Britain gets the bankers, press and politicians it deserves (Marina Hyde)
O Britain! O Albion! Why must misfortune dog you at every turn? There really is no more unfathomable question of the age, with the possible exception of wondering why John Travolta attracts so many lawsuits from disgruntled masseurs. The most recent years have visited all manner of calamities upon the populace of this septic isle, from the banks, to the politicians' expenses, to the phone hacking, to the banks (and possibly the politicians) again. Trailing in the wake of these disasters come the postmortems, the inquiries judicial and parliamentary, and the anger that never fails to spill over into mindless apathy.
Yet there is a nagging sense that the official reports never really get to the absolute bottom of things, perhaps afraid of what they may find down there. Even in your most lunatic fantasies, can you imagine any sort of inquiry into one of our recent shaftings concluding something along the following lines? "What must be admitted very painfully is that this was a disaster 'Made in Britain'. Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of British culture: the worship of money by successive governments; our essential beatenness; our devotion to just bleeding tolerating it."
I suspect you can't. No, without wishing to pre-empt the conclusions of questers from Lord Justice Leveson to the Treasury committee to the people sighing "why are our overlords such arses?" into their pints, I can't see it happening. But something equivalent has occurred in Japan this week, where an eye-poppingly unsparing report into the Fukushima nuclear disaster has apportioned a significant share of blame to the Japanese national character itself. "What must be admitted very painfully is that this was a disaster 'Made in Japan'," runs the devastating verdict of expert Japanese investigators...
... For all the systemic malfunctions of our institutions in the past few years, alas, the prevalent assumption seems to be that the structure of British society couldn't possibly be refashioned. And it certainly can't be unless reproach of those in authority, which we have down to a fine-ish art, is realistically widened to reproach of those who continue to put them there. Which is to say, most of us, one way or another. Britain appears many years off the collective realisation that at some level, it allows these things to keep happening to it via its apathetic failure to revolt sufficiently when they do...
Last edited Fri Jul 6, 2012, 07:10 PM - Edit history (2)
I think I would be reading Larry Elliots pieces in the Guardian not Marina Hyde.
The British press may be a disgrace, British politicians may be grasping and British banks may be run by crooks but not all those faults lie at Britains door.
One of the key things Hyde fails to mention is that key protaganists in some of these scandals such as Rupert Murdoch and Bob Diamond are not British but outsiders who have come to hold key roles in our society. They have sometimes wlelded a great deal of power behind the scenes even though not holding elected office, or even British passports. Most got their entrance into their positions influence in the wake of collapse in confidence in the old British establishment in the 1960s and its usurpation in the 1980s by the new American inspired Thatcherite order.
Nowhere is this better displayed than in the financial sector. Big Bang in 1986 swept away much of of the old City establishment including most of the British stock brokers and merchant banks were largely taken over or bought out by foreign corporations. If you want an analysis of those implications then this Daily Telegraph article is not a bad starting point
In fact the biggest mistake made by the UK is the way it has attempted to become 'competitive' by importing the more ruthless elements of foreign and particulary US business practise to its shores yet neglected to to also bring in the same sort of enforcement processes which countries such as the United States have habitually used to police some of the wilder behaviour of its corporations. At Big Bang the UK completely removed the old broking closed shop that used to run the City of London and the merchant banking sector but at the same time tried to keep the light touch self regulatory 'gentlemans club' rules that were so much a part of the old order. This was a strategy that was doomed to disaster. It failed to realise that the old City establishment was able to self regulate precisely because its restrictive practises on membership etc meant the unoffical blackball could be used to force dodgy traders and bankers into line (ie if you broke the unofficial rules people simply would not do business with you). As a consequence trading in London soon became a free for all. The opportunities offered by the newly open but laxly regulated City was not lost on many foreign financial firms who soon flocked to the UK to carry out ther more dubious trading activities. In that respect much like the English Premier league the City of London has essentially come to be an entity that is largely owned, managed and played by outsiders that for historical reasons just happens to be geographically located in the UK.
