Sunday, 13 October 2013

Complete Control

The late Celtic football manager Jock Stein was reportedly once asked whether, faced with the opportunity to sign either a Catholic player or a Protestant player who were of exactly equal talent and were both available for the same price, which would he sign?

He replied that he would sign the Protestant.

His reasoning was simple. If he signed the Catholic then the Protestant would probably sign for Rangers. But if he signed the Protestant then Rangers would not want the Catholic, so he could have him too.

I once heard an allegation, completely unproven but from a source that I consider honest and who would know, that in the dim and distant past a local developer offered a substantial pecuniary inducement to councillors on the London Borough of Hounslow in return for planning consent for a major project. What is interesting however is that the inducement was allegedly offered not only to members of the ruling Labour Group, but also to members of the opposition Conservative Group. He was unable to say whether or not the offer was taken up and I cannot vouch for the veracity or otherwise of the story, but if it were true it would make good sense. Grease the palms of the ruling group and the opposition will scream, no matter how small their number. Include them in the deal and there is nobody left to protest.

In business success is about more than just having a good product to sell. If somebody else is selling an equally good product then that guy will be taking a share of the market that could otherwise be yours. You can of course improve the quality of your product, but then so can your competitors. You can cut the price, but your competitors can cut their prices too. But what if you get the opportunity to buy your competitors’ businesses? You can carry on using their brand names, does it really matter if you now own the brand?

To prevent this kind of thing from happening the then government in 1949 set up the Monopolies Commission, now known as the Competition Commission. But of course there is only one of them!

In the world of politics the West is run in practice by a financial elite rather than by sovereign governments or heads of state. Its model is capitalism and its instinct is to grow. It knows no national boundaries, and precious few ethical ones either. Whether it is selling long-range bombers or air-raid shelters, fast food or drugs to combat obesity, the name of the game is to make a fast buck. If there was a financial benefit to be had for Coca Cola to set up a drinks stall at an anti-globalisation protest rally they would do it with neither a pang of conscience nor a hint of irony.

International capitalists control the news media which reports to us on the big political issues of the day. We have seen at election after election how the press can make or break a politician, or a political party, more or less at will. It is completely within their power to talk down good news, talk up bad news, destroy the reputation of one individual or promote another. We have seen time and again how all the major parties court the press, especially in the run-up to an election, because they understand its power. The “free press” is free only to those rich and powerful enough to own it.

So on what basis, and for what reason, will media barons woo politicians, and political parties? Why, for instance, did Rupert Murdoch court New Labour? Was there some deep-felt, fundamental change involved in his political conviction (which he later reversed)? Or did he just recognise a winner when he saw one?

The answer of course is that the relationship between the media barons and politicians is a symbiotic one. Just as political parties need the co-operation of the media to show them in a favourable light before the voters, so the press bosses seek the favour of whichever government is in office, or is about to assume office – for reasons too obvious to be worth stating here.

This doesn’t only apply to capitalists in the media, of course. The list of business luminaries who threw their lot in with Tony Blair and New Labour in preference to their traditional friends in the Tory Party is impressive and the reasons are simple and twofold – first they wanted the favour of the incoming government at a time when the Tories looked destined to be washed up for a generation, and second it was not good for their respective brands to be associated in the public mind with losers.

The powerful financial interests that control the West wield clout not because of their support for the parties of government but due to their willingness and ability to offer support, at whatever level is deemed to be appropriate at the time, to the parties of opposition. Nobody, surely, can seriously believe that when one government leaves office and another steps forward the giant corporations and press magnates and oil barons lose all their power over nations just because their party of preference has lost its majority?

Incredibly some do. I despair of otherwise intelligent people who, whilst recognising the power that big business interests clearly wield over the current government, pine for the election of Labour who, they honestly believe, will (this time) put the interests of the workers and the unemployed, the dispossessed and the underprivileged to the fore and fight the good fight in the cause of fairness of justice.

As for the Labour Party itself, it has played its part well. It denounces Tory attacks on benefit claimants whilst muttering quietly that it doesn’t actually intend to do anything to reverse them. Its members pass resolutions to renationalise the Royal Mail which it publicises loudly before its leaders quietly drop them. In fact beyond a pledge to increase the minimum wage by some negligible amount there is nothing at all of substance for the bosses who currently pull the strings of the Conservative Party to worry about.

What irritates and annoys me most of all is that those hundreds and thousands of basically good people throughout the world of social media who faithfully publicise and expose every Tory sleight of hand and every Labour condemnation thereof are destined, in the event of a Labour government after 2015, either to sit in embarrassed silence for five years or to switch hats and try to defend the kind of shocking abuses of which they are rightly so critical now.

It has long been my belief that the explosive growth of Internet technology and social media, and of the awareness that it generates, must inevitably do for the rotten two-party charade that is our party politics. But I fear we still have a while to wait before that finally happens.

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