Tag: Social Justice

Neoliberalism and corruption: hidden in plain sight

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BHS was subject to “systematic plunder” by former owners and corporate raiders, Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective “hangers-on”, according to MPs. This led to the collapse of a company that once employed 11,000 people. There was little evidence found to support the reputation for retail business acumen for which Green was rewarded with a knighthood. 

Green had “systematically extracted hundreds of millions of pounds from BHS, paying very little tax and fantastically enriching himself and his family, leaving the company and its pension fund weakened to the point of the inevitable collapse of both.”

Green was found to hold prime responsibility for the pensions black hole after years of refusing to provide sufficient funding, despite pleas from the fund’s independent trustees.

A damning report  published in 2016, after weeks of evidence from former executives and advisers, says the “tragedy” of BHS was the “unacceptable face of capitalism” and raises questions about how the governance of private companies and their pension funds should be regulated. 

Ahead of a joint Business and Work and Pensions Select Committee meeting, Green called the inquiry “biased”, and stated that he “therefore required [its chair, Frank Field] to resign”. Field pointed out that the size of the pensions deficit is a fact, not a matter of opinion, and that Parliament and not Green decides who chairs Committees. 

Referring to the conduct of Green, Angela Eagle, the shadow business secretary, said: “In this situation it appears this owner extracted hundreds of millions of pounds from the business and walked away to his favourite tax haven, leaving the Pension Protection Scheme to pick up the bill.” 

The wider business culture illustrated by BHS’s collapse – ruinous loans from multinational financiers, the bullying of suppliers, complacency and quiescence from highly paid company directors such as Lord Grabiner – has gone largely unaddressed.

The wider framework of corruption

Earlier this month, faced with amendments in the House of Lords to its post-Brexit anti-money laundering Bill, the UK government continued to block and delay vital reforms to address the UK’s role in global corruption and money laundering. 

Another amendment, also backed by Lords, would require the Overseas Territories – which include some of the most notorious UK’s tax havens – to publicly reveal the true owners of the companies registered there. Revealing these true, beneficial owners, would tackle the secrecy that currently shelters and enables the criminal and corrupt.

The UK has already introduced a register of the beneficial owners of UK companies, and in December last year all EU countries agreed to do so too. This amendment would bring the Overseas Territories with financial centres, places like the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands, into line with the UK and the rest of the EU.

Rather than backing the amendment, which would bring these tax havens up to what David Cameron once described as the “gold standard”, the government yet again sought to block proposals to combat the UK tax haven’s central role in global corruption and money laundering.

Corruption is “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” Many people assume that corruption is something that happens mostly in developing democracies. 

McMafia is multi-million pound series by the BBC, based on the book of the same name by Misha Glenny, who is an Advisor to Global Witness. The show focuses on corruption as the common thread linking the corporate and the criminal.

It explores how lawyers, politicians and the intelligence agencies join forces with money launderers and international crime rings to move funds around the world from London.  Although the content is fictionalised and not based on any particular individual from real life, the themes it draws on are very real. The corrupt activities it seeks to expose is happening –  in the UK, as well as right across the world – and it is destroying the lives of millions of people.

For those of you who don’t believe that the UK has a problem with corruption, ask yourself this: Would there still be commercial banking sector in this country if it weren’t for corruption? Remember the high-profile scandals: Libor rigging, insider trading, mis-sold pensions, endowment mortgage fraud, the payment protection insurance scams, and so on. Then ask yourself whether conning and squeezing the public is simply an aberration or is it in fact an established and embedded business model. 

Where are the senior figures whose established practices, high risk-taking behaviours contributed significantly to triggering the global financial crisis – none of them have been held criminally liable or disqualified for reckless practices. There were no laws in place to regulate and restrain them. Cameron nonetheless continued with the ‘bonfire of red tape’, seeing regulation as a hindrance to “getting things done”. I wonder what sort of “things” he had in mind when he decided that public consultations, judicial review and impact assessments were yet more obstacles for “getting things done”. 

The UK’s unreformed political funding system permits the very rich to buy the success of political parties, and also, there’s the revolving door that permits vulture capitalists like Adrian Beecroft and corporate executives to draft the laws and re-write policies that affect their profits. There are politicians with vested interests in privatisation, some who find additional “outside” work that compromises their role as representatives of the public and presents conflicts with democracy.

Then there are the small matters of the Panama and Paradise Papers. The praetorian and mercenary outsourced delivery of the NHS, welfare, children and prison services by vulture capitalist private contractors, some of whom also administer controversial government policy, while shielding the government from scrutiny for the consequences.

There’s the phone-hacking scandal and the media bribing the police, there’s the price-fixing by energy companies, the Libor rigging scandal, and many other such cases.

Barclays Bank, JP Morgan, Swiss bank UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland and Deutsche Bank have all been fined by financial regulators for rigging practices, which are seen as market manipulation and corrosive to trust in the financial markets. 

Corruption has in fact become an everyday part of British national life, it is systemic within leading institutions.

A former Conservative minister ran HSBC while it was engaged in systematic tax evasion, money laundering for drugs gangs and the provision of services to Bangladeshi and Saudi banks linked to the financing of terrorists. However, rather than prosecuting the bank, the head of the UK’s tax office went to work for it when he retired.

We tend to see corruption as isolated incidents of pathology, rather than an endemic disease of the model of socioeconomic organisation.

Neoliberalism: the institutionalisation of self interest and normalisation of private gains at public expense

Neoliberalism is the ‘doctrine that market exchange is an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action’. (David Harvey, 2005.) A key set of ideas that fuelled the New Right’s neoliberal project are those of public choice theory. Various versions of public choice theory portray the whole idea of public service as itself corrupt. Public choice economists each make the same assumption – that although people acting in the political marketplace have some concern for others, their main motive, whether they are voters, politicians, lobbyists, or bureaucrats, is self-interest. 

A public sector that aims to serve the general public interest and not serve the private interests of individuals is problematic for neoliberal theorists, and among them are the radical libertarian right, who strongly support private property rights and defend market distribution of natural resources and private property. 

James Buchanan, (see: James McGill Buchanan. The man who served the plutocrats, wrecked countries and brought victory to the radical right ), one of the key theorists of public choice economics, discusses this issue specifically:

“There’s certainly no measurable concept that’s meaningful that could be called the public interest, because how do you weigh different interest of different groups and what they can get out of it? The public interest as a politician thinks it does not mean it exists. It’s what he thinks is good for the country. And if he’d come out say that that’s one thing, but behind this hypocrisy of calling something the public interest as if it exists. (See: The Trap (1/3): Fuck You Buddy! by Adam Curtis).

Within the neoliberal idiom, there is a fundamental inability to consider collective public interests. Buchanan says: 

“We’re safer if we have politicians who are a bit self-interested and greedy than if we have these [collectivist] zealots. The greatest danger of course is the zealot who thinks that he knows best or she knows best for the rest of us. As opposed to being for sale, so to speak.”