I dont think these crises can simply be blamed on national apathy. In fact if the British have a weakness it is a crushing lack of self confidence caused by the collapse of their imperial power in the 20th century which has left them painfully prone to assume that they can not come up with their own solutions to their problems but must import everything from outside, be it economic ideas, corporate practices, fashions, technology, managers and even footballers. It is this desire to be something other than what we really are that is our particular national tragedy
still not totally corrupted nor totally dispirited (or just terrified of losing their well-paid non-productive 'jobs' and ability to pay 'bills') source is good.
Action, reaction, revolt even better.
Exclusive: Corporate power, unrepresentative politicians and apathetic voters leave UK 'increasingly unstable', says study
A study into the state of democracy in Britain over the last decade warns it is in "long-term terminal decline" as the power of corporations keeps growing, politicians become less representative of their constituencies and disillusioned citizens stop voting or even discussing current affairs.
The report by Democratic Audit shared exclusively with the Guardian notes there have been many positive advances over the last 10 years: stronger select committees of MPs holding ministers and civil servants to account; devolution of power to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and publication of much more information about politicians' expenses and party donors. But it found evidence of many other areas where Britain appeared to have moved further away from its two benchmarks of representative democracy: control over political decision-making, and how fairly the system reflects the population it represents a principle most powerfully embedded in the concept of one person, one vote.
Among its concerns, identified from databases of official statistics and public surveys, were that Britain's constitutional arrangements are "increasingly unstable" owing to changes such as devolution; public faith in democratic institutions "decaying"; a widening gap in the participation rates of different social classes of voters; and an "unprecedented" growth in corporate power, which the study's authors warn "threatens to undermine some of the most basic principles of democratic decision-making"...
... "The reality is that representative democracy, at the core, has to be about people voting, has to be about people engaging in political parties, has to be about people having contact with elected representatives, and having faith and trust in elected representatives, as well as those representatives demonstrating they can exercise political power effectively and make decisions that tend to be approved of," said Wilks-Heeg.
"All of that is pretty catastrophically in decline. How low would turnout have to be before we question whether it's really representative democracy at all?" The UK's democratic institutions were strong enough to keep operating with low public input, but the longer people avoided voting and remained disillusioned, the worse the problem would get, said Wilks-Heeg...
...Such shenanigans are hardly likely to restore voters declining faith that Parliament will do the right thing by the country. Nor were this weeks antics in the Commons, which saw the most senior politicians in the land trading insults over the proposed inquiry into the banking industry. It was a sign of Parliaments diminished status that Labour did not appear to consider it a fit and proper place in which to conduct such an inquiry. If MPs no longer trust themselves to act in the public interest, why should the rest of us have faith in them?
This lack of trust in politicians is scarcely new, although it has certainly grown since the expenses scandal. Yet historically, the institution of Parliament itself managed to rise above the incompetence and venality of its occupants. No more. Ever since Britains accession to what was then the EEC in 1973, Parliament has ceded sovereignty to an unaccountable and undemocratic supranational body, undermining its own authority. This sense that we are no longer in control of our own destiny feeds into a view that the wishes of the people are simply ignored by their rulers, who make promises that cannot ever be kept.
This phenomenon is not confined to politics. The atomisation of a once largely homogeneous society; demands for greater transparency in decision-making; increased media scrutiny; the communications revolution all mean that people no longer accept what they are told without question (and that those in power can no longer brush their failings under the carpet). The age of deference to distant and unseen authority has long passed. Indeed, Parliament is by no means the only institution that can no longer rely upon almost unconditional respect. The Church, the police, the media, the judiciary, the BBC, the Civil Service, doctors, teachers and, of course, bankers: just a generation ago, these would have been considered pillars of society. Yet they are all, to a greater or lesser extent, suffering a crisis of trust. The Armed Forces have retained popular esteem, largely because of their sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan; yet this week we have seen them further undermined by cuts in the Army. Of all the traditional institutions, perhaps only the monarchy has emerged relatively unscathed and even that could not have been said just 15 years ago, when its status looked decidedly shaky.
