What price for British democracy when a wealthy elite has the government’s ear? | George Monbiot


Iimagine that a hostile power has managed to infiltrate the British government. Imagine him setting out to demoralize and weaken this country, destroying our sense of common purpose, undermining our stability, and wrecking the lives of many of our citizens.

Imagine having to operate under the radar, within the structures of a theoretically democratic system. Let’s follow this thought experiment for a moment. What would such a hostile force set out to do?

Above all, he would seek to destroy trust. The people he planted in government lied profusely, then lied about the lies, until we were so confused we didn’t know what to believe. They would harm our sense of national cohesion with a blatant disregard for the rules the rest of us have to follow. They would seek to make us lose faith in the political system and stop believing that those who govern us have our best interests at heart.

The hostile power would also set out to destroy, through subtle and insidious cuts, our social infrastructure: the effective delivery of health, education, social, environmental and local services. This would allow our physical infrastructure – public transport, sewers, public buildings and other essential services – to deteriorate until, in some cases, they are close to collapse.

It would attack and undermine crucial symbols of national pride, such as the NHS, BBC, National Trust and universities. It would further damage our sense of national identity by destroying much of what we cherish and love, such as clean rivers, the green belt and well-planned cities.

It would sow division by promoting inequality, allowing a prosperous elite to accumulate ever more of the country’s wealth. After all, as George Orwell remarked during World War II, “the lady in the Rolls-Royce car is more damaging to morale than a fleet of Goering bomber planes.”

It would hamper commercial relations with our neighbors and major economic partners, in the hope of cutting us off from the world. It would be undermine peace agreements and impose internal borders. This would allow crime to spread, allowing an explosion of devastating fraud and financial crimes such as money laundering that further damage our international position and the concept of equality before the law.

Far from eradicating profiteers during a national crisis, hostile power would create a privileged channel, allowing privileged interests to nibble on public money. It’s hard to think of a better policy to destroy trust in public life and the sense that we’re all in this together.

You can see where this leads. It sometimes seems to me that if this government had wanted to harm our country, it could hardly have done better. It seems perversely engaged in the destruction of civic life, national pride and sense of belonging. You can more or less predict conservative policy on any issue by asking yourself, “What’s the most toxic and damaging strategy they could ever hope to get away with?”

So what’s up? Has a hostile power succeeded in infiltrating the British government? In a way, yes. This power is oligarchic capital.

On weekends, the Sunday Times reported that people who have donated at least £250,000 to the Conservative Party have been invited to join an ‘advisory committee’, with special access to the Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and senior government advisers. They used this access to push for changes in government policy. The 14 identified members of the group have a combined wealth of at least £30billion and have donated £22million to the Tories. Among them are real estate tycoons, financiers, two people with Kremlin ties, a tobacco tycoon and an internet entrepreneur currently on trial for rape and sexual assault (which he denies).

The group and its agenda had previously been kept secret. The Sunday Times report was based on a wealth of leaked documents. The advisory group appears to be crossing the line between party business and government business, especially since the official facilitating it is on the public payroll.

We were also told that the Conservative Party helps donors apply for key government positions, which looks like another obvious transgression of the line. Another slice of leaked documents suggests that the offer of a golden scale to prestigious public appointments is used as leverage to persuade them to part with their money.

Political finance has long been a means by which the very wealthy can wield outsized influence over public policy. But that influence now seems to have grown grosser and more extreme than at any time in living memory. Far from seeking to contain plutocratic power, Boris Johnson hopes strip the Electoral Commission of its powers to stop abuse of the funding system.

Big donors are not the only oligarchs to wield outsized influence over this government. Dominique Cummings claims that Boris Johnson called the Telegraph, owned by billionaire Frederick Barclay, “my real boss”. Rupert Murdoch and his senior executives held several private meetings with Johnson and members of his cabinet.

Are the very rich deliberately trying to harm our country? In some cases, maybe. There is a current of capitalism that wants to generate crises, then seize national assets at the price of gold. But such an intention is not necessary to explain the general damage inflicted by oligarchic capital. It’s just that the interests of the very rich are not the same as the interests of the nation. We must never forget what billionaire stockbroker Peter Hargreaves, who donated £3.2million to one of the Leave campaigns, said about Brexit: ‘We’re going out and we will be incredibly successful because we will be insecure again. And insecurity is fantastic.

No responsible government would allow the demands of the ultra-rich to take precedence over the needs of the nation. But we don’t have responsible government.


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