316827_2051552810_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

 


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The coming Corporatocracy and the death of democracy

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“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”
Benito Mussolini.

“The real corruption that has eaten into the heart of British public life is the tightening corporate grip on government and public institutions – not just by lobbyists, but by the politicians, civil servants, bankers and corporate advisers who increasingly swap jobs, favours and insider information, and inevitably come to see their interests as mutual and interchangeable… Corporate and financial power have merged into the state.”Seumus Milne.

The Conservative privatisation programme has been an unmitigated failure. We have witnessed scandalous price rigging, and massive job losses, decreased standards in service delivery and a disempowerment of our Unions. But then the Tories will always swing policy towards benefiting private companies and not the public, as we know. In Britain, privatisation was primarily driven by Tory ideological motives, to “roll back the frontiers of the State”. The “survival of the fittest’ Conservative social policies are simple translations from the “very privileged survival of the wealthiest at all cost” and “profiteering for Tory donors and sponsors'” economic ideology.

Consider, for example, who the beneficiaries of Tory workfare policy are. Despite spectacular failure in “helping people into work”, these schemes persist. In 2012, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) reviewed the DWP’s impact assessment into how its “mandatory work programme” was working. Former Cabinet Office chief economist and NIESR director Jonathan Portes wrote: “Whatever your position on the morality of mandatory work programmes like these – the costs of the programme, direct and indirect, are likely to far exceed the benefits.”

“At at time of austerity, it is very difficult to see the justification for spending millions of pounds on a programme which isn’t working”

So we ask ourselves who benefits from this “scheme”. Big business does of course. They get free labour, funded by the tax payer, to maximise profits. The service providers also benefit. What this means is that the money “saved”’ in public sector cuts has been used to subsidise some of this Country’s richest companies, and they have been provided with free labour from a reserve of State induced unemployment. Workfare is nothing less than the gross exploitation of the economic victims of this Government.

The apparent Conservative desire for wider share ownership in some instances of privatisation was certainly intended to make the privatisation reforms difficult to reverse: it would make them very expensive to reverse, but also, it’s partly because re-nationalisation risks alienating the critical middle class swing voters in the electorate, quite apart from the fiscal implications.

Private ownership is considered by the Tories as one of the better ways of reducing the power of the trades unions, and with it the perceived support for the opposition Labour Party. Indeed, creating counterweights to the perceived and mythologised “monolithic” unions meant that inadequate attention was given to dispersed control and competition, evident in the early utility privatisations of telecoms and gas, for example.

Privatisation and liberalisation are distinct policies, whilst it is possible (and common) to privatise services without liberalising, it is less often understood that one can liberalise without privatisation.

For example, it is quite common for gas and electricity distribution networks to be municipally owned, with private ownership elsewhere. After the collapse of Railtrack, the British Government created Network Rail, a not-for-profit-distribution public-private partnership, a quasi-commercial public entity that is a compromise between the desire to renationalise and a desire to keep the debt off the public sector’s balance sheet.

Roads are almost entirely in public ownership while transport services are almost entirely privately supplied. The main case for privatising networks like the power grid is that they can be more effectively exposed to profit-related incentives, while at the same time clarifying the nature of regulation, and separating the regulatory and ownership functions.

Of course the alternative view is that the state can better pursue its interests [on behalf of citizens] by direct control through ownership than by indirect control through regulation. Tory privatisation has been a total failure. It’s entirely ideologically driven.

The Conservatives are endorsing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) , which will enshrine the rights of Corporations under International Law, and restrict future governments in overturning the changes through the threat of expensive legal action. These are the largest trade agreements in history, and yet they are NOT open for review, debate or amendment by Parliaments or the public. This agreement will shift the balance of power between Corporations and the State – effectively creating a Corporatocracy. It will have NO democratic foundation or restraint whatsoever. The main thrust of the agreement is that Corporations will be able to actively exploit increased rights in the TPP and TTIP to extend the interests of the corporation, which is mostly to maximise their profits.

Human rights and public interests won’t be a priority. Six hundred US corporate advisors have had input into this trade agreement. The draft text has not been made available to the public, press or policy makers. The level of secrecy around this agreement is unparalleled. The majority of US Congress is being kept in the dark while representatives of US corporations are being consulted and privy to the details.

