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Corbyn can repair ‘broken democratic system”

The super-rich and the corporations dominate and manipulate the democratic process, says Beverley Trounce. She believes that Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader could make a difference.

Without strong trade unions, working-class people are left, to a large extent, without a voice. Who will speak for them or support their cause? Apart from taking to the streets, the only other resource is the democratic process where the electorate is able to choose its leader and where a strong opposition party is in place.

This system is now, however, collapsing to the point where it has become so distorted that it's barely recognisable as a tool of the people. It has always been fundamentally flawed because of the existence of an unelected head of state (the ruling monarch) and an unelected second house (The Lords). But, more recently, it could be said that it barely exists. It no longer represents different sectors of society; instead it has been manipulated and weakened by the wealthy so that it works in their favour.

Taking a retrospective look at British politics gives us, broadly speaking, a fairly clear-cut picture of an ongoing battle between the two main parties: Labour and Conservative. In the past, voters knew which party represented them. From the late 1920s onwards, when Labour became a mass membership party, the electorate had the option of voting for the upper class, represented by the Conservative Party, or for the working class, represented by Labour.

Gradually, however, the game changed. In recent years the two main political parties have become so fused and policies have become so similar that Labour has earned for itself the description of “Tory-lite”. The result has been an insidious and subversive attack on our democratic system. The fact that both parties support the doctrine of neoliberalism and unfettered capitalism and consumerism means that ordinary, working-class people have little or no representation.

When Labour came into power in 1997 there was great jubilation amongst those who were desperate to see an end to Margaret Thatcher's relentless and destructive neoliberal policies where “privatisation” had become the watchword of her government. Huge fortunes were to be made by the few who were strong enough, or indeed, wealthy enough to take part in the game where winner takes all. The majority of ordinary people, however, were left behind.

Many were, in effect, abandoned by the state and began the downward spiral into poverty which still continues today. Thatcher, emulating her ally, US President, Ronald Reagan, encouraged the culture of “rugged individualism”, where personal gain took priority over the needs of the community. Consequently by the time Tony Blair came into power, society as a whole had become diminished by the cavalier actions of the Thatcher government.

Anything which could be sold or privatised had been – or was at least earmarked. The 1983 Griffiths Report examined how market forces could be introduced into the NHS. Libraries, museums, the arts and cultural institutions became heavily underfunded and the assault on community projects meant that social cohesion became weakened. Society was becoming one of dog eat dog where people were encouraged to compete with one another.

Blair's supporters were nothing less than ecstatic when he became prime minister. It was expected that he would address the problems created by the Thatcher government and reverse her policies. Realistically, it has to be said, there was no quick-fix antidote to repair the damage done but it was felt that, at least, Blair would halt the destructive force of rampant and uncontrolled capitalism. People waited ... and they waited.

Gradually there came the realisation that in fact Blair was set to continue with Thatcher's neoliberalism stance, albeit a watered-down version. Working-class people felt they were being deserted by the very party which had been created to support and protect them. Neil Kinnock, Labour leader between 1983-92, had tackled left-wing elements within the party and worked to ensure the party moved towards the centre ground.

Thatcher's greatest achievement New Labour

Blair was able to build on Kinnock's legacy, pushing Labour further towards the right and reducing the power of the trade unions. Socialist MPs such as Tony Benn and Dennis Skinner were sidelined, demonised and ridiculed, and socialism became a dirty word. Blair and his cronies steered Labour away from Clement Attlee's vision of a more equal society where poverty could be eradicated, towards a society which promoted self-gain above all else. Blair's so-called “modernisation” of the Labour Party would eventually result in lack of real choice for the electorate thus damaging the democratic system. When asked what she considered to be her greatest achievement, Thatcher famously replied, “New Labour”.

Ed Miliband continued with Tory-lite economic policies while insisting Labour was still the party of the working class. By trying to please everyone he managed to please no-one, with the result being that large swathes of the electorate became disaffected and confused. When poverty knocks at the door, fascism climbs in through the window, and the far-right, in the form of UKIP, saw an increase in membership round the time of the 2015 general election.

Former traditional, working-class voters deserted Labour for UKIP (although, no doubt, they would say that the Labour Party had deserted them). Many others could not summon up the enthusiasm to vote in an election which offered a right-wing party versus a very nearly right-wing party. Labour had become a shadow of its former self and, realistically speaking, could no longer be described as “Her Majesty's Official Opposition”. Democracy, to all intents and purposes, had all but collapsed.

The Conservative Party has always openly represented the wealthy upper class; nothing new there. In recent years however, the party has become dominated by global corporations like Google, who are allowed to minimise their tax burden. Unfettered capitalism has exploded into an extreme and unstoppable force which has a hold on the UK political system. Shakespeare's line that there “something is rotten in the state” may have been referring to Denmark but it perfectly describes the corruption at the heart of the UK’s government system.

Yes, money has always negatively influenced our political parties but MPs' expenses scandals, for example, are nothing compared to the grip the world's super-wealthy have on our politicians. Cameron has continued what Thatcher began when she put the country up for sale to the highest bidder. The most recent and sinister development has been the secretive, piecemeal sell-off of the National Health Service to USA corporations, which will accelerate under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  

The world's rich and powerful have formed a network to ensure they stay that way and this means the weakening (preferably the destruction) of any left-wing organisations, political parties and individuals, including trade unions. A few months ago it was revealed how a pro-Blair faction within the Labour Party is being funded by Lord Sainsbury to the tune of £260,000 a year. Since 2010 this movement, which goes by the name of Progress, has been given £1.5 million. One of its members has described it as an “unaccountable faction dominated by a secretive billionaire”.

When Jeremy Corbyn's growing popularity in the Labour leadership race became evident, the movement was provided with more resources and funding to block him while promoting the Blairite Liz Kendall. Naturally, none of this was mentioned in the mainstream press. Sainsbury and his followers were alarmed by the huge amounts of people, including celebrities and influential figures, who were suddenly rooting for Corbyn. Progress became determined to halt the huge wave of support for Corbyn and joined his opponents in the Labour Party who declared that his success was due to “outside agitators”. Where, then, is democracy when a multi-billionaire is allowed to use his wealth to suppress the voice of the Common People?

A major weapon used by this group of fantastically wealthy individuals is that of the media. The majority of the UK's newspapers and TV/radio channels are geared to promoting the continued success of the right while denigrating anything or anyone linked to the left. A recent example has been (and still is) the outrageous attacks on Corbyn. The Sun, Daily Mail and the Telegraph are just some of the newspapers being used as weapons to discredit Corbyn and his supporters. The Media Reform Coalition’s research concluded that Corbyn has been “systematically undermined” by the British press. Sixty percent of articles in eight national newspapers were found to be “negative”, meaning that these were aggressively hostile or else they displayed ridicule.

The media's grip on our politicians is damaging democracy. Yes, we all want a free press and, it has to be said, right-wing newspapers have always supported the Conservatives. The situation today, however, has become extreme. The electorate is, in effect, being brainwashed into believing that anything other than a right-wing government will be a catastrophe.  

Attacks on Corbyn and his supporters are set to increase as the Tories, the international wealthy elite and the right-wing press pull out all the stops. It is crucial that Corbyn re-establishes Old Labour principles and rejects neoliberalism once and for all in order to repair our broken democratic system. It is possible for Labour supporters to rise once more and challenge the Conservative Party's hold on society. Jeremy Corbyn must remind them that, in the words of Shelley, “Ye are many – they are few”.

28 January 2016

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