So the theory of public choice runs like this: bureaucrats are inevitably self-interested, but if they deviate towards an ideology of “public service” they are not self-interested enough. Public choice theory attempts to discredit all conceptions of the public or general interest and a central strategy seems to be the introduction of mechanisms promoting institutional corruption.

Furthermore, there is no direct political reward for fighting powerful interest groups in order to confer benefits on a public that may not be aware of the benefits or of who conferred them. The incentives for good political management in the public interest are therefore seen as weak. 

In contrast, interest groups are organised by people with very strong gains to be made from government action. They provide politicians with donations, campaign funds and campaigners. In return they receive the attention of politicians and very often gain support for their policy goals.

So because legislators have the power to tax and to extract resources in other coercive ways, and because it is assumed that voters monitor their behavior poorly, legislators behave in ways that are costly to citizens. More recently, there has been a growing public awareness, however, that ordinary citizens are paying a pro-rata share of a variety of catastrophically inefficient projects –  the political justification for austerity, for example, is one consequence of a deregulated finance sector and subsequent reckless behaviours of various self-interested actors – that clearly do not benefit more than a small proportion of the population. 

Public choice economics has shaped the neoliberal reforms to the civil service and public institutions, resulting in the slippery sloped internal market in the NHS, the dismantling of the welfare state and outsourcing of many other state functions, student fees in higher education, and the deregulation, bonfire-of-the-red-tape approach of the pro-market regulatory agencies of many other areas of public life, including the financial sector.

Sociologist David Miller, in Neoliberalism, Politics and Institutional Corruption: Against the ‘Institutional Malaise Hypothesis, says: The process of opening the machinery of government to private interests required the influx of new ideas and practical ways of putting them into practice. As a result the neoliberal period saw the rise of a whole range of new policy intermediaries including management consultants, lobbyists, public relations advisers and think tanks. All work mainly for corporate interests, all have had material impacts on neoliberal reform, and all have as part of the same process expanded massively as a result.

Lobbying and PR are omnipresent policy intermediaries. The PR industry grew, initially on the back of privatisation contracts. Lobbying and PR firms and their principals (mostly corporate actors) aim to dominate civil society, science, the media, politics and policy.

“[…] In the United Kingdom, the lobbying industry has – despite recurring controversy about its activities – been largely protected by government, which has refused to adequately require transparency from lobbyists and other influence peddlers.”

Right wing libertarians have a profound dislike of welfare states, they don’t like to pay tax and generally loathe public services, prioritising private property rights above all else. Individual liberty and personal responsibility are their mantras.

However, they do like the idea of enforced hierarchical power structures. David Cameron identified himself as a libertarian paternalist, implying a change in direction for his party. He also claimed the brand of red toryism, though this interpretation of ‘compassionate Conservatism’ was a rhetoric style only, rather than a change in policy direction. That has remained staunchly neoliberal. 

Noam Chomsky has criticised neoliberal ideology as being akin to “corporate fascism” because all methods of public control are removed from the economy, leaving it solely in the hands of authoritarian corporations.

Chomsky has also argued that the more radical forms of right-libertarianism are entirely theorectical and could never function in reality due to business’ reliance on government infrastructures and subsidies. Yet many right-libertarians claim big business is “a great victim of the state”, and with a straight face. 

Neoliberalism can be seen as a system of reforms that directly enables corruption and the unbridled pursuit of private rather that public interests. Neoliberalism also hides corruption in plain view, by the use of divisive narratives that justify greed, wealth and privilege on the one hand, and inequality, growing povertyon the other. This is based on flimsy and simplistic notions of meritocracy –  incongruent notions of “deserving” and “undeserving” lie at the heart of these narratives, along with prescribed, discrete, class-differentiated systems of “incentives” embedded in policies that ensure wealthy people are rewarded and poor people are punished have become normalised.

In David Milner’s words “corruption was deliberately introduced to serve particular (class) interests.”

Last year, The EU announced an investigation into a British government scheme that provides a loophole to help multinational companies pay less tax. The inquiry centres on a change to the UK’s “controlled foreign company” rules announced by the then chancellor, George Osborne, in 2011. The new rules were described by one expert at the time as a huge change, which meant companies could assume they were exempt from the anti-avoidance rules unless specifically caught

The rule change, which came into effect in 2013, means a multinational company resident in the UK can lower its tax bill by shifting some taxable income to an offshore corporation, known as a “controlled foreign company”. CFCs are offshore subsidiaries that multinationals use to move capital around their global operations.

Although CFCs are not illegal, the European commission believes that the UK breaks EU competition rules, by giving an unfair advantage to multinationals, compared with British companies without foreign subsidiaries. HMRC revealed last year that multinationals avoided paying £5.8bn in taxes in 2016, some 50% more than government forecasts. This figure, which was reported by the Financial Times, does not include treasury losses from changes to the CFC rules that are now being investigated by the European commission.

Hidden in plain sight

Recent research has uncovered around 85,000 properties across the UK that are “secretly owned” by companies incorporated in UK tax havens, including more than 10,000 alone in the London Borough of Westminster.

Campaigners are calling for a property register aimed at lifting the shroud of secrecy, to be put in place sooner than the date the Government has earmarked for its implementation, which isn’t until 2021.

Transparency International is a civil society organisation leading the fight against political corruption. In November last year, they published a report – Hiding in Plain Sight. It outlines Transparency International UK’s analysis of 52 cases of global corruption – amounting to £80 billion – and found hundreds of UK registered shell companies at the heart of these scandals. At the same time the UK’s system to prevent this abuse is failing.

The recent research found 766 companies registered in the UK that have been directly involved in laundering stolen money out of at least 13 countries. These companies are used as ‘layers’ to hide money that would otherwise appear suspicious, and have the added advantage of providing a respectability uniquely associated with being registered in the UK.

Transparency UK’s evidence has indicated that this is no accident. The UK is home to a network of Trust and Companies Service Providers (TCSP’s) that operate much like Appleby and Mossack Fonseca – companies at the heart of the Paradise and Panama Papers – who create these companies on behalf of their clients.

TCSPs register these companies to UK addresses, which are often nothing more than mailboxes. This has created ‘company factories’, where thousands of companies can be registered to unoccupied buildings with little to suggest any meaningful business occurs. We found half of the 766 questionable companies we identified were registered to only 8 separate addresses – in one instance a run-down building, next to a bank on Potters Bar High Street.

The recent Manafort indictment in the US also revealed that one of the companies alleged by the FBI to have been used to launder money was registered to a house in North London.

Duncan Hames, Director of Policy Transparency International UK, said:

“As fingers point to jurisdictions like Panama and Bermuda, it shames the UK that companies are being set up under our noses, with the sole purpose of laundering illicit wealth; money very often stolen from some of the poorest populations in the world, starving them of vital resources.”