These are dangerous trends. Our nation is built around our institutions, and to see so many in trouble at once is disquieting at a time when so many other uncertainties crowd in on us, not least the grim prospects for the economy. Yet it is hardly surprising that many young people scorn traditional organisations that no longer appear to have faith in themselves, nor seem relevant to their lives in which too many decisions are taken for self-serving, short-term reasons, and too few people are prepared to tell things as they are rather than dissemble.
Whether you're coming at the crux of the problem from the 'left' or the 'right', let's join forces to overthrow this outrageous tyranny (involving, yes, Americanisation and deliberate dumbing-down) and this suicidal sense of hopelessness and apathy.
Last edited Sat Jul 7, 2012, 03:03 PM - Edit history (1)
The Torygraph writers occasionally get something correct (it can take people with actual experience of e.g. banking and high finance to know fully what's going on); but for the most part they are just shrill haters of public services, poor people and minorities, and, since they went online, allies of the anti-Obama Christian Right.
We need to preserve the social safety net and the role of public services against their enemies, and that cannot be done by collaboration with teabaggers and their British equivalents, or with the Colonel Blimp-Rush Limbaugh hybrids who dominate the RW British media! Let the right feel as hopeless and apathetic as possible; while the left increase their activity, together with those who may be apolitical from a party point of view but still value the public services, do not worship the free market as a god, and do not equate poverty with 'choosing' dependency and needing to be cut loose to stand on your own feet.
It is true that people could do more to protest and rebel than they (we) do; but this is oversimplification. I'm not a believer in 'national character'. I'm a believer in policies and circumstances and strategies. A lot of the problem started with Thatcher. Not that things were ever perfect; but Thatcher turned things into something much worse than it had been. And on the way, she weakened the unions so badly as to make it much more difficult to rebel. (Of course that's largely why she did it.) In the process of so doing, she also badly weakened British industry, leading to greater dependence on the financial industry. And the effects have continued. Did the Brits have themselves to blame for voting for Thatcher and accepting her outlook? - yes, certainly. But that is done, and the question is where to go from here.
Then enter globalism. Many of the people who run British institutions are not British (including both Murdoch and Diamond). Many who are British by birth and citizenship choose not to live in Britain (including several tax-haven-dwelling media bosses). My view is that if you are going to have substantial media and business power in the UK, you should be a voting, taxpaying citizen of the UK. You could not be a Cabinet minister if you weren't a British citizen, or lived outside the UK - though Blair would obviously have liked to be an exception to this! - and similarly you should not own a British newspaper or bank if you aren't a resident citizen.
So we're in a mess. But I am not sure that we are more 'apathetic' than many other places. Voting turnout, though down on the past, is still considerably higher in general elections than it is in the USA or many other places where voting isn't compulsory. There have been more protests, demos, strikes, etc in the last couple of years than I remember for a long time; and more, I think, than there were in Thatcher'' times except for the directly affected industries (at any rate until the poll tax proved the last straw). And most places, where there have been massive protests and revolts, have been places where people REALLY had been brought to the edge in ways that we haven't yet here. In those Europaean countries where extremes of austerity have been imposed; and in countries where modern communication technology has now made it possible to resist extreme tyranny. And in many cases, the revolts were not successful or the jury is still out. The miners and steelworkers lost, and Britain lost much with them. Greece has not as yet thrown off austerity. The states of the Arab spring may yet find that they are 'meeting the new boss, same as the old boss'. This is NOT an argument or excuse against protesting! Protest is key to a healthy democracy, and this government badly needs as much protest as possible. It is simply saying that one should first and foremost blame the perpetrators of evil, not their victims who didn't rebel quite enough - just as one should blame the school bully, not the victims who didn't fight back enough.