Whoever wins the election it will be business as usual

Saturday, 25th April 2015

I wish ballot papers had an extra box titled None of the above for I might very well be tempted to use it. None of the parties have a coherent set of policies that can deal with the fundamental stresses and strains of our overheated economy and overburdened environment, but some have policies I can at least sympathise with.

According to conventional wisdom large companies support the Tory Party, but may I suggest a better barometer to gauge which way the wind is blowing. Over the last 40 years successive governments, Labour, Tory and Coalition, have overseen a transfer of power away from local institutions and small businesses to global corporations and supranational institutions. While the media present a dichotomy between a generous Labour Party and a prudent, but stingy, Conservative Party, both have pursued different aspects of the same basic strategy. It may surprise some to hear Tory leaders defend high levels of net migration, advocate the redefinition of marriage, support EU expansion and favour more childcare subsidies rather than shorter working weeks. These are all policies New Labour fully embrace as do many business leaders. They need government to create the conditions in whch they can prosper and expand their commercial empires. So let's look at key election issues through the eyes of the CEO of a large multinational:

PolicyBig Business (Leftwing Tories, LibDems)Faux Left (Labour, SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru)Faux Right (Right Tories / UKIP)
EconomyMore growth, at all costsMore growth, but a little more for the poor and platitudes about green growthMore growth, but bigger tax breaks for the rich
European UnionLove it. Let’s Expand the EU to Vladivostok and then join NAFTALove it. We’re all European now.Sceptical
MilitaryWe need to secure privileged access to key global resourcesWe may ditch Trident nuclear missiles, but we support a European Defence Force and continued interventions in foreign conflicts. Greens and Left Labour may oppose NATO and some Middle East wars, but still support the concept of interventionism.Let’s spend more on killing machines. However, UKIP is sceptcal about recent interventions.
Trident nuclear missile systemWe should pool our resources with other key global players. Trident belongs to the old US-centred worldLeft labour, SNP, PL and Green want to ditch Trident. LibDems want to downscale it.We need a nuclear deterrent in a dangerous world. UKIP pretend Trident would somehow be an independent nuclear deterrent.
US-led Military Intervention in trouble zonesIf it’s good for American big business, it’s probably good for us, but let’s do business with China and India tooWe may pretend to oppose it. Greens and Left Labour often oppose military intervention, but Labour tends to support it on alleged humanitarian grounds.Ditto. UKIP opposed recent military escapes in Iraq, Libya and Syria, but support NATO.
EnergyWe need more by all means, conventional, nuclear and renewables.Love renewables, hate pollution. Let’s outsource nasty energy sourcesClimate change and peak oil are false alarms. Let’s frack away and get rid of ugly wind turbines.
ImmigrationLove it. Good for economic growthWonderful, we are all human beingsLet’s control immigration, but deregulate trade
Free tradeLove it. We need more.Love it, but let’s try to regulate multinationals. However, the SNP want to lower corporation taxes to attract inward investment.Love it. Let’s have more. Only UKIP claim they would regulate labour mobility and protect some small businesses against global competition.
Public HealhcareWe need to grow the health market and sell more medication and services, but we need government to pay for it.Spend, spend, spend until we go broke and blame the Tories for all NHS failings.Spend a bit a less and keep quiet about backdoor privatisation plan, but blame Labour for NHS inefficiency.
DebtEconomic growth will pay for itLet’s pay off a littleLet’s pay off a little more
WelfareWe need welfare to subsidise mass consumption and regulate social conflictsLet’s ask big business to subsidise the poor in rich countriesLet’s wean people off welfare dependency
More mental healthcareLove it. We need happy and loyal workers and consumers.Love it. We must expand the range of potential victim groupsSceptical
More subsidised childcareWe need more female sales supervisors and project managers to drive economic growth and supervise truculent or socially inept male engineers. Let’s keep children away from mothers in creches so they can consume our subtle advertisingLove it, all for women’s rights and blaming working class men for women's problems. Slightly sceptical, but dare not admit it

Now let us briefly consider likely electoral outcomes.

  • Outright conservative win: Big business stays in control, but must tame the traditionalist Eurosceptic faction. LibDems may offer demand and supply support in key votes with a large number of Tory rebels. However, barring a huge surge in support away from UKIP and LibDems, the Tories are unlikely to win a majority of seats except by the slimmest of margins.
  • Tory/LibDem Coalition: This remains the most likely outcome if the LibDems can muster at least 20 seats though it may rely on demand and supply support from Ulster’s Democratic Unionist Party
  • Tory / UKIP / DUP Pact: Not going to happen. UKIP is unlikely to gain more than 10 seats, but if it did it would do so at the expense of both Tories and Labour and not really affect the likely balance of power. Many pro-EU tories would defect and join forces with other coalition partners and large corporations would be unlikely to support Britain’s exit from the EU.
  • Labour / SNP Pact: While this may alienate traditionalist English voters, big business may just support it in the full knowledge that they will be unable to fulfil their ambitious spending promises.
  • Labour / LibDem Coalition: This is a very likely outcome if Labour can win around 35%+ of the popular and Tories fail to get much more than 32%. With Labour just 20 odd seats short of an overall majority according to UK Polling Report and the LibDems still likely to win 20 odd seats. However, they may just rely on external supply and demand support from Plaid Cymru or SDLP should the new coalition fall short of an overall majority by just a few seats. Labour can drop some of its more ambitious spending plans. An interesting outcome would be if a LibLab coalition fell 10-20 or more seats short of majority and had to reach to accommodation with the SNP. A likely concession would be to ditch Trident.
  • ConLab Coalition: This is not as far-fetched as many observers would like to believe. Big business would rather maintain the façade of a democratic choice between caring Labour and entrepreneurial Conservatives. However, if continued membership of European Union and free labour movement remain critical for large multinationals, they may do anything to prevent UKIP or the Greens from gaining any decisive influence over government. A ConLab coalition would probably see the defection of some leftwing Labour MPs to the Greens or alternative far-left groupings, but the gulf between official Labour and pro-EU Tories is minimal. They agree on defence, the EU, migration and economic growth. While the First Past the Post electoral system will probably enable Labour or the Tories to form a government with some combination of the smaller parties, it may very well happen if the SNP continue to make irresponsible public spending demands on a potential miniority Labour administration with a significantly weakened Liberal Democrat presence, or if global economic meltdown (which would adversely the UK more than most countries) forces the government to make some very unpopular decisions.

