Politics and Politicians
To : Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn, Liz Kendall.
Contenders for the Labour Party Leadership.
Extinction or Relevance! Does The Labour Party Have a Future ?
From: Alderman Michael Poulter MBE
In the aftermath of the General Election a highly intelligent, committed but disappointed young person asked me despairingly whether Politics and Politicians really matter? Does the Labour Party have a future if it cannot provide answers to the existential problems he and his generation now face? His is a question you and our Labour Party have to answer. I promised an in-depth reply which I ask you to consider as you prepare for the Leadership Contest. This was my considered response..
‘Polis’ has a Greek root pertaining to the City or Town – Who rules it –for whom does it exist; to whom are ‘The Rulers’ accountable? What is Power for?
The writers of the book of Genesis pondered the question. They identified possessive Greed as The Original Sin, destructive of healthy human relationships and community life. The struggles of Plebs and Patricians in ancient Rome exhibit the same theme. In the Middle Ages Thomas Aquinas stated that a just ruler or government must work for the Common Good. Hilary Mantel has recently explored the lives of Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More. At the same time as Machiavelli wrote ‘Il Principe’, each pondered the use of power. Cromwell opted for a Machiavellian King but More in his Utopia (1516) concluded that Community and Power exist for the sake of its citizens and the use of all community resources should be directed to the Common Good. His later defiance of the King caused his execution.
Later British socialists of all persuasions came to similar conclusions which were built on by Marx and Engels in their analysis of Working Class conditions in England.
The question you pose about the future of the Labour Party and its relationship to the post Industrial world must still address the issue of Power, which remains constant throughout history. Whom do Politicians serve? For whom does the State exist?
During two world wars in the 20th Century, our grandparents and parents experienced slaughter on an industrial scale. Such industrial organisation was pre-shadowed by the industrial herding of the Proletarian/Plebeian classes into slum conditions in the towns to service the looms, the mills, the mines and factories organised by their employers, the possessing class.
From that industrialised squalor and exploitation grew the angry defensive power of the Workers, organised by the Trades’ Unions and the Labour Movement.
Later from the destruction and profound social, familial and personal trauma inflicted by the Wars grew a shared consciousness and conscience between some of the Possessing Class and the Labour Movement.
Thus in 1942 Beveridge produced his Report. All shades of opinion and all sections of the community welcomed it
William Temple, that fine Archbishop of Canterbury, declared that it was the first time anyone had set out to embody the whole spirit of the Christian Ethic in an Act of Parliament!
Beveridge declared “a revolutionary moment in the world’s history is the time for revolutions not for patching”
Thus a real revolution started in 1945. The Attlee government began the assault on the ‘Five Great Evils’ caused by Industry and the ravages of war; Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness and Disease.
Hence was formed the Welfare State, not that people received ‘welfare’ but that via progressive taxation the welfare of its people to whom it was accountable was the essential function of the State! The startling proposition that major industries serve the interest of the whole community, not those of their shareholders, led to the Nationalisation of Coal, Railways, Iron and Steel, Cable and Wireless and the Bank of England.
The NHS was created, followed by free access to all levels of education and commitment to full employment and social housing.
Even the unemployed should be supported, not just for humane reasons but because their continuing spending power was of great importance to local and national economies. Similarly, secure pension schemes were introduced to sustain citizens in old age—again to ensure their spending benefitted the employment of others locally and nationally.
This was not a drag or detriment but an invigoration of community life and wellbeing and an investment in other people’s employment.
What a real revolution the Welfare State created!
But Counter Revolution hid in the wings.
For a while ‘power to and for the people’ was accepted through gritted teeth by the Possessing Class. Countries in Europe, the Far East, the Americas and Africa were gripped by the sense of promise offered by anti–colonialism and the advance of communism. The Welfare State and its benefits countered that promise and sustained the loyalty of electorates throughout the Western World.
The U.S Multinationals and their allies found the post World War settlement very unsettling! The spread of Welfare States cost them dear as they had to redistribute wealth through corporate taxes and workers’ wages.