“The UK is home to industrious company factories from which unscrupulous individuals provide the corrupt with the means to hide their ill-gotten gains. The UK should recognise it has its own Applebys and Mossack Fonsecas here on our doorstep.”

Weak Defences

With the UK as a destination of choice for those seeking to hide illicit wealth, the UK’s own defence mechanisms have proven to be woefully inadequate. Just six staff in Companies House are charged with policing 4 million companies, TCSPs have a poor track record of identifying and reporting money laundering with only 77 of the 400,000 suspicious activity reports filed last year coming from this sector.

Meanwhile TCSP’s can set up companies in the UK even if they are not registered or based here. This means they avoid being subject to UK regulation, and instead are bound by local laws, which are often unenforced or so weak as to be ineffective.

Duncan Hames said:

“Since the Panama Papers the UK has made some progress in targeting corrupt money but in a complicated and global system it’s often the case that as one area of weakness is addressed, more are discovered by those intent on channelling dirty money. Approaching Brexit it’s essential that the UK sends a clear signal that it won’t be a laundromat for corrupt individuals from around the world. It could start by ensuring it properly resources those who are meant to be our first line of defence, such as Companies House.”

Key Stats:

  •  766 UK companies involved in 52 corruption and money laundering cases worth up to £80 billion
    • Those 766 companies could have cost a total of just £15,000 to set up
    • One quarter of these are still active today
    • Half of these registered to just 8 different addresses
  • Just 6 staff in Companies House police the integrity of some 4 million UK companies
  • TCSP’s filed just 77 of the 400,000 suspicious activity reports last year, which are designed to flag possible money laundering.

Key recommendations:

  • Prohibit non-UK registered agents from setting up companies to avoid TCSPs with no presence here, circumventing UK anti-money laundering checks
  • Use financial incentives to encourage UK companies to hold a UK bank account, discouraging the use of offshore bank accounts
  • Provide Companies House with sufficient resources to identify suspicious activity
  • UK Government should seek to apply a “failure to prevent” approach to money-laundering, meaning TCSP’s are held more accountable for forming companies that are used to launder money
  • Overhaul the UK’s anti-money laundering system.

Existing legislation

The main legislation governing bribery and corruption in the UK is Labour’s Bribery Act, 2010. 

Initially scheduled to come into force in April 2010, this was changed to 1 July 2011, having been delayed twice following objections from, among others, the Confederation of British Industry. The Act repeals all previous statutory and common law provisions in relation to bribery, instead replacing them with the crimes of bribery, being bribed, the bribery of foreign public officials, and the failure of a commercial organisation to prevent bribery on its behalf.

The penalties for committing a crime under the Act are a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment, along with an unlimited fine, and the potential for the confiscation of property under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, as well as the disqualification of directors under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.

The Act has a near-universal jurisdiction, allowing for the prosecution of an individual or company with links to the United Kingdom, regardless of where the crime occurred. It was originally described as “the toughest anti-corruption legislation in the world” , however, some have raised concerns that the Act’s provisions may criminalise behaviour that is acceptable in the global market, and puts British business at a competitive disadvantage. 

Guidance on the Bribery Act, released by the Ministry of Justice, included wording that could exclude some foreign companies listed in London from prosecution. Foreign companies that have subsidiaries in the UK could also escape the Act’s power.

One of the key aspects of the Bribery Act was its ability to catch both UK and foreign companies engaging in bribery anywhere in the world. The condition for the act to apply to foreign companies was that they had a business presence in the UK. Through the guidance on the Act the Ministry of Justice created what many see as a loophole that could insulate some foreign companies from prosecution.

In April 2016, the UK government published its action plan on anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist finance, setting out steps to address such risks and resulting in the commissioning of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 (the “Act”), which received royal assent on 27 April 2017. The Act came into force on 30 September 2017.

However, despite it being widely anticipated that a new offence would be created – of corporate failure to prevent economic crime (which would have incorporated the failure to prevent fraud, money laundering and false accounting) – disappointingly, the Act has not included this offence. It does, however, include two new corporate criminal offences for the failure to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion, whether in the UK (Section 45) or abroad (Section 46). 

The Deferred Prosecution Agreement waters down the Bribery Act

In 2015, a landmark decision – the first Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) was approved at the Royal Courts of Justice, by Lord Justice Leveson. The DPA was introduced as a means of alternative disposal following a criminal investigation into a corporate organisation back in February 2014, under the Crime and Courts Act 2013. It is only available to the Directors of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

Under a DPA, proceedings are automatically suspended following charge, on the agreement that negotiated terms (which must be approved by the court) will be performed by the company. If the conditions are not complied with, then prosecution proceedings may be commenced. In order to enter a DPA the prosecutor must be satisfied that both the evidential test and the public interest test, as set out in the SFO DPA Code of Practice has been met.

The SFO reported that the DPA approved related to an SFO prosecution against Standard Bank Plc in relation to the alleged bribery of Tanzanian Government Members.  Standard Bank Plc were indicted under section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010, for alleged failures to prevent bribery. Money talks and criminals walk.

As part of the DPA, Standard Bank paid US$25.2 million in financial orders and US$7 million in compensation to the Government of Tanzania. The bank also agreed to pay the SFO’s reasonable costs of £330,000 in relation to the investigation and subsequent resolution of the DPA. The bank’s fines were reduced by a third, because it brought the matter to regulators, and the agreement requires the continued cooperation of Standard Bank Plc with the SFO.  They will be subject to an independent review of its existing anti-bribery and corruption controls, policies and procedures regarding compliance with the Bribery Act 2010 and other applicable anti-corruption laws.

David Green, the SFO director, said: This landmark DPA will serve as a template for future agreements. The SFO contends that this was not a private plea “deal” or “bargain” between the prosecutor and the defendant company. The agreement offers a way in which a company can account for its alleged criminality to a criminal court.  It has no effect until a judge confirms in open court that the DPA is in the interests of justice and that its terms are fair, reasonable and proportionate. DPA’s are intended only to be used in exceptional circumstances and allow investigators and prosecutors to focus resources on those cases where a prosecution is required.” 

In 2016, ‘XYZ Ltd‘ became the SFO’s second DPA , which was concluded with the unnamed SME (Small and medium-sized enterprises), referred to only as XYZ Ltd due to ongoing proceedings. The company agreed to pay a total of £6.5m, including a financial penalty of £350,000 and disgorgement of profits of £6.2m of which a significant proportion was paid by the company’s US parent. 

The Rolls Royce DPA, was something of a surprising landmark in the SFO’s approach to dealing with the most serious bribery cases. The judge himself commented that the appropriateness of a DPA in a case of such “egregious criminality over decades” and involving vast sums in corrupt payments could be seen as surprising, begging the question as to whether there was any future for criminal prosecutions for bribery.

Other commentators accused the SFO of a failure of courage in offering a DPA instead of taking the case to trial.  Sir Brian Leveson QC, the president of the Queen’s bench division of the high court, said the case raised questions about whether it would ever be in the public interest to prosecute a company as big as Rolls-Royce.