Ungreen Greens

On the environment, energy and defence, I’d instinctively vote Green. However, short of a world-wide revolution, their 2015 manifesto is not remotely viable. A Green government would simply be powerless to regulate or tax UK-based global corporations much more without effectively biting the hand that feeds them. How could they hope to increase spending on social welfare, health and affordable housing if big businesses simply move their operations abroad significantly reducing their tax base. The Green manifesto is little more than a politically correct wish list. I certainly agree with the Greens on scrapping Trident, banning hydraulic fracturing and phasing out nuclear power, renationalising railways, limiting car usage in busy urban areas and investing more in public transport. I welcome investment in renewable energy and remote working to cut unnecessary travel, but fear without changing our growth-obsessed economic model little will change and wind turbines, solar panels and wave power will fail to allow the continuation of business as usual. All other Green policies, on welfare, migration, taxation, healthcare or education, are based on the assumption of continued economic prosperity enabling us to import the required resources. In ideal world we would not need any immigration controls as a rebalanced world economy would not offer any significant economic motivation for emigration. There would just be a limited and balanced exchange of professionals, academics and tourists. However, in a grotesquely unequal world mass migration is both a symptom and a cause of much socio-economic instability that tends to favour big business much more than ordinary workers. Unlike PC Greens, I’m quite happy to make sacrifices to give my grandchildren a more sustainable future. I want better and fairer healthcare, not more money squandered on mass medication and bureaucracy. I want fairer taxation, but do not want to fund a bloated welfare state on the proceeds of greedy corporations. Indeed I want to tightly regulate big business and promote small local businesses to enable more people to play an active role shaping our technological future. I do not want more retail growth, but would rather pay more for many commodities to ensure fair wages, reduce waste and lengthen the operational lifetime of most goods. None of this can happen while we need to milk banks and global corporations to subsidise welfare dependence while requiring us to import goods from low-wage economies. More important, it will very hard to tackle any of our environmental problems unless we address another consequence of the UK’s unsustainable economic growth, namely unsustainable migration-driven population growth. The Greens repeat the oft-recycled claim that immigration drives economic growth, but fail to question whether we need the kind of import-led retail expansion that a greater population in a small country inevitably causes.

Unsustainable economic policies are not only bad for the environment, but also adversely affect the most vulnerable members of society. Let us consider the likely real world consequences of the Green’s current manifesto commitments. On the one hand they would impose higher tax on billionaires and large corporations, regulate big business, cut military spending and ban hazardous high-risk energy extraction and generation techniques. Such policies would shrink the economy, which is all well and good, if like me you are more concerned with long-term stability than short-term growth. However, shrinking the economy would require us to cut welfare spending and without strict import controls a downsized would see unemployment soar. Only by relocalising the many industries and services we have outsourced can we achieve full employment, while effectively deflating our economy to a level that we can sustain in the long run.

If the Greens had their way, large corporations would inevitably just transfer their activities to countries with lower taxes, fewer regulations and lower salaries. As a result millions of workers would be jobless at a time when the government would be less able to pay their welfare bill. More important bankers would be less willing to lend money to governments intent on limiting consumer demand and with it corporate profits.

We need to transition away from our reliance on cheap finite fossil fuels and an energy-intensive global economic system towards a more sustainable and regionally localised system. Likewise, if the UK were only concerned with national defence, rather than meddling in other countries' affairs or serving US foreign policy objectives, we could significantly rationalise military spending in line with Japan, Germany, Spain or Italy. Currently, the UK still has the world’s fifth highest defence budget (after Saudi Arabia). Yet, we cannot cut energy consumption or scrap the US-controlled Trident nuclear missile system, unless we change our over-reliance on global trade and absurd obsession with economic growth at all costs. The only way a largely service-based economy can grow is to import more resources from the rest of the world. When retail sales fall, growth-obsessed economists start to worry. Services in the form of restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals, marketing offices or social work departments consume resources, largely for transport, building maintenance, equipment and catering. The more we consume, the more rubbish we generate. The more we obsess with hygiene, the more effluent we dump in our sewers. All aspects of our post-modern lives from healthcare to holidays, commuting to grocery shopping consume resources. Life has become almost inconceivable without washing machines, power showers, electric cookers, hairdryers, fast transportation and multimedia communication, all of which rely on elaborate infrastructure and cheap energy.

The Greens are unlikely to gain more than 2 to 3 seats (and may well lose their only seat Brighton), but they may just sway the balance of power in some strategic issues, especially if future electoral reform affords small parties more seats. However, given the key importance of economic growth to vested commercial interests, who also happen to control most of the media, very few of the Green's environmental policies will see the light of day, except perhaps some token cycle lanes in congested urban areas. They may just win local referendums on hydraulic fracturing or