A major concern is that many of the regulations likely to be affected under TTIP are designed to protect our health and the environment by setting safe levels of pesticides in food and chemicals in our toiletries and household cleaning products for example. These safeguards will be eroded or eliminated, potentially exposing people to greater risks of unsafe, unregulated commercial goods to support  the interests of multinationals.

In November, WikiLeaks published a draft chapter of the agreement – and the reasons for secrecy became clear. The draft confirms our fears that this agreement tips the balance of power between Corporations and the State and citizens firmly in favour of Corporations.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership includes a particularly toxic mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). Where this has been forced into other trade agreements, it has allowed big global corporations, already with too much power, to sue Governments in front of secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers, which bypass our domestic courts and override the decisions of parliaments and interests of citizens. Not that this would be a particular issue in the case of the UK, with the Government always favouring policies that promote the interests of such powerful businesses at the expense of the public, anyway. But this mechanism would also remove any chance whatsoever of public interests being a consideration in the decision-making process  In short, it will bypass what remains of our democratic process completely.

We have seen already that this mechanism is being used by mining companies elsewhere in the world to sue governments trying to keep them out of protected areas; by banks fighting financial regulation; by a nuclear company contesting Germany’s decision to switch off atomic power. After a big political fight we’ve now been promised plain packaging for cigarettes. But it could be anexed by an offshore arbitration panel. The tobacco company Philip Morris is currently suing the Government in Australia through the same mechanism in another treaty.

In the UK, we already have a highly corporatised Government. These agreements will suppress internet freedom, restrict civil liberties, decimate internal economies, stop developing countries distributing the lowest cost drugs, endanger public healthcare, and hand corporations the right to overturn decisions made by democratic governments in the public interest.

The chief agricultural negotiator for the US is the former Monsanto lobbyist, Islam Siddiqui. If ratified, the TPP would impose punishing regulations that give multinational corporations unprecedented rights to demand taxpayer compensation for policies that corporations deem a barrier to their profits.

It seems to me that our Government has been paving the way for this shortcut to corporocratic hell since they took Office. If you want an idea of what kind of socio-political changes the outlined Agreements will entail, J P Morgan gave us a chilling preview, earlier this year. What J P Morgan made clear is that “socialist” and collectivist inclinations must be removed from political structures; localism must be replaced with strong, central, authority; labour rights must be removed, consensus politics [that’s democracy] must cease to be of concern and the right to protest must be curtailed.

This is an agenda for hard right, corporatist government.

Say goodbye forever to your human rights, to democracy, and to the environment.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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Please ask your MP to sign the EDM:

TRANSATLANTIC TRADE AND INVESTMENT PARTNERSHIP

Session: 2013-14
Date tabled: 26.11.2013
Primary sponsor: Lucas, Caroline
Sponsors: Meale, Alan Caton, Martin Hopkins, Kelvin Corbyn, Jeremy Flynn, Paul

That this House is concerned about the inclusion of investor-to-state dispute settlements in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP); notes that their inclusion would enable foreign investors to file complaints against a national government whenever investors perceive a violation of their rights and that these complaints are filed directly to international arbitration tribunals and completely bypass national courts and the judicial system; believes there is a real risk that these provisions in the TTIP could overturn years of laws and regulations agreed by democratic institutions on social, environmental and small business policy on both sides of the Atlantic and is of the view that the Government’s assertions about the economic benefits of the trade deal are questionable; further believes that any transatlantic partnership implies a relationship based on mutual trust, respect and shared values, something that the ongoing revelations about US secret services’ surveillance of EU citizens and public representatives up to the highest level has shown to be gravely lacking; therefore calls for investor-to-state dispute settlements to be removed from the TTIP; and further calls on the Government to push for talks on the partnership agreement to be frozen immediately, in order to allow for a full public debate and Parliamentary scrutiny from both Houses of Parliament with a view to establishing whether full transparency and fundamental EU rights and rules can be guaranteed.