My reaction when first considering these papers was that if Rolls-Royce were not to be prosecuted in the context of such egregious criminality over decades, involving countries around the world, making truly vast corrupt payments and, consequentially, even greater profits, then it was difficult to see when any company would be prosecuted,” he wrote in his judgment.

The DPAs seem to be “the new normal” for bribery cases, but the SFO claim this is so only where the company demonstrates an exemplary response to rooting out ‘the problem’ and assisting the SFO in its investigation, which the judge in the Rolls Royce case acknowledged had been the case. (See UK Anti-Bribery Newsletter –
Spring 2017 from Travers Smith).

In the case of Rolls-Royce, Robert Barrington, the executive director of Transparency International, said the SFO had presented “a poor case” for the DPA, saying: “This gives the impression that Rolls-Royce is too big to prosecute.”

He added: “There was talk about pensioners and employees, but no mention of the victims of corruption. The poor case could have been offset by details about the prosecution of individuals, but there was nothing about that. If these are not the circumstances for a prosecution, then what are?”

It seems that now, even the law is also open to market forces. People and organisations that have clearly broken the law can simply pay to sanitise their corruption and launder their reputation.

In the UK market economy, everything is for sale, with the wealthiest citizens finding considerable discounts on moral obligations and behavioural ethicality. It’s become very easy to lose track of why some things simply shouldn’t be. The Conservative’s privatisation programme has proved to be a theme park for economic crime and party profit; firms and politicians collude to ensure we have the ‘best’ system that money can buy. 

We hear a lot from the right about how the market place extends liberty, but there is little discussion about the fundamental imbalance built into the system that has systematically disempowered many others who can’t afford to pay for their liberty. Or their legal fees and penalties. The market place is not neutral. It’s a place that where class discimination is rampant, traditional power relations are fortified and morally constrained behaviour is only ascribed to and required from the poorest citizens. All of this has profound implications for democracy. 

The wake of scandals to date, in which large corporations, politicians, and bureaucrats engage in criminal activity in order to profit personally, facilitate mergers and block competition; in which officials accept private payments to facilitate private interests, and for public services rendered, demonstrates only too well the extent to which corruption is driven by the very economic and political reforms that are claimed to decrease it.

 

Related

Conservatives for hire: cashing in on Brexit

The Link Between Money And Corruption Is More Insidious Than We Thought

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: HOW UK COMPANIES ARE USED TO LAUNDER CORRUPT WEALTH

The Paradise Papers, austerity and the privatisation of wealth, human rights and democracy 

 


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Jeremy Corbyn’s greatest success is the discrediting of neoliberalism

Jeremy Corbyn Labour conference speech in full (2017)

One of Corbyn’s most important achievements is in extending national debate beyond the limits of neoliberal ideology and challenging the hegemony imposed by Margaret Thatcher. The sell by date was last century, it expired in Pinochet’s Chile. Yet the Tories continue to flog a dead horse, selling England by the pound, while selling the public very short indeed.

The Tories have frequently shrieked, with vindictive and borderline hysterical relish, that Labour’s pro-social economic policies reflect “fiscal irresponsibility”, but that doesn’t resonate with the government’s calamitous economic record over the past seven years. Nor does it fit with historic facts and accuracy. 

The Labour party were in power when the global crash happened. The recession in 2007/8 in the UK was not one that happened as a direct consequence of Labour’s policies. The seeds of The Great Recession were sown in the 80s and 90s. The global crisis of 2008 was the result of the financialization process: of the massive creation of fictitious financial capital and the hegemony of a reactionary ideology, neoliberalism, which is based on the assumption that markets are self-regulating and efficient. 

The New Right argued that competition and unrestrained selfishness was of benefit to the whole society in capitalist societies. It asserted that as a nation gets wealthier the wealth will “trickle down” to the poorest citizens, because it is invested and spent thereby creating jobs and prosperity. In fact the global financial crisis has demonstrated only too well that financial markets provide opportunities for investment that extend relatively few extra jobs and that feed a precarious type of prosperity that can be obliterated in just a matter of days. 

Neoliberalism: the social sins and economic incompetence of the New Right

The financial deregulation promoted by the New Right permitted the financial institutions to dictate government policy and allowed wealth to be channelled into speculative investments, exacerbating the volatility of share and housing markets. Neoliberal theories were embraced and cherished by big business because they provided a legitimation for their pursuit of self-interest, personal profit and ample avenues for business expansion.  

Private companies supported the argument that government regulation interfered with business and undermined “enterprise culture”.  In this view, government intervention in the management of the economy is unnecessary and unwise because the market is a “self-correcting” mechanism. There was also certain appeal in free market ideology for governments too, in that it absolved them of responsibility for economic performance and living standards of the population. Government functions were and continue to be consigned to profit-seeking private companies,.

The New Right advocated policies that aided the accumulation of profits and wealth in fewer hands with the argument that it would promote investment, thereby creating more jobs and more prosperity for all. As neoliberal policies were implemented around the world inequalities in wealth and income increased, there were health inequalities and poverty increased, contradicting neoliberal theories that by increasing the wealth at the top, everyone would become more affluent. Public funds were simply funnelled away into private hands.

Neoliberal politics were shaped by the decisions and policy activities of Reagan and Thatcher, the architects of deregulation, privatisation, competition, the somewhat mysterious “market forces”, reduced public spending, austerity and trickle-down economics.

The changes pushed through in the US and the UK in the 80s removed constraints on bankers, made finance more important at the expense of manufacturing and reduced the power of unions, making it difficult for employees to secure as big a share of the national economic wealth as they had in previous decades.

The flipside of rising corporate profits and higher rewards for the top 1% of earners was stagnating wages for ordinary citizens, and of course a higher propensity to get into debt.

The Conservatives have a historical record of economic incompetence, and of ignoring empirical evidence that runs counter to their ideological stance. Margaret Thatcher’s failed neoliberal experiment resulted in a crashed economy in 1980-1, which had devastating consequences for communities and many individuals.

Neoliberalism gives economic goals and profiteering an elevated priority over social goals. Many of the social gains made as a result of our post-war settlement have been unravelled since the 1980s, and this process accelerated from 2010, under the guise of austerity.  Rather than arising as a response to an economic need, austerity is central to neoliberal economic strategy. 

While free market advocates claim that neoliberalism promotes a democratic, minimal state, in practice, the neoliberal state has consistently demonstrated quite the opposite tendency, requiring authoritarianism and extensive, all pervasive ideological apparatus to implement an anti-social economic doctrine. As David Harvey says in A Brief History of Neoliberalismthe neoliberals’ economic ideals suffer from inevitable contradictions that require a state structure to regulate them.

