Politics on both sides of the Atlantic, over the past few years, have been characterised by populist slogans (‘Take Back Control’, ‘Make America Great’ etc) and a wilful and systematic disregard for telling the public the truth.
Both Republicans in the US, and the Tories here in the UK, have instead chosen to create division by harnessing public fear of shadowy, unelected and unaccountable bodies who are supposedly responsible for our economic and societal misfortunes and whom they promise to combat on our behalf. In the US it’s the ‘swamp’ of Washington elites that needs to be drained. Whilst in the UK its either ‘lefty lawyers’, the ‘metropolitan elite’ or the ‘Whitehall blob’ that are preventing government ministers from enacting the legislation required to lead Britain to the sunny, prosperous uplands that were promised us.
And ironically, they are correct, there are forces at work that are preventing citizens in both the UK and US from leading more fulfilling and prosperous lives. However, they are not the ones the Tories (or Republicans in the US) would like us to direct our approbation and anger towards. And these bodies aren’t anonymous actors manipulatively operating in the shadows – they are working in plain sight and being actively supported and championed by the very governments that claim to be ‘on the side of the people’ – and it’s about time we named them!
The true enemy of the people is ‘exploitative capitalism’, in particular where it intersects with the provision of public services that are essential to societal wellbeing, and it comes in many guises. It is manifest in water companies that return huge dividends to shareholders whilst systematically contaminating our rivers and seas – see our current Sewage Watch campaign. It is hedge funds and private equity companies that operate under-resourced care homes run by poorly trained and under paid staff. It is corporations that avoid paying their fair share of UK taxes and hence cheat the UK economy of essential tax revenues. It is property developers and landlords that ignore tenant protection legislation (remember Grenfell!) and numerous businesses involved in outsourcing public services that choose to put the interests of shareholders before those of their employees, customers or their social responsibilities.
The big con is that emotive populist government rhetoric (all too often amplified by the press) is designed to disguise the fact that these are the very bodies that government policies of low taxation, minimal regulation and a ‘small state’ economy are designed to protect and encourage. So it’s about time we properly named the real ‘enemies of the people’ and highlighted that our government, far from trying to protect its citizens and improve the quality of our lives, is actively colluding in the economic demise of all but the privileged few.
Well-regulated capitalism has brought many benefits to societies all over the globe and there are many examples of well-run companies that achieve a fair balance between providing good returns for their shareholders and complying with social and environmental obligations. But as in many walks of life extreme behaviours can be damaging and exploitative capitalism can have far reaching and deeply corrosive effects.
Unfortunately there are now many organisations in the UK who are inextricably linked with providing essential public services that allow corporate greed to hold sway. They are being actively enabled by our government. The creeping privatisation of the NHS is a major manifestation of this and we need to be very concerned about it! It’s time to call the enemy by its true name, expose government lies and hypocrisy and lobby for a society whereby the wellbeing and prosperity of citizens are not forfeit to unconstrained commercial greed!
Only once this enemy has been properly identified, can we start to decide what regulation is needed to ensure that our market economy delivers the services the country needs.
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