Early day motion 793

The Alternative Trade Mandate Alliance (and the Corporate Europe Observatory), which has just been launched, is a European alliance of over 50 civil society organisations. It forwards a proposal to make EU trade and investment policy work for people and the planet, not just the profit interests of a few.

EU – wide campaign to make Trade/Investment Policies work for People not Corporations

Further reading:

The lies behind this transatlantic trade deal

How the EU is making NHS privatisation permanent

THE SECRET TRADE AGREEMENT ABOUT TO COMPLETE THE CORPORATE TAKEOVER OF DEMOCRACY 

Osborne’s bid to end democracy by the back door

 

 

 

 

Defining features of Fascism and Authoritarianism

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I am a critical Marxist Phenomenologist when it comes to defining our “social reality”. In political terms, that roughly translates as a form of anarcho-socialism. Experience is evidence, which never happens in a neat and tidy “value neutral” way.  Existence is fact, which precedes essence. [Although I am not entirely epistemologically predisposed towards the notion of tabula rasa.]

Max Weber’s principle of Verstehen is a fundamentally critical approach in all social sciences, including politics, and we can see the consequences of its absence in the cold, pseudo-positivist approach of the Coalition in the UK. Their policies clearly demonstrate that they lack the capacity to understand, or meaningfully “walk a mile in the shoes of another”. The Coalition treat the population of the UK as objects of their policies and not as equal, subjective human beings. Whenever the government are challenged and confronted with evidence from citizens that their policies are causing harm, they simply deny the accounts and experiences of those raising legitimate concerns.

The Conservatives do not serve us or meet our needs, they think that we, the public, are here to serve political needs and to fulfil politically defined economic outcomes. In fact we are being increasingly nudged to align our behaviours with neoliberal outcomes.

My own starting point is that regardless of any claim towards the merits of value-freedom in any discussion about society, we cannot abdicate moral responsibility, and cannot justify moral indifference. We see values and principles enshrined in a positive approach, exemplified in our laws, human rights and democratic process. We are also seeing an erosion of this tendency towards a globalisation of values, and inclusion of a recognition and account of the full range of human experiences in policy making. Indeed recently, public policy has become an instrument of stigmatisation, social exclusion and increasing minoritization. 

As a society, we have allowed the state to redefine our collective, universal, relatively egalitarian and civilising support structures, such as social housing, legal aid, welfare and broader public services as being somehow problematic. Those who need support are stigmatised, scapegoated, outgrouped and othered. The government tells us that welfare and other public services present “moral hazards”, and that they “disincentivise” citizens to be self sufficient. Yet the social gains of our post-war settlement were made to include everyone, should they fall on difficult times. We each pay into the provision, after all.

These are civilising and civilised socioeconomic mechanisms that ensure each citizen’s life has equal dignity and worth; that no-one dies prematurely because of absolute poverty or because they have no access to justice, medical care and housing. 

Our post-war settlement was the closest that we ever came to a genuine democracy, here in the UK. It arose because of the political consensus, partly founded on a necessity of the state to meet the social needs of the newly franchised working class. 

However, we are now being reduced in terms of human worth: dehumanised to become little more than economically productive actors, here in the UK. We have a government that tends to describe protected vulnerable social groups in terms of costs to the State, regardless of their contributions to society, and responsibility is attributed to these social groups via scapegoating media and state rhetoric, while those decision-makers actually responsible for the state of the economy have been exempted, legally and morally, and are hidden behind complex and highly diversionary scapegoating propaganda campaigns and techniques of neutralisation (elaborate strategies of denial and rebuff).

Techniques of neutralisation are a series of methods by which those who commit illegitimate acts temporarily neutralise certain values within themselves which would normally prohibit them from carrying out such acts, such as morality, obligation to abide by the law, and so on. In simpler terms, these are psychological methods for people to turn off “inner protests” when they do, or are about to do something they themselves perceive as wrong. Some people don’t have such inner protests – psychopaths, for example – but they employ techniques of neutralisation to manipulate and switch off those conscience protests of others.

Language use can reflect attempts at minimising the impact of such wrongful acts. The Mafia don’t ever commit “murder”, for example, instead they “take someone out”, “whack them” or “give someone their medicine”. But the victim ends up dead, no matter what people choose to call it. Examining discourses and underpinning ideologies is useful as a predictive tool, as it provides very important clues to often hidden political attitudes and intentions – clues to social conditions and unfolding events. Linguistic habits are frequently important symptoms of underlying feelings and attitudes.