If the citzens were free to make decisions about their own lives democratically, perhaps the first thing they would choose to undertake is interference with the property rights of the ruling elite, therefore posing an existential threat to the neoliberal experiment. Whether these popular aspirations take the form of drives towards  progressive taxation, unionisation or pushing for social policies that require the redistribution of resources, the “minimal state” cannot be so minimal that it is unable to respond to and crush the democratic demands of citizens. 

Any state method that seeks to subvert the democratic demands of citizens, whether it’s through force, coercion, ideology and propaganda or social engineering, is authoritarian.

Following Thatcher’s reluctant but necessary resignation, John Major’s government became responsible for British exit from the ERM after Black Wednesday on 16 September 1992. This led to a loss of confidence in Conservative economic policies and Major was never able to achieve a lead in opinion polls again. The disaster of Black Wednesday left the government’s economic credibility irreparably damaged. It’s a pity that the public tend to forget such historical facts subsequently, at election time.

The abiding consequences of Thatcher’s domestic policies from the 1980s and her policy template and legacy set in motion the fallout from the global neoliberal crisis. We are witnessing the terrible social costs of the current government’s perpetual attempts to fix the terminal problems of neoliberalism with more neoliberalism. 

Under the fraying blue banner, the public are now seeing the incongruence between political narrative and reality; there’s an irreconcilable gap between their own lived experiences of neoliberal policies, and what the government are telling them their experiences are.  

“Ten years after the global financial crash the Tories still believe in the same dogmatic mantra – deregulate, privatize, cut taxes for the wealthy, weaken rights at work, delivering profits for a few, and debt for the many.

[…] We are now the political mainstream. Our manifesto and our policies are popular because that is what most people in our country actually want, not what they’re told they should want.” Jeremy Corbyn.

What is the point of a socioeconomic system that benefits only a minority proportion of citizens? It hardly reflects a functioning democracy.  

Ideology is a linked set of ideas and beliefs that act to uphold and justify an existing or desired arrangement of power, authority, wealth and status in a society. Ideological hegemony arises where a particular ideology, such as neoliberalism, is pervasively reflected throughout a society in all principal social institutions and permeates cultural ideas and social relationships. It’s very difficult to “stand outside” of such a system of belief to challenge it, because it has become normalised, taking on the mantle of “common sense”.

Corbyn has talked about forging a “new common sense” during the Conference season. It’s one that has increasingly resonated with the wider public. If there were a general election tomorrow, Labour would win comfortably. In Jeremy Corbyn’s own words, “a new consensus is emerging.” 

However, neoliberal policies are insidious machinations controlled by the capitalist ruling class, in the context of a historic class struggle, to repress, exploit, extort and subjugate the ruled class. One of the key conditions for this to work is public compliance. Such compliance is garnered through an increasingly authoritarian and repressive state.

Of course, as previous discussed, this is one of the biggest inherent ideologic contradictions within neoliberalism: it demands a lean and small state, austerity, and the dismantling of support mechanisms that ensure the quality of life for all citizens, on the one hand, but requires an authoritarian state that is focussed primarily on public conformity and compliance in order to impose a mode of socioeconomic organisation that benefits so few, and lowers the standard of living for so many.

Neoliberalism was never the way forward: it only went backwards

Conservatives would be better named “Regressives”. They’re elitist and really are nasty authoritarians, who have chosen to impose a socioeconomic model that fails most people, destroys all of our public services, extends exploitation of labour, creates massive inequality and absolute poverty, damages the environment, eats away at public funds while shifting them to private bank accounts. Then the need exists to manufacture political justification narratives to cover the devastating social damage inficted, which stigmatises and blames everyone who is failed by this failing system for being failed.

If the public had known all along what neoliberalism really is, and what its consequences are, they would never have wanted it. People are dying and other people are buying the planned and prepared bent rationale and political denials.

Apparently, there is “no causal link between punitive “behavioural change” policies and distress”, apparently. Examples of hardship, harm, suicide and death are simply “anecdotal”. Critics of policies and government decision-making are “scaremongering”, “extremists”, “enemies of the state”,  “deluded commies” and so on. Yet most of us are simply advicates of social democracy and justice. 

If you ever wondered how genocide happens, and how a nation come to somehow accept the terrible deeds of despots, well it starts much like this. It unfolds in barely perceptible stages: it starts with prejudiced language, divisive narratives, the promotion of the work ethic, exclusion, media propaganda, widening political prejudice, scapegoating, outgrouping and stigmatisation, acts of violence, and then extermination.

Our moral boundaries are being pushed incrementally. Before you know it, you hate the “workshy”, you believe that disabled people are shirkers who place an unacceptable burden on the state, you see all refugees and migrants as potential thieves, fraudsters and terrorists, and poor people are simply choosing the easy option. When political role models permit the public to hate, directing anger and fear at marginalised social grups, it isn’t long before the once unacceptable becomes thinkable.

The public conforms to changing norms. We become habituated. It’s difficult to believe a state may intentionally inflict harm on citizens. Our own government is guilty of “grave and systematic” abuses of the human rights of disabled people. A government capable of targeting such punitive policies at disabled people is capable of anything.

Conservatives think that civilised society requires imposed order, top down control and clearly defined classes, with each person aware of their rigidly defined “place” in the social order. Conservatism is a gate-keeping exercise geared towards economic discrimination and preventing social mobility for the vast majority.

David Cameron’s Conservative party got into Office by riding on the shockwaves of the 2008 global banking crisis: by sheer opportunism, dishonesty and by extensively editing the narrative about cause of that crisis. The Conservatives shamefully blamed it on “the big state” and “too much state spending.”

They have raided and devastated the public services and social security that citizens have paid for via taxes and national insurance. Support provision for citizens has been cut to the bone. And then unforgivably, they blamed the victims of those savage, ideologically-directed cuts for the suffering imposed on them by the Conservative Party, using the media to amplify their despicable, vicious scapegoating narratives. 

Setting up competition between social groups for resources just means everyone loses except for the very wealthy and powerful. This last 7 years we have witnessed the dehumanisation of refugees and migrants, of disabled people, of unemployed people, of young people, of the elderly and those on low pay. We have also witnessed the unearned contempt for and subsequent deprofessionalisation of doctors, economists, social scientists, academics, teachers, and experts of every hue in order to silence valid and democratic challenges and criticism of destructive government policies and ideology.

Many of us have pointed out that intent behind austerity has nothing to do with economic necessity, nor is it of any benefit to the economy. It’s simply to redistribute public wealth to private (and often offshore) bank accounts. The many deaths correlated with the Conservative’s punitive policies were considered and dismissed as acceptable “collateral damage”. The government constructed a lie about the economic “need” for people “living within our means” but at the same time as imposing cruel cuts on the poorest citizens, George Osborne awarded an obscene handout in the form of a tax cut of £107, 000 each per year to the millionaires.

