It is becoming glaringly apparent that elected Governments don’t run the country, and haven’t done for decades.
Our society is run by and for the benefit of global corporates. And so is every other country, to a greater or lesser degree. The “richer” the country, in terms of GDP, the more embedded the control of corporate power is. It has become internalised, to the point where the majority of people accept without thinking the values set by corporate priorities – and, of course, vote according to these values. Corporate jobs are seen to offer status and security, whereas academic or creative work, or work in health, social care, education, food production, conservation and a whole host of other essential sectors offer neither. Terms like “market”, “economy”, “trade” and a whole host of others are bandied about freely, bereft of their original meaning – because it is not these things that are prioritised. The priority of a corporate entity is to return value to its shareholders. It is legally obliged to prioritise return of value to its shareholders.
It is this tunnel vision that is running every human society on the planet. Everything in our lives is now organised to deliver greater value to shareholders. Public property, public services and household budgets are all re-directed towards delivering greater value to shareholders. And so, not surprisingly, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
We are all trapped on a horrific conveyor belt to oblivion, destroying our health, our sanity, our creativity and our very humanity as well as the environmental niche in which we exist.
The cynical masterstroke of the Tory Brexiteers was to harness an undefined feeling of discontent and resentment at this dominance of corporate power and re-direct it towards the EU. But the leaders of the Leave campaign did not want what most of those who voted for them wanted. They simply manipulated the emotions of enough of the electorate to get into power, and once there, they have doubled down on serving corporate interests, gradually abandoning any pretence of serving the public interest or respecting democracy, law or ethics.
The EU is, of course, indeed dominated by corporate values and priorities. But throughout its membership of the EU, the UK was constantly lobbying on behalf of those corporate interests and against greater political unity, which could have nurtured an evolution in democracy, devolving more power to regional governments who might genuinely be seeking to serve the communities that elected them and might therefore start to challenge the dominance of corporate values. Leaving Europe was never going to get us off the conveyor belt – if anything, it enmeshed us even deeper, made it even more impossible to change direction. It is the Westminster government and the Westminster “bubble” of opinion and influence in which it operates that wants to keep us on the conveyor belt. In their world, nothing exists outside that conveyor belt and its toxic, nihilistic values. You can hear it in every word Rishi Sunak utters, and in the way Labour challenges his government’s actions whilst carefully avoiding challenging the values on which they are based. (That, incidentally, is why Corbyn was depicted as “dangerous” and “untrustworthy”. For the guardians of the conveyor belt, he most definitely was both.)
As an individual it is almost impossible to counter the power of the corporate story. A handful of resourceful people lucky enough to have access to productive land might be able to do it, but for all their pioneering efforts in self-sufficient living, they can’t stop the impact the rest of us are having on conditions for life on Earth, the loss of habitat and loss of biodiversity, the contamination of soils and water courses, rising temperatures, and compromised air quality. Individual self-sufficiency is not the solution to this problem. Nothing individual is the solution to this problem. We have to act together, as communities.
Which brings us back once more to that vision of collective, integrated, European-wide democracy – the political unification of Europe that has always been an anathema to Conservatives. It involves increasing the power of regional governments to act in the interests of the people they represent, and decreasing the power of national governments in favour of a trans-national political entity that carries sufficient clout to exert some control over the machinations of the corporates. Hence all the bombast by Leave about “sovereignty”.
Nation states as we know them today are an intrinsic part of the story of Imperialism. Nation states go out and conquer other lands, creating colonies that return wealth to the conquering nation – if you’re not a powerful nation state you run the risk of being a colony, as Scotland found out when its ill fated attempt to create a Scottish Empire* resulted in the Act of Union, now shown to be an Act of Subjugation by the recent legal ruling that the Scottish people do not have a right to leave this Union without the approval of the British government. The whole concept of British patriotism is enmeshed with Imperialism, in just the way German patriotism was in the 1930s, and it feeds the same exceptionalism, the same intolerance and extremism, that gave rise to the Third Reich. You cannot hold the belief that “my people” are superior without also believing that “other people” are inferior. It is falling-off-a-log easy for politicians to manipulate this emotive patriotism for whatever purpose they want, and that is exactly what the leaders of the Leave campaign did. Ordinary people started waffling about “sovereignty”, “unelected officials” and “interference from Brussels” and of course the famous “take back control” with an absolute conviction that they were being staunchly patriotic and not the first idea what they were talking about.
I used to be proud to be British. But I was proud of a tradition of free speech, fair play and tolerance that I believed the British people as a whole always valued. From the Magna Carta to the birth of the Labour movement via the Peasants Revolt, Britain has been a place where centralised power is challenged and a stubborn independence of thought persists. That, I believe, was the kind of British pride – and perversity – that prompted a lot of people to vote for Brexit, and now more than ever, that independence of thought needs to cut through. We need to start building the community strength, resilience and wealth that future generations will need to manage the environmental changes caused by corporate tunnel vision, and repair the health and social costs it has inflicted on our people.
Crucially, that will involve wresting power – and control of public money – away from the centre (ie Westminster) and placing more of it in the hands of democratically elected regional governments. I cannot see how we do that without the umbrella of the EU to defend us in both the traditional sense of defence from hostile nations and also in the sense of defending us from corporate power. But maybe it takes the horrendous Brexit experience for people to understand the point of European co-operation, and the ends the power of that union should be seeking to achieve. If and when I see that happening, I will at last be able to identify a Brexit benefit.
*See The Darien Scheme and the Act of Union.