We know that benefits, for example, are calculated to meet basic living requirements only, such as food, fuel and shelter needs. To take away that basic support is devastating for those people having to struggle for basic survival. The Labour Party recently managed to secure concessions that ensured that the right of appeal for those sanctioned is maintained. Iain Duncan Smith wanted to remove that right. But appeals take months to happen, and meanwhile people are left suffering  enormously, living in absolute poverty, as a result of having no money to meet their most fundamental needs. 

Sanctions are not “help” for jobseekers; sanctions are state punishment and a form of persecution. It doesn’t matter how hard you look for work when you are one of 2,500,000 unemployed people and there are only 400,000 jobs available. If we want to help people into work we need to create decent paying and secure jobs, rather than  punishing individuals for being out of work during the worst recession for over 100 years.

Work is no longer a guaranteed route out of poverty, as wages have stagnated and remain lower than they were before the global recession. More than half of the people queuing at food banks are in work.

In a similar way, the Tories attempt to to distort meanings, to minimise the impact of what they are doing. For example, when they habitually use  the word “reform”, what they are referring to is an act that entails “removal of income” and “cuts”, and “incentivise”, “help” and “support”: Tory-speak that means to “punish and take from”. Targets for such punishment and cuts are translated as Tory “statistical norms” or “not targets but aspirations” and “robust expectations of performance”. As I said earlier, these are techniques of neutralisation. Or Newspeak, if you prefer.

The “help” and “incentivisation” that the Tory-led Coalition have provided for jobseekers in the recession, at a time when quality jobs are scarce, secure and stable full-time work is also scarce, are entirely class contingent and punitive. Decent jobs that pay enough to get by on are like …well…Tory statistics; conjured from the aether, a very cheap trick – an illusion. We know that unemployment and underemployment are rising. 

Sartre once said that oppressors oppress themselves as well as those they oppress. Freedom and autonomy are also reciprocal, and it’s only when we truly recognise our own liberty that we may necessarily acknowledge that of others. Conservatism has always been associated with a capacity to inhibit and control, and never liberate. We need to take responsibility for the Government that we have. In fact we must.

Fascism evolves over a period of time. No-one ever woke up one morning to find it had suddenly happened overnight. It’s an ongoing process just as Nazism was. Identifying traits is therefore useful. Fascism and totalitarianism advance by almost inscrutable degrees. 

If you really think it could never happen here, you haven’t been paying attention this past few years to the undemocratic law repeals and quiet edits – especially laws that protect citizens from state abuse – the muzzling of the trade unions, the corporocratic dominance and rampant cronysism, the human rights abuses, the media control and othering narratives, the current of anti-intellectualism and other serious blows to our democracy.

Dr. Lawrence Britt examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each, and it is difficult to overlook some of the parallels with the characteristics of the increasingly authoritarian government here in the UK:

1. Powerful and continuing Nationalism – fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, soundbites, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for any recognition of Human Rights – politically justified by stirring up fear of “enemies” and the need for “security”, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The public tend to become apathetic, or look the other way, some even approve of persecution, torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, often without charge and so forth. But the whole point of human rights is that they are universal.

3. Identification of enemies and scapegoats used as a unifying cause – the public are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: social groups; racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists international organisations and so forth.

4. Supremacy of the Military – even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorised.

5. Rampant sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution. Policies emphasise traditional and rigid roles. The government become the ‘parent’, because they “know what’s best for you”. Families that don’t conform are pathologised. 

6. Controlled mass media – the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or by ensuring strategically placed sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship is very common.

7. Obsession with “National Security” and protecting “borders”- fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Historically, religion and Government are intertwined – governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion of the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions. But technocratic rule – referencing ‘science’ may also be used to appeal to the public and garner a veneer of  credibility.