Neoliberalism has transformed public funds into the disposible income of the very rich. Disabled people are suffering, and some are dying in poverty, unable to meet their basic needs so that wealthy people can hoard a little more wealth. Since 2010, very wealthy people have enjoyed other fiscally rewarding policy whilst the poorest have endured harsh austerity and seen their living standards deteriorate steadily. We have witnessed the return of absolute poverty – where people cannot meet the costs of their basic survival needs, such as for food, fuel and shelter –  as a direct consequence of the diminished welfare state since 2010. 

The current political and cultural narrative was carefully constructed to hide the truth from the wider population, ensuring that responsibility for individual people’s circumstances was relocated from the state to within those harmed by state actions: those ministers doing the harming via policies simply deny any empirical evidence of harm that they are presented, often clinging to psychological explanations of “mental illness” rather than acknowledging the wider role of adverse socioeconomic circumstances and political decision-making in the increasing number of people ending their own life, for example. Cases are despicably and callously dismissed as mere “anecdotal” accounts.

The harm being inflicted on disabled people in order to snatch back their lifeline support cannot be passed off as being the “unintentional consequences” of policies. The government clearly knew in advance what harm such draconian policies would result in. I say this because the evidence is that planning and preparation went into a comprehensive programme of reducing living conditions, public expectation, civil liberties and human rights. Or at least ignoring human rights legal frameworks. The right to redress and remedy has also been removed.

For example, the withdrawing of legal aid – particularly for welfare and medical negligence cases – preparing in advance for a UN inquiry; the political use of denial, behaviourism and pseudoscience to stifle public criticism; the introduction of mandatory reviews to deter appeals for wrongful Department for Work and Pesions (DWP) decisions; the devastating cuts to every support available to the poorest; the deprofessionalising of GPs and medical professionals; the claims that work is the only route out of poverty (when wages are intentionally depressed and many working people live in poverty) despite, evidence to the contrary, and our national insurance and tax system; the framework of psychological and material coercion inflicted on people claiming any form of welfare, forcing them to accept ANY work, thus pushing wages down further, since that completely removes any chance of wage bargaining; further destroying the unions; the passing of controversial and harmful policies by using statutory instruments, which reduces scope for scrutiny and objection in parliament; re-writing policies, legal rulings and changing the law to accommodate Conservative ideological criteria; shaping media “striver/scrounger” narratives and so on – all of these political deeds indicate a government that was well aware of the harmful consequences of their policies in advance of passing them into law, and that planned ahead, taking measures to stifle the potential for a public backlash.

Jeremy Corbyn’s apparently ‘improbable’ success in promoting a politics of social democracy, justice and integrity has matured, and realigned its centre with national sentiment. The Labour party have succeeded in breaking the neoliberal grip on intellectual thought in the UK, at last.

“For a long period of time, all economic thought has been dominated by trickle down economics, where if you issue tax cuts to corporations and the rich, the money will somehow filter down the rest of society,” John McDonnell says. 

“Well that’s significantly been proven wrong in this recent political debate, and we can see it, whether it’s people queuing up at food banks, housing shortages, millions of children living in poverty, two thirds of those families with someone in work. People all around are realising that this economic theory has failed, and what we’re trying to do is offer them an alternative. That’s what our manifesto was all about.”

A paradigm change is long overdue – by which I mean a substantial shift in the accepted way of thinking about the economy.  It may well be imminent. 

By the end of the second world war, the Keynesian revolution was sufficiently advanced for the Labour party to offer a comprehensive new approach to economic policymaking. Similarly, in 1979, the Conservative party was able to present the main elements of neoliberal thinking as the solution to the economic problems that blighted the economy in the 1970s. Up until recently, there was nothing comparable for the opponents of neoliberalism to latch on to.

New Labour continued with the neoliberal project, though they did temper this with a focus on ensuring adequate social provision to mitigate the worst ravages of untrammelled free market capitalism.

May recently felt the need to defend free market capitalism itself, which is a measure of how terrified the Tories are by Labour’s rise. yet the Conservative manifesto had drawn on left wing rhetoric, in order to appeal. It didn’t, however, because no-one believes the Conservatives’ “progressive” claims any more.

Laughably, the Conservative manifesto claimed: “We do not believe in untrammeled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality.”

It’s a pretty desperate improvisation by the Tories as they try to respond to angry citizens and mass concerns about social issues like inequality and growing poverty. However, the Conservatives have never been a “savior” of the working people, as their dismantling of Trade Union power demonstrates all too well. The Tories’ savage cuts to spending on public services belied May’s phoney redistributionist rhetoric. May’s hysterical left-wing posturing against the inequality and social division created by Conservatives has simply confirmed that the Anglo-American neoliberal revolution of the 1980s is over.

Corbyn’s Labour party has built a consensus for change. Such change is essential to ensure that the toothmarks of necessity – the bite of absolute poverty, and the social disarray caused by over 35 years of culminating neoliberalism – are eased, soothed and healed in much the same way that the post-war Keynesian consensus era – which brought with it legal aid, social housing, the NHS and welfare – healed our society following the devastating consequences of a world war. 

McDonnell has also articulated his vision for what he terms a “political renaissance”, where people aren’t limited by existing ideas and structures and have the space to come up with ideas that the party can debate and discuss. This is participatory politics and democracy in action. 

He says: “We’re trying to open up every avenue we possibly can for people to get engaged. It’s about asking people what are you interested in, how do you think it works better, what ideas have you got? It just overcomes some of the staleness we might have had in past years.”

This is a welcomed, long overdue and such a refreshing contrast to Conservatism, which is defined by its opposition to social progressivism. Neoliberals have tried to persuade us that there is no alternative to neoliberalism. They lied. A lot. Now they are dazed and confused because the establishment were so certain that Corbyn’s rise wasn’t supposed to happen. It couldn’t, the media informed us. Over and over.

But it has. It was inevitable. The Labour party had an ace up their sleeve: public interest and democratic accountability. Two sides of the same card.

It’s about time someone lit the way for us, enabling us to find the way out of the dark neoliberal torture dungeon. And once we’ve escaped, we really ought to jail our jailers.

At the very least, neoliberalism should be confined to the dustbin of history.

Looney Tunes.
Illustration by Andrew Rae

 

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Through the looking glass darkly: the Conservatives are colonising progressive rhetoric

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“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Semantic thrifts: being Conservative with the truth

Much communication in the media is geared towards establishing a dominant paradigm and maintaining an illusion of a consensus. This excludes pluralism and ultimately serves to reduce democratic choices. Such an approach is ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions and maintaining a profoundly unbalanced, pathological status quo.

Presenting an alternative narrative is difficult because the Conservatives have not only framed all of the issues to be given public priority – they set and stage-manage the media agenda – they have also dominated the narrative; they constructed and manage the political lexicon and now treat words associated with the Left, such as welfare, like semantic landmines, generating explosions of right-wing scorn, derision and ridicule – words like cooperation, inclusion, mutual aid, reciprocity, equality, nationalisation, redistribution and the like are simply dismissed as mere anachronisms that need to be stricken from public conversation and exiled from our collective consciousness, whilst all the time enforcing a bland language of an anti-democratic political doxa.

