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The Rotten State of British Democracy and A Five Point Plan on How It Works For Some!

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 Gerry Hassan

Just the usual kind of week in British politics, the type of which we have had many of in the last year of two of this totally rotten, corrupted British Parliament.

The whole thing defies belief sounding close to an Ortonesque caricature about politics, the power of money and the loss of any sense of moral compasses in a whole host of the political classes.

We have just had Alistair Darlings’ Budget which was a carefully calculated political manoeuvre and which wouldn’t have such an impact were it not for the economic and fiscal debris, and the fact we are right up against the bumper of this Parliament.

The political story of this week pre-Budget has to be the ambushing of Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon by the Channel Four ‘Dispatches’ programme, which tells us so much about what has gone wrong in our politics, New Labour and these individual politicians (1). 

Many words have already been written about these three, from the fact that all three are Blairites and the wider moral lesson we can take from this and Blair’s flaunting of an awful, self-aggrandising style of living post-PM – which was evident when he was in office – but has reached for the stratosphere since.

One fascinating part of the programme was when Patricia Hewitt offered a handy five-point plan on how corporate lobbyists could exert influence on Westminster ministers. This was by the following:

  • First, corporate hospitality.
  • Second, using think tanks to host an event. In particular, the Policy Exchange and Demos are mentioned as being particularly useful.
  • Third, party conference sponsorship of an event.
  • Fourth, direct invitation to a minister.
  • Fifth, contacting a minister’s constituency.

What is interesting in the Hewitt code is a number of things. First, like Myers and Hoon it was revealing how craven and helpful Hewitt was prepared to be to her hosts with the whiff of money in her nostrils. Another is the think tank comment – a point I think deserves pausing at and reflecting on.

As someone who has been involved working with numerous think tanks – I think we need to start developing a critical eye towards them and in particular the burgeoning think tank industry – which is in many respects an extension of the neo-liberal state. Think tanks are driven by three things: money, access to power and publicity. Mostly the money comes from corporate funders, and this influences what is studied and how it is studied, and is part of the whole rotten revolving door between politics and the corporate world that the Channel Four ‘Despatches’ programme illuminated.

So well done to Hewitt for throwing light on this area, and for ‘the gang of three’ showing how naïve, stupid and driven by mammon many of our political classes now are. Apparently despite all of this Hewitt is still going to join the board of Eurotunnel. As we know it is not just our political world which has lost a sense of appropriate moral codes, but the corporate world as well.

Once our politicians had values and ideals we could understand and recognise even when we disagreed with them. Now we have David Cameron talking of ‘the journey’ he has taken his party on – the same hyperbole and mystical spiritual management bullshit which has now taken over our political discourse. This mirrors exactly the guff Tony Blair uses – with his forthcoming autobiography called ‘The Journey’ – as it aspires to show his morphing from young innocent to world statesman.

Neither of them mean ‘the journey’ in which they have debased British democracy and politics, failed to offer any real choice, and sided with the forces of power, wealth and inequality. Strange that Cameron, like his inspiration Blair, is vague on the detail, and instead cloud all this in such jargon and buzzwords.

Notes

1. ‘Politicians for Hire’, Dispatches, Channel Four, March 22nd 2010,

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/episode-guide/series-57/episode-1

 

This article originally appeared in Mr Hassan’s blog on March 24 2010.

Details of Gerry Hassan’s writing, research and publications can be found at: www.gerryhassan.com