9. Corporate Power is protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labour power is suppressed – because the organising power of labour is the only real threat to a fascist government, labour unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for intellectuals and the Arts – fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant cronyism and corruption – fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent elections – sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times, elections are manipulated by smears, the strategic misuse of psychology and propaganda campaigns, and even assassination of opposition candidates has been used, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and of course, strategic communications together with targeted manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections, historically.

All fascist governments are authoritarian, but not all authoritarian governments are fascists. Fascism tends to arise with forms of ultra-nationalism. Authoritarianism is anti-democratic. Totalitarianism is the most intrusive ‘totalising’ form of authoritarianism, involving the attempted change, control and regulation of citizens’ perceptions, beliefs, emotions, behaviours, accounts and experiences.

Authoritarian legitimacy is often based on emotional appeal, especially the identification of the regime as a “necessary evil” to combat easily recognisable societal problems, such as economic crises.

Authoritarian regimes commonly emerge in times of political, economic, or social instability, and because of this, especially during the initial period of authoritarian rule, such governments may have broad public support. Many won’t immediately recognise authoritarianism, especially in formerly liberal and democratic countries.

In the UK, there has been an incremental process of un-democratising, permeated by a wide variety of deliberative and disassembling practices which have added to the problem of recognising it for what it is.

Authoritarians typically prefer and encourage a population to be apathetic about politics, with no desire to participate in the political process. Authoritarian governments often work via propaganda techniques to cultivate such public attitudes, by fostering a sense of a deep divide between social groups, society and the state, they tend to generate prejudice between social groups, and repress expressions of dissent, using media control, law amendments or by quietly editing existing laws.

There is a process of gradual habituation of the public to being governed by shock and surprise; to receiving decisions and policies deliberated and passed in secret; to being persuaded that the justification for such deeds was based on real evidence that the government parades in the form of propaganda. It happens incrementally. Many don’t notice the calculated step-by-step changes, but those that do are often overwhelmed with the sheer volume of them.

Authoritarians view the rights of the individual, (including those considered to be human rights by the international community), as subject to the needs of the government. Of course in democracies, governments are elected to represent and serve the needs of the population.

Again, the whole point of human rights, as a protection for citizens, is that they apply universally. They are premised on a view that each human life has equal worth.

Democracy is not only about elections. It is also about distributive and social justice. The quality of the democratic process, including transparent and accountable government and equality before the law, is critical. Façade democracy occurs when liberalisation measures are kept under tight rein by elites who fail to generate political inclusion. See Corporate power has turned Britain into a corrupt state  and also Huge gap between rich and poor in Britain is the same as Nigeria and worse than Ethiopia, UN report reveals.

Some of the listed criteria are evident now. I predict that other criteria will gain clarity over the next couple of years.

“One doesn’t see exactly where or how to move. Believe me, this is true. Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for the one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even to talk, alone; you don’t want to “go out of your way to make trouble.” Why not? – Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty.

“Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, “everyone is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there will be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this.

In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, “It’s not so bad” or “You’re seeing things” or “You’re an alarmist.” (Or “scaremonger”)

“And you are an alarmist”. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end?

On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.” –  Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free.

Citizens feel increasingly powerless to shape the political institutions that are meant to reflect their interests. Politicians must relearn how to speak to disenfranchised citizens in an inclusive, meaningful way, to show that dysfunctional democracies can be mended.

Directing collective fear, frustration and cultivating hatred during times of economic turbulence at politically constructed scapegoats – including society’s protected groups which are historically most vulnerable to political abuse – has never been a constructive and positive way forward.

As Gordon Allport highlighted, political othering leads to increasing prejudice, exclusion, social division, discrimination, hatred and if this process is left to unfold, it escalates to hate crime, violence and ultimately, to genocide.

Othering and outgrouping are politically weaponised and strategic inhumanities designed to misdirect and convince populations suffering the consequences of intentionally targeted austerity, deteriorating standards of living and economic instability – all of  which arose because of the actions of a ruling financial class – that the “real enemy is “out there”, that there is an “us” that must be protected from “them.”

In the UK, democracy more generally is very clearly being deliberately and steadily eroded. And worse, much of the public has disengaged from participatory democratic processes.

It’s time to be very worried.

Allport's ladder

Further reading

“We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.” Umberto Eco, in Ur-Fascism


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