Brexit Britain – Kleptocrats at the Gates of Democracy
TruePublica Editor: Winning power with an 80 seat majority, the biggest majority since 1987 is simply not enough for the Boris Johnson administration. The country voted for a party to deliver on their promises and end the Brexit nightmare. And although that large parliamentary majority is easily enough to deliver Brexit (whatever that really means), this government is using it as both cover and justification for entrenching power on a scale not seen in Britain (aside of global wars) for a very long time. Unchecked, it heralds the end of social democracy that was swept in after the last world war.
The evidence of this history-making power grab litters the newspapers both left and right.
The BBC has been openly threatened, its boss replaced with the former deputy chairman of the Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative party, who once stood as a Tory council candidate. ITV and Channel4 have been excluded from official government press conferences and announcements and many journalists blacklisted. All this has been supported by the tech giants – who have, at will, censored those that seek only to bring the truth to power – especially independent news outlets. Social media platforms along with many dodgy organisations like Cambridge Analytica used stolen data and applied strategies designed for wars and battlegrounds – along with an army of opaque actors, who have sought to crush, troll or intimidate oppositional voices.
The Freedom of Information Act has been willfully assailed. This is nothing short of full-on censorship, with the general public being treated as the enemy within. Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office has established a censorship unit. Its job is to block or significantly delay the release of information legally demanded under the act that is in the public interest.
We’ve recently heard about the so-called ‘activist lawyers’ – people doing their jobs by applying the laws government made themselves who have been singled out for special treatment by the Home Office, with one lawyer receiving anonymous death threats. The Law Society reacted angrily by reporting a furious backlash from the legal sector with a barrister quoted as saying – “The authoritarian anti-law agenda has moved on from “enemy of the people” judges to “activist lawyers”. We stood with the judges, for whatever good that did.”
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As for electoral democracy itself, it is receding much more quickly than people think. The Electoral Commission – a watchdog designed to ensure democracy is functioning as it should be is to be abolished – mainly for exposing Tory high command links with cash from Russian oligarchs. Already, its chair has been given his marching orders. Then the government blocked an amendment to the parliamentary constituencies bill that campaigners have said would “help bring in the missing millions” not currently on the electoral register. This came about because the Department for Work and Pensions database of National Insurance numbers somehow failed to connect names and numbers and so they were quietly dropped from electoral registers. It’s a tactic imported from the USA. Over there they call it voter suppression. It’s here now.
Another idea going through the wheels of government right now is mandatory voter ID. The idea here is to suppress working-class voters who are less likely to have formal identification. As if that wasn’t enough, in June, the government pushed through a bill stripping parliament of any role in approving – or voting down – the redrawing of the electoral map of Britain, which has since been done. Researchers produced an algorithm to generate the new boundaries (that no-one is allowed to challenge), and unsurprisingly, its analysis shows that the Conservatives would win 15 more than it actually did at the last election – assuming everyone voted the same way. And, it’s hard not to notice that Boris Johnson has launched legislation to repeal the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, restoring his right to pick a date of his choosing for the next election at will.
Then we have the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which has recently lost three-quarters of its funding – now described as a dog without a bark. It too has been hollowed out, not just by financial starvation but by the appointment of Tory cronies to its board.
We shouldn’t forget that it was only four years ago that the Trade Union Act under David Cameron was toughened – what are now the most restrictive trade union laws anywhere in the western world.
All of this is the stuff we read about from tinpot dictatorships in far-off lands on the other side of the world, not from the ‘mother of all parliaments.’
The EU has always promoted itself as a bulwark for the rule of law, democracy and international rules against autocratic populism. As the FT puts it – ” Autocracy and kleptocracy – the capture of political power for the purposes of theft and embezzlement – often go together. They advance by similar methods: secrecy through misinformation and confusion, dismantled accountability, manipulated lawmaking and governing. Autocracy is often the means; kleptocracy is the ultimate end.”
In that article the FT blast the UK for the “use of public funds for private benefit, which is rife”… “Lucrative state contracts are handed out to leaders personal associates” and the “use of dirty money to manipulate democratic politics” – and states the obvious that “political fecklessness is causing the worst damage.”
