It’s Time To Take Power Back
Britain Faces the Biggest Crisis of Democracy in its History
Welcome to prime minister Theresa May’s new regime: it represents perhaps the most authoritarian, racist and austerity-obsessed government in British history.
Britain is now being run by an unelected leader presiding over a draconian surveillance-state, hell-bent on accelerating war on the poor and vulnerable, at home and abroad. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the official opposition to this regime is falling apart.
The fight to reclaim our democracy must be ramped up. Now.
Austerity on steroids
May launched her premiership on Wednesday with a grand speech that would not have sounded out of place if spoken by a leader of the Labour Party.
But even though she sacked George Osborne, she has already made clear she has no intention of reversing the former chancellor’s core policies. In fact, while Osborne had begun to slow down his own commitments to austerity as the economy failed to meaningfully improve, May refuses to back down from the government’s commitment to:
]…] continue with its intention to reduce public spending and cut the budget deficit.
May has given lip-service to building a “better Britain” that “works not for a privileged few but for everyone” – but plans to continue brutally cutting public services and even basic welfare benefits that are hitting the poorest, hardest.
As an MP, the new PM has supported the discredited ‘bedroom tax’, voted against higher benefits for people who cannot work due to disability or illness, and voted against public spending to create guaranteed jobs for young people.
She doesn’t want to increase tax against people with incomes over £150,000, voted against a banker’s bonus tax, generally voted to reduce taxes on giant corporations, and overall wants to strangle the power of workers by neutering trade unions.
And that’s just one element of what May stands for.
In her previous incarnation as home secretary, the new PM presided over the controversial ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’ (Prevent) programme, which as The Canary exclusively reported appears to have been influenced by far-right anti-Muslim extremists with ties to neo-Nazis. The programme disproportionately targets ordinary Muslims, and singles out those who criticise government foreign policies and Prevent itself.
Added to that, there is May’s notorious Investigatory Powers Bill.
So far, covert mass surveillance has continued without any legal basis. If May’s Bill is passed, the intelligence services will have wide-ranging legal authority to hack and infiltrate all electronic systems for the purposes of spying. That means covertly installing malware on computers, using keyloggers to monitor all your keystrokes, tapping into telecommunications cables, installing malware on smartphones and so on.
Particularly worrying is that “bulk” surveillance – that is, surveillance of groups, communities and whole societies – can be justified on three simple grounds: national security; preventing or detecting serious crime, and threats to “the economic well-being of the UK”. In other words, basically anything.
A Corbyn-led Labour party, for instance, could be construed as “threatening” the profits of corporate lobbies with a stranglehold over the government.
If anyone has doubts about the dangerous implications for democracy, check out this essay by British intelligence expert Robin Ramsay, delivered to various Labour party branches in 1996. He uses a wealth of declassified documents to show how Britain’s national security state has for decades sought to subvert and manipulate the British left, including the Labour party – even using “surveillance down to the level of trade councils and union branches.”
Kill the environment
Sources inside the Tory party have told Paul Goodman, editor of ConservativeHome, that May plans to fold the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) into the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
The DECC has already been watered down under David Cameron, focusing less on tackling climate change, and more on shilling for the shale oil and gas industry.
But this would ring the death-knell on DECC’s environmental credentials, making the department entirely subsidiary to more important considerations of big business and corporate power.
The new PM’s contempt for the environment is further obvious from her own voting record. She has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change, supported selling off England’s state-owned forests, opposed regulations on fracking, and never even bothered voting on financial incentives for low carbon electricity generation.
Deport the foreigners
Wherever you stand on Brexit, its primary campaign promise was proper immigration controls. Even Nigel Farage promised that the Vote Leave campaign was not targeting Europeans who had already made their homes in Britain.
But May took that further by effectively threatening to deport the three million EU nationals already living in Britain – the same policy advocated by the neo-Nazi BNP.
The alarming undertones of this shouldn’t be underestimated. In times of economic crisis, as we saw in the 1930s, fascism invariably rears its ugly head.
I’m not racist, I just like making jokes about black people
May’s lurch to the far-right is mirrored in her selection of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. But the former Mayor of London, now the face of Britain on the world stage, has a long history of openly racist statements.
Here’s a brief round-up from The Mirror:
Visiting Uganda, Johnson cheerily said to UN workers and their black driver: “Right, let’s go and look at some more piccaninnies.” (The Observer, October 5 2003)
He also wrote: “The Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag waving piccaninnies.” (Daily Telegraph, January 10 2002)
Of Tony Blair’s trip to Africa he said: “The pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief.” (Daily Telegraph, January 10 2002)
And he defended colonialism for boosting Africa’s economy saying: “Left to their own devices, the natives would rely on nothing but the instant carbohydrate gratification of the plantain.” (Spectator 2 February 2002)
More recently, Johnson declared that US President Obama has an “ancestral dislike” of Britain because he is “part-Kenyan.”
Although he has apologised for some of his previous racist ‘jokes’, he has never retracted this appalling statement. In case it’s not blindingly obvious: if you think making jokes about black people is okay and non-racist because you’re joking, you’re racist.
The new colonialism
Adding insult to injury, May’s new trade secretary is none other than the disgraced former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, who was forced to resign from the Cabinet in 2011. Fox had allowed his friend Adam Werritty to masquerade as an official government advisor, while taking vast amounts of money from special interest groups eager to capture government defence policy.