However, the Conservatives have also raided from the progressive lexicon, and I’m far from alone in noticing the Conservative colonisation of traditionally progressive rhetoric in recent years, using in abundance terms such as “fair”, “support”, “protection”, “freedom” , “opportunity”, “reform” and even “social justice” to pepper their speeches.

Last October, even Dan Hodges noticed the linguistic imports. He said: “Prison reform. Ethnic minority rights. Gay rights. A national housing “crusade”. An “all out assault on poverty”. An attack on “the lowest social mobility in the developed world”. These were the main themes of the Conservative Party leader’s – I’ll repeat that, the Conservative Party leader’s – address to his annual conference. I expected David Cameron to attempt to park his tank on Labour’s lawn.

… It wasn’t just what David Cameron said, but how his party reacted to it. The section of his speech where he said “I want us, the Conservatives, to end discrimination and finish the fight for real equality in Britain today,” was met with a standing ovation.”

The Conservatives have plundered from left wing discourse purely to broaden their superficial appeal and to neutralise opposition to controversial and contentious policy. The legislative context in which such language is being used is completely at odds with how it is being described by purposefully stolen terms and phrases. It’s disorientating and cognitive dissonance inducing to see the language of social justice, democracy, inclusion and equality being used to justify and describe policies which extend social injustice, authoritarianism, exclusion and inequality.

There is a growing chasm between Conservative discourse, and policy intents and outcomes. There isn’t a bridge between rhetoric and reality. Last week I wrote about the chancellor’s budget, and said:

Only a Conservative minister would claim that taking money from sick and disabled people is somehow “fair,” or about “helping”, “supporting” or insultingly, “incentivising” sick and disabled people who have already been deemed unfit for work by their doctors and the state via the work capability assessment to work.

The Tories all too frequently employ such semantic shifts and euphemism – linguistic strategies – as an integral part of a wider range of techniques of neutralisation that are used, for example, to provide linguistic relief from conscience and to suspend moral constraint – to silence both “inner protest” and public objections – to the political violation of social and moral norms; to justify acts that cause harm to others whilst also denying there is any subsequent harm being inflicted; to deny the target’s and casualties’ accounts and experiences of political acts of harm, and to neutralise remorse felt by themselves or other witnesses.

Media discourse has often preempted the Conservative austerity cuts, resulting in the identification, stereotyping and scapegoating of the groups in advance of the targeted, discriminatory policies. Media discourse is being used as a vehicle for the government to push their ideological agenda forward without meeting legitimate criticism, public scrutiny and without due regard for essential democratic processes and safeguards.

The five neutralisation techniques identified by Gresham Sykes and David Matza are: denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victims, appeal to higher loyalties, and condemnation of condemners.

The really critical part of Sykes and Matza’s argument is that rationalisations precede immoral, cruel or controversial acts and are a key factor in making deviant behaviour possible (amongst delinquents, the mafia or Conservative ministers). As such, the rationalisations betray intent.

The cuts of £120 a month to the disability benefit Employment Support Allowance  are also claimed to be “fair.” and “supportive.” Though I have yet to hear a coherent and rational  explanation of how this can possibly be the case. Ministers claimed that people subjected to the ESA Work Related Activity Group cuts could claim PIP if they required support with extra living costs, but now we are told that PIP is to be cut, too.

Osborne ludicrously claimed that the Conservative government was “increasing spending on disabled people”, he said: “Controlling welfare bills is part of what you need to do if you’re a secure country confronting the problems in the world.”

But as Andrew Marr amongst others pointed out, the cuts to ESA and PIP show an intended substantial reduction on government spending to essential support for disabled people.

PIP was introduced by the Conservatives to “target those most in need” and to save money. Despite David Cameron promising before the general election that there would be no further cuts to disability support, ministers nonetheless have claimed that the proposed cuts to PIP are once again to “target those most in need”, which would leave many of those disabled people originally defined as being most in need on an ever-shrinking island.

Linguistic stealth and slick trickery

The Conservatives have co-opted a progressive language to disguise extremely regressive policies, and to blur and manipulate traditional ideological boundaries. It’s purely strategy rather than ideological direction. They have quite cunningly [re-]framed a partisan narrative, dressing it up as common sense. For example, policies are framed using the phrases like “social justice”, “fighting poverty”, Conservatives present themselves as the “party for working people” and claim concern for ensuring people “fulfil their potential”. These are phrases ordinarily associated with discourses of the Left.

This framing makes it much more difficult for the Left to focus public debate on the issues central to social democracy. Equality of opportunity, linked with open social mobility, merit and freedom, is another central value and objective for progressives. However, equality appears to be increasingly couched in negative terms, as opposed to merit, and often associated with social injustice, inefficiency and unfairness by the Conservatives.

Under the Equality Act, provision was made by the Labour government to ensure that legislations didn’t discriminate against protected social groups, which included disabled people. However, the need for public bodies in England to undertake or publish an equality impact assessment of government policies, practices and decisions was quietly removed by David Cameron in April 2011. The legal requirement in the Equality Act that ensured public bodies attempt to reduce inequalities caused by socio-economic factors was also scrapped by Theresa May in November 2010, who said that she favoured a greater focus on “fairness” rather than “equality”, claiming that many people felt “alienated” by the equality agenda.

The Conservatives have paid a lot of money to advisors to develop ways of expressing their world-view and the use of misleading discourse, almost invariably contradicted by policy, practice and outcomes, is intentional.

The Tories use euphemism a lot to neutralise criticism and to present a facade of judicious, equitable rationale for draconian policies founded on ideology and traditional Tory prejudices. The redefinition of the financial crisis as a state – specifically, “irresponsible government” – rather than a market failure, and a narrative of “enhanced efficiency and responsibility in public administration” translates into policy practice as cuts to the public sector, drastic cuts to the post-war settlement social safety net budgets and a steady erosion of workers´ rights, “excellence and free choice in education or health service provision” means widespread privatisation – and a deterioration of public services, leaving  citizen’s with considerably less choice and increasingly unmet needs.

The Conservative’s progressive rhetoric conceals a partisan determination to impose neoliberal policies that shrink the size of the state, while defending traditional Conservative vested interests among the financial sector and the wealthy.

Yet Cameron and his chancellor have successfully placed the blame for the deficit on Labour’s trumped up charge of “profligacy” in government, despite the fact that we were out of recession caused by the global financial crisis, by the last quarter of 2009. Despite the fact that the Conservatives created a recession in 2011, and we lost our Fitch and Moody triple A credit ratings, despite Osborne’s promises and assurances that we wouldn’t. The Conservatives have a historically verified tendency to create recessions, too. The Thatcher administration did, and so did John Major’s. How did the public forget these events? Black Wednesday is estimated to have cost us £3.4 billion. The constant repetition of the profligacy lie, ad nauseam, supplanted the public’s accurate perception of the underlying events.