They wanted a counter-revolution narrative to proclaim a beneficial return to unregulated capitalism. They wanted an antidote to Keynesian economics.
Their chosen vehicle was Milton Friedman and the Chicago Business School. They funnelled their Corporatist views via this Academic institution imbued with quasi scientific impartiality. Their funding spawned a global network of right wing Think- Tanks to churn out counter- revolutionary economics and disciples world wide.
Alongside this, President Reagan supported by Rupert Murdoch launched the ‘British American Project’ to groom ‘successor generations’ of future leaders in the American interest. Among Alumni of the BAP were a galaxy of people who later became New Labour Glitterati and ministers in the Blair Government. Similar ‘successor generations’ were clearly groomed throughout the world.
Friedman’s message was simple. “Everything went wrong when Roosevelt used public money to rescue the American economy during the Great Depression!
The solution was simple. “Drop Roosevelt and Keynes!”
“Remove all regulation obstructing the accumulation of profit,
Sell off any public asset so that the Private Sector could run them at profit,
Cut and privatise public services
Allow no protection for local industry or ownership,
Finally all Prices must be determined by the Market!”
This theoretical framework was used to wreck the Welfare State. It has been adopted by ‘successor generations’ of politicians throughout the world – notably by Thatcherite Tories and New Labour in Great Britain; in Chile, South America, Indonesia, Russia and elsewhere. Sometimes the intervention was violent as in Chile . The medicine is still being applied as in Spain and Greece! Whatever protections workers and their families had managed to win, whatever services the State provides for its own people- public assets must be transferred to private hands on principle !
De-regulation of the Banking and Finance unleashed the demonic greed which almost destroyed the western economies in 2008, an almost exact replica of the lead-in to the Great Depression of the 1930’s. In 2008 the Labour Government, like Roosevelt and Keynes, restored the economy by massive input of public money. But out of that crisis grew the myth that the Deficit was a devastating and shocking problem. The Tory Coalition used the scam/Shock of the alleged Deficit Crisis to advance even more the Privatisation agenda in which we are still embroiled.
All this forms the background of my letter to Ed Miliband in 2013 (www.michaelpoulter.org.uk)Blog
So -where do we go from here?
I believe that out of the present we have a duty decisively to shape the future.
History shows that Empires fall and Civilisations collapse. As Beveridge indicated the 20th Century was one of Revolution. Revolutions occur when the log-jam of problems left by previous generations become so glaringly apparent to a next generation that drastic solutions have to be devised or burst forth violently.
One can cite 1789, the 1840’s, Russia1917 and the spread of revolutionary activity in the Near and Far-East, China and indeed the Latin Americas throughout the 20th Century.
Despite Capitalism’s near collapse, saved only by Public Funds, the relentless , greedy power of the Multi-nationals (with the military support of their allied politicians) still seeks to extend its profitability across the Globe – enhancing its ‘private’ freedom to profit at damaging expense to local populations.
Who owns the World? Who owns the resources situate within it?
At present 85 individual people own half the World’s wealth. Their colleagues own most of the rest They are part of an elite group of some 6000 people made up from the CEOs of major corporations, Partners in Hedge Funds/Private Equity and some national, military and religious leaders. Together they control Oil, Energy, Money, Intellectual Property, Technology and the Media. They create a group mindset into which they invite their chosen politicians. Collectively they and their predecessors have ruthlessly exploited the World’s habitat and its population. But now it becomes glaringly obvious that the structural damage they impose is provoking a gigantic reaction. Even the Natural World is in revolt as Climate Change threatens the very bases of civilised life on earth. How has this occurred?
