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Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The League of Ugly Gentlemen.


The Time for Populism.

The very suggestion that there is a ruling-class might be dismissed as a "conspiracy theory". It would no doubt be met with rage from some who would unroll the accusation that this is just a backward attempt to take us back to the politics of class. Because apparently we have moved beyond class and into an age where all the old battles have been won. Nothing will ever change for the reason that all the necessary changes have already been accomplished. Even as the British elite hold around £4 trillion in the form of antiques, paintings and pensions, to speak of 'class' is to resurrect flat-earth politics. This huge concentration of wealth in a few hands is not unique to our little island. The total liquid wealth of the global rich (around 10 million people) came to $40 trillion in 2009 and it has been increasing in spite of the crisis. In the advanced capitalism of today, we are led to believe, the class structure has been obliterated and the individual now rises in accordance with their own merit, specifically talents and work ethic.

There was an interesting study covered in the New Scientist on the matter of a global ruling-class. In an analysis of the relations between 43,000 multinational corporations it has become evident that a relatively small group of companies that hold onto a disproportionate amount of power in the global economy. The work revealed a core of 1,318 companies with interlocking ownerships. On average each of these companies had connected to around 20 other companies. These 1,318 companies represented 20% of global operating revenues and it appears that the 1,318 own through shares the majority of the world's large blue chip and manufacturing corporations - representing a further 60% of global revenues. The team went further to untangle the network and found that just less than 150 companies control 40% of the wealth in the entire network. The dominant companies include Barclay's Bank, JP Morgan Chase & Co and Goldman Sachs. In light of all of this can we really maintain that the idea of a ruling-class is so outlandish? 

The British elites still carry some of the remnants of the privileged position that they held in the old feudal power-structure. Consequently, the political class has not yet gotten used to ratifications, not even at the symbolic level which the Americans "enjoy" so much. This is the reason that the Americans have a much stronger Freedom of Information act than Britain. Of course, the US has a sophisticated network of mass-media and public relations which muddies the water to keep a great deal of Americans in the dark. There is a similar network in Britain, except we lack the same formidable free access to information. The consequence is that the insights into the political and ruling-class are much more difficult to come by. Occasionally the information seeps out of the liberal end of the mass-media press, to the chagrin of the reactionary gutter-press who would rather announce the triumph of socialism than acknowledge the bitter truth of class and deplore the horrors of capitalism. The discourse is casually limited by the influences and interests that ensnare the media.

So we know that the Conservative Party received £7.3 million in the campaign for 2010, while Labour received around £5.3 million. Since David Cameron became party leader we know that the Party has received £42 million from financial institutions, over half of the total donations that the Party received altogether. This is chicken feed compared to the US elections where the outcome is always pre-bought, Obama received around $750 million which is $400 million more than his opponent. In 2012 it seems we will see campaign contributions surpass $2 billion thanks to a decision by the US Supreme Court. We should view the corporate circus run-amok in the American government with wary eyes in Britain. The tales of the links between Tories and the private sector should not surprise anyone, nor should the proximity of lobbyists to power even at the highest level in this country. Out of the convergence of interests invested in the state we find policy emerges, there is a potential for political stagnation as well as radical change. Right now the situation is one of stagnancy.

The Labour Party has often been thought incompatible with the Conservative Party for the reason that the former is embedded in the labour movement, whereas the latter has long been the party of business. It has to be noted that the decline of trade unions in this country as a political force has made it possible for Big Business to share the Labour Party with them. As long as the unions are powerless then it is possible for Big Business to dominate the Party, the clashes of interests can be easily managed. It has to be noted that the industries unscathed by union-influence at all are impervious to the decisions of militants and moderates alike in the labour movement. This is the reason that it is perfectly possible for financial institutions to hold out for the Labour Party. The financial colossus cannot be broken by the labour movement and it cannot be stopped from leaping from Labour to Conservative whenever it has to. The commentariat don't like to say that the Con-Dem Coalition could have easily been the Lab-Con Coalition.

As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found, the overall effect of the Treasury's new plans will be to reduce the incomes of those in the bottom 30% of earners and to benefit those in the top 60%. The top 60% would include the 10% of the population who own £4 trillion in wealth already and this is the primary constituency of the Coalition. It is not that the government is incapable of serving the people, it is that the government has a dual constituency torn between the interests of working-class people and the elites. So any appeal to one has to be made to the other at the same time, often on the terms of the constituents with greater clout and influence. This is the reason that David Cameron will talk of "muscular liberalism" and the "failure" of multiculturalism as an appeal to working-class people riled up by the press about Muslims and immigration. It is perfectly compatible with the austerity measures which are set to destroy what was accomplished in the immediate aftermath of World War II. To put it crudely the economic policies appeal to a particular base while the social policies and political rhetoric appeal to the masses.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am disturbed about the situation in Syria!