Tory ideology is about handouts to the wealthy funded by the poor

“David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money.’

‘But they also seem to believe that the only way to make you (ordinary people) work harder is to take money away.” Ed Miliband, 2012.

Taxation of the wealthy is framed as an unfair burden – an affliction or punishment, propped up by constant implicit references to debunked notions such as trickle-down wealth and job creation. Policies extending social injustice are being reframed as social justice.

Framing takes a long time to develop, and this particular frame was developed by the New Right on both sides of the Atlantic. It does leave progressives with a fight to articulate the moral basis for progressive taxation, obstructed by the outrageous Conservative myth that wealthy people have somehow amassed their wealth all by themselves and therefore deserve it and more. The truth is that it is ordinary UK taxpayers who support the infrastructure of wealth accumulation. It is only fair that those who benefit most from this should also pay their equal share.

Without the veneer of democratic engagement and respectability that the Conservatives raided from discourses of the Left, Conservative policies would appear as they really are: driven by a narrow ideology, based on traditional Tory prejudices and completely indefensible.

 

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This image contains 24 word clouds, representing the 24 categories into which a sample of roughly 130,000 statements from UK House of Commons parliamentarians, all made between 2006 and the present day, were partitioned by the clustering algorithm. Each cloud contains ten words; the larger the word, the more representative it is of the cluster. The colouring is also meaningful: red words have meanings more closely aligned with remarks by Labour politicians; blue words, with those of Conservatives; and yellow words, with the sentiments of Liberal Democrats.See source: Clustering debates from UK politicians.

 

Recommended

How the Tories Use the Language of Social Justice to Sell Us Social Injustice

How to Respond to Conservatives –  George Lakoff

 

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Soul-breaking government scheme to provide ‘expert’ employment ‘support’ to young people in schools

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The so-called ‘small state’ government have pledged to intrude schools to place ‘demand-led, Jobcentre Plus staff to supplement careers guidance and help schools deliver their statutory duty to provide high-quality, independent and impartial careers advice.’

See government press release: Jobcentre Plus support rolled out to schools.

Isn’t all existing careers advice impartial?

Ah, I see that impartial now means: ‘to inform independent choice,’ according to the newly introduced Careers and Enterprise Company, who will work with Jobcentre Plus staff ‘to ensure schools receive a coherent and aligned offer.’

Aligned to what? 

The needs of local businesses and the neoliberal labour market and not the needs of young people.

To inform independent choice. That’s a bit like saying “If you do everything I say, you will be truly free to make your own choices.  

The Tories are experts in linguistic behaviourism, telling lies and social control freakery, but not very much else.

Impartial. It’s another one of those Tory definitions that mean something else completely. Like helping or supporting people into work, which actually means a crude type of punitive behaviourism  – the imposition of  punitive financial sanctions if you don’t do exactly what you are told, and actually, quite often, even if you do. I’ve never understood how starvation and destitution can ever help or incentivise anyone to find a job, especially when experience and empirical evidence tells us otherwise. The welfare state has been weaponised against the people it was designed to support: a penultimate, vindictive Tory tactic before they completely dismantle it once and for all.

In 2015, the government’s Earn or Learn taskforce announced a new 3-week programme to give young jobseekers an ‘unprecedented level of support that will help them find work within 6 months.’  Personally, I shudder at the very thought of the Tories supporting my own children. I don’t want them anywhere near young people more generally. Regressive and Orwellian Tory ‘support’ has killed adults. There is no conceivable way that this bunch of tyrants can ever be trusted with our children’s future.

From 2017, the new programme will offer ‘an intensive curriculum’ involving practicing job applications and interview techniques as well as extensive job searches, and is expected to take 71 hours over the first 3 weeks of the claim. Welcome to the ultimate libertarian paternalist’s dystopic ‘education’ programme.

This ‘expert employment support to young people’ has been launched by two utterly inept, lying, dogmatic Conservatives with a history of formulating extremely nasty, punitive approaches to state defined ‘welfare and wellbeing’ – Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel.

Someone should put them straight: education includes the opportunity to attend college and university. Curiously, the Conservative brand of ‘impartial’ career advice seems to be all about big business ‘leading the way’ by instilling the protestant work ethic in our children. Life and learning is about working for people who make profits. That is the order of the world. 

Children from the age of twelve are to be coached to undertake ‘work experience.’ To clarify, that’s work fare – stacking shelves at Poundland or sweeping floors at your local McDonald‘s, for no pay.

It’s difficult to see what kind of educational process such a Conservative ‘curriculum’ entails, although it does include a sequence of instruction: a barely concealed hidden curriculum which reinforces existing social inequalities by ‘educating’ students according to their class, promoting the acceptance of a social pre-destiny of exploitation without promoting rational and reflective consideration.

A veritable pedagogy of the oppressed.

Duncan Smith babbles:

This scheme is fundamentally about social mobility and social justice – ensuring we give all young people the best chance to get on in life.

Someone should tell this idiot that social justice is all about the fair and just relationship between the individual and society. This is measured by the distribution of wealth, resources, opportunities, freedoms for personal activity and social privileges. It is about removing barriers to social mobility, the creation of social safety nets and economic justice. There is no mention of work fare for adults and children, exploitation, corporate profits and Tory donors in any standard definition of social justice anywhere.

Steve Bell cartoon

It’s not as if the Conservatives have historically shown the slightest interest in and recognition of realising human potential. That’s far too progressive and would require the capacity for democratic dialogue instead of paternalist preaching and lofty class-contingent, traditionally prejudiced, moralising. The Tories have always prefered a steeply hierarchical world, comprised of ascribed social status.

What the Conservatives plan is a blatant programme of indoctrination and political micromanagement to ensure that young people learn their place and accept a future of exploitative, low paid, insecure jobs, without the prospect of real opportunities or the chance to go to university. It’s more psychoregulation and authoritarian politics and has nothing to do with genuine needs-led or evidence-based policy.

And it’s to be delivered in our schools: transforming them from Ideological State Apparatuses – ideologies have the function of masking the exploitative arrangements on which class societies are based – into unmasked Repressive State Apparatuses. Hidden in plain view.

Authoritarianism tends to become more visible and frankly expressed over time.

demcracy

 


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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 human subjects. They do not serve us or meet our needs, they think that we, the public, are here to serve political needs and economic 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. 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 social 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, whilst 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.

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 as a result of having no money to live on.

Sanctions are not “help” for jobseekers; sanctions are state punishment and 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.

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”.

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 like 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 six 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 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 authoritarian government here in the UK:

1. Powerful and continuing Nationalism – fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, 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 – because of 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 and so forth.

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 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.

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 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. 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.

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 smear  and propaganda campaigns, and even assassination of opposition candidates has been used, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

All fascist governments are authoritarian, but not all authoritarian governments are fascists. Fascism tends to arise with manifested forms of ultra-nationalism. Authoritarianism is anti-democratic.

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 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 Government, 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.

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.” “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.

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 Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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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