The simple explanation –The Sun’s rays previously bounced off the Earth back into Space. Gross exploitation of the habitat has created a layer of greenhouse gases trapping reflected rays in the lower atmosphere and returning trapped heat back to Earth! As a result the World’s population now exists in an unpredictable danger zone (UN Panel on Climate Change) in which it will face the runaway melting of the Arctic Sea, massive methane gas release from melting Permafrost, violent hurricanes, mega droughts in China and America, creating deserts and through the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets the very probable inundation of coastal cities(like London),threatening nuclear power stations and toxic waste dumps sited in low lying areas. The current world order; the economic and financial activity of the ‘6000 Elite Group’ is unleashing such dramatic extremes in climate as to put at risk the existence of the human species! We are living on borrowed time.
So what should be the function of Politics now?
All life on Earth is threatened. The economic system and our planetary system are now at war with each other. The scale of economic planning and management required to re-assert some kind of normality is entirely outside the scope of our ruling ideologies. The International Energy Agency warns that failure to get emissions under control by 2017 means that our fossil fuel economy will “lock-in” extremely dangerous Global Warming.
Thus action is required to prevent the collapse of our civilisation and to build new forms of global society.
Multinational Companies and their puppet politicians used real, apparent or indeed manufactured crises as shocks to mask and excuse the Austerity Programmes and Privatisation, which have dismantled the public sector and destroyed the public ownership of resources.
The real and threatening environmental crisis is looming. This existential fact must become our own “Shock Doctrine”. Out of the shock and debris of 20th century war our forebears created the publicly-owned Welfare State in control of its own resources and industries. So too, in the face of a much worse environmental cataclysm with which the private, privatised, profit-orientated sector cannot cope we must re-create and reformulate the Politics of a Citizenry which owns and produces its assets and uses the public estate as a means of economic and social advancement. The Welfare State has been wilfully destroyed but from its shining example and experience we should create what I might call “The Citizen State”, every resource devoted to the building of humane and creative community life.
Ancient Greek States adopted the public meeting of all citizens in the Market Place. In Athens all administrative decisions were made by this Assembly or Ecclesia. It amounted to government by Mass Meeting. Modern technology and social media are already laying the basis for such Mass Meetings in modern and real time. 38 degrees whose Internet campaigns are chosen and led by its 3 million members is an example of the potency of the technologically empowered ‘meeting of minds’ on vital community issues. Such conversations escape the control exercised by the Media. Thus social media can utilise and evoke/provoke the power of protest with immediate repercussion.
Constructive local initiatives abound and can be spread. The Bristol Pound, shortly to be adopted by Exeter, Liverpool and perhaps Barcelona mean that local populations can take on the power of national and international currencies and retain the value of their money within their community.
Politicians exist in every community – the Parish, the Town, County, National, and International Governments. Personal engagement and use of social media can now engage each one of them in sometimes distressingly direct ways. The question – to whom are you accountable/whose interest do you serve? – cannot be avoided and the answers can be publicised.
So this technology creates a new form of the Assembly or Ecclesia. However, ‘people-power’ is only Power when organised. Existing forms of organisation must be built upon and transformed. New Labour gave its soul to Capitalism and so we need a revolution in the Labour Party to reform and recreate everything ripped away by Privatisation. Every would-be- politician at whatever level should, before selection, be questioned on his/her approach to the looming Environmental Catastrophe and the need for Public Control of Services and Utilities locally and nationally so as to combat Climate Change and to create the Citizen State. The same questions should be addressed to the leadership of every other organisation both at local and national level. The use of the word Ecclesia brings to mind the Churches which should face similar interrogations from their Congregations. All shades of Green, Liberal, Trades’ Unions, the Labour Party, every caring organisation and person need to unite in a major co-ordinated campaign to awaken the consciousness of the British people in the face of the cataclysm that unregulated and uncontrolled Capitalism is inflicting upon them.
There are real grounds for optimism. There is a groundswell of understanding across the Globe. Out of the destruction of war, committed and optimistic people created the Welfare State. Given similar commitment and courage we in our generation now have a real opportunity to create the ‘Citizen State’.
Should we fail to provide such a solution in the nearer future, then as with volcanoes, repressed forces will blow, unpredictably and with great power!
From the Labour Leadership Contenders we must demand a response proportionate to the scale our national and international populations face !
Michael Poulter MBE
9th June 2015