One vehicle for these interests was Fox’s ‘Atlantic Bridge’, a sham charity – later investigated and exposed by the Charity Commission – with close ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the main lobbying arm behind the Tea Party movement in the US, funded by Big Oil, Big Guns, and Big Pharma.
As trade secretary, Fox is well-placed to apply his expertise in corruption and subterfuge to molly-coddle the web of imperial power exposed in a new report by British charity, War on Want. The report, The New Colonialism: Britain’s scramble for Africa’s energy and mineral sources, reveals that a network of British firms now controls over $1 trillion of oil, gas, coal, diamonds, gold and other resources across Africa through mining operations.
The British government facilitates these operations with trade policies that oppose African efforts to regulate and protect their economies from foreign corporate power. The result? While reaping massive profits for British corporations, local democracies and worker rights have eroded.
Fox is already plugged into this web of power. One donor to his joint ventures with Werritty is Mick Davis, who was CEO of the transnational mining firm, Xstrata Plc, until its merger and absorption by Anglo-Swiss giant Glencore in 2013. Glencore Plc is one of the main firms exposed in the War on Want report.
Messing up Brexit
As if this wasn’t bad enough, the Brexit plan is not going to mean less austerity because we’re out of the EU. The priority of May’s government is to protect London’s big financiers.
May’s new chancellor, Philip Hammond, has insisted that austerity remains the right answer to the 2008 financial crash, but promises “a new phase” for the economy.
What does that mean?
In the words of the Financial Times, the new chancellor has:
promised to defend the interests of the City of London in the EU exit negotiations, admitting there was ‘no room for complacency’… Although he said other EU countries had an interest in a strong City, he added: ‘We need to ensure access to the EU single market for our financial services industry in London.’
Observers in the City recognise that the chancellor is not implying a shift away from austerity. Sources at major bank, BNP Paribas, said that Hammond’s comments didn’t mean “fiscal prudence” would be abandoned, but merely revised in terms of timelines.
Market analyst Jasper Lawler of CMC Markets agreed Hammond’s appointment would reassure big financiers previously worried by May’s earlier suggestions that she might reduce austerity.
David Davis, May’s Brexit Minister, is also no enemy of austerity. Whatever his shambolic plan to leave the EU will be, he is committed to empowering corporate finance in the UK.
His MP voting record is similar to that of his new boss. He consistently opposes public spending to create jobs, wants reduced corporation tax, likes astronomical banker bonuses, and wants to weaken trade unions. Davis’ Brexit negotiations won’t be about a “better Britain” for all of us: they’ll be about a “better Britain” for banks and corporations.
As this new regime consolidates itself, the opposition is in increasing disarray. The Labour party faces an escalating mutiny against its own democratically-elected leader. And ironically, one of the chief mechanisms is to suddenly rig the rules so that the party’s new membership has to pay £25 just to vote in the leadership elections.
The chief instigators of the coup against Jeremy Corbyn, whatever you think of him, invariably fail to offer any meaningful alternative to the mix of policies being pursued by the Tories: hawkish military interventionism, support for mass surveillance, fundamental agreement that austerity is the only option, to name a few.
To make matters worse, the entire media-industrial complex has united against the incumbent opposition leader.
A new study from the London School of Economics Department of Media and Communications warns that the British media can no longer meaningfully call itself a “watchdog” of political power. It has, instead, become a “bloodthirsty attackdog” against the main opposition leader. This systematically biased reporting, based on “snarling and barking” at a politician that “happens to challenge the status quo”, say the authors, is “unworthy of a democracy.”
So we now find ourselves in the extraordinary position of watching British democracy crumble before our eyes.
An emboldened Tory regime is preparing for a future of intensifying privatisation, austerity for the poor, welfare for the wealthy, extreme nationalism, institutional racism, and arrogant militarism abroad.
The most popular opposition leader in decades is facing an unrelenting onslaught not only from those in his own party who barely differ from the Tories they claim to oppose, but also from the entire establishment media.
The Tory machine’s ability to pursue an agenda at odds with the interests of the vast majority of the British public is therefore more powerful than ever.
This means that the fight to take back British democracy from regressive vested interests must be stepped up, now. Apathy is not an option. Apathy is what got us here in the first place.
Call to action
Now is the time to take action: action to get educated about our politics, our economics, our societies, our different communities, our environment.
Action to get engaged in all these areas at a grassroots level – no, not just stepping out to the polling booth now and again, or even just joining a party. Action by engaging critically and constructively with the institutions that claim to represent us at multiple levels – whether through turning up, joining, writing, speaking.
Action to show our faces at obscure meetings where vested interests would rather we don’t appear. Principled, ethically-consistent action designed not merely to show a broken system that we will not be ignored, but even more importantly to showcase the vision and values we stand for.
Along with action that creates change outside those institutions, and forces them to look and listen.
Action to change realities at a local level here and now, so we can begin empowering our communities in a way we never thought possible before: growing our own food, collectively; pooling our resources and developing local community investment funds; forming local collectives to facilitate the education of our children; and challenging the increasing encroachment of unaccountable state-corporate power in all areas of life.
We must begin mobilising both within and beyond the existing system.
These actions won’t change our predicament overnight, but they are the baby steps we must take to begin rebuilding British democracy from the ground-up.
By Nafeez Ahmed
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is an award-winning investigative journalist, international security scholar and bestselling author. He is International Editor at The Canary. He writes the ‘System Shift’ column at VICE’s science magazine Motherboard, and is the creator of INSURGEintelligence, a crowdfunded public interest investigative journalism project.