To keep the autocrats from ruling and allowing the kleptocrats from plundering – a nation needs to be committed to fighting both. In the EU, Commission President Ursula von de Leyden said last month that “European values are not for sale.” The Tories and their funders – the bankers, hedge fund managers, hawks, vultures, Russian oligarchs and the freeloaders of a deregulated market have used Brexit as its vehicle to rebut those most basic values. Brexit was never about immigrants or jobs or whatever foe they tapped into – it was about the political and economic sovereignty to determine an enhanced and extractive version of Thatcher’s ultimate dream. This government doesn’t really want a deal as the harmful effects of Brexit won’t hurt them. But no-deal very much works to the favour of the ideology of individualism, the free-market and of course, to enrich themselves along the way.
We shouldn’t forget that the City of London is a crime scene unacceptable to the EU. Whilst it may not be perfect itself, it is countering tax havens, secrecy loopholes and money laundering. Britain’s National Crime Agency estimates that more than $125 billion is laundered in Britain every year. It was known in 2016 that over 40,000 properties in London alone are owned by individuals using British shell companies, in tax havens. It fuelled price rises and contributed to the housing crisis in the capital.
It heavily contributes to the $30 plus trillion of money hiding outside of the tax authorities. It is where the kleptocrats hide their money and they want that to continue. The backers of social democracy don’t have this type of money.
The simple definition of a kleptocracy is a- ‘government whose corrupt leaders use political power to appropriate the wealth of their nation.’ Briefly, it works if a party is funded with large donor contributions that get it into power. Once there, they hollow out those institutions that apply the checks and balances to democracy and capitalism that ensures civil society thrives. Those donors are then rewarded for their allegiance – and they donate more in exchange for yet more lucrative contracts. It’s a cauldron of backscratching, revolving doors, dark money, cronyism, corruption and nepotism. Rinse, repeat. This is what we are seeing today in Britain.
One very easy clue of this is that spending caps for political parties and candidates is to be dramatically increased at the next general election in a way which will undoubtedly benefit Conservatives. The Tories, with their deep-pocketed donors, have traditionally outspent Labour at general elections by a long margin. For instance, in 2017, the Tories under Theresa May spent around £18.5m to Jeremy Corbyn’s £11m. But now the limit is to be increased to £33 million. Given that elections are now fought not just on doorsteps but through the reach of social media, you can see why this government won’t legislate against the tech giants (even though they say they will) in any meaningful way.
Thatcher’s era of privatisation was one thing – what comes next is something quite different. We had a taste during the Covid crisis. This government has showered their donors, allies and friends with tens of billions worth of government contracts at taxpayers expense, many who failed to deliver. The failed test and trace programme, budgeted to cost £12 billion (about the cost of 34 new hospitals) is a prime example. But there are many more examples.
During this pandemic, the NHS, in particular, has fought valiantly against a foe we knew little about. Its employees were used like front-line soldiers, some as cannon-fodder as they were pushed early into the fight without protective equipment. The NHS looked on in bewilderment as opportunists like Serco and Deloitte were handed projects to protect the public who then dramatically failed.
When the vaccine is delivered and the fog of the pandemic clears, Britain will be radically changed. The ‘great reset’ opportunity that the virus has brought will be used in Britain to accelerate the reduction of institutional resistance to the fundamentals of free-market capitalism. Allied with Brexit, irrespective of a deal with the EU, Britain will quickly turn into a smaller version of America.
The political philosophy and moral stance of individualism is the ultimate goal of this government. Its ideology and social outlook is to push the worth of the individual, not community. Its roots stem from the emergence of neoliberal capitalism from the Thatcher era. She once famously said in 1987 after nine years in government – “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first.“
This government will promote independence and self-reliance and advocate the interests of the individual should achieve precedence over everything. Privatisation works for the top half of society and individualism rejects those clinging on as scroungers, skivers and the workshy.
Individualism is a form of political and economic anarchy. It is the ultimate dream of kleptocrats – to raid the nation’s resources free from the constraints of public interest regulation. It allows those at the top to disembowel the social levellers – the NHS, education, justice and ultimately democracy itself. The hollowing out of Britain’s liberal institutions is all part of that plan – to consolidate that position. It is a process that involves everything in this article – to put a lid on oppositional voices, contain the truth and substantially reduce openness, transparency and accountability.
The kleptocrats are at the gates of Britain’s democracy right now. The pandemic and Brexit provides the best opportunity amid the chaos to reorganise. It is their big opportunity and they are not letting it go to waste. In real-time, you are witnessing the fall of social democracy and the rise of its greatest foe – the autocrats and their backers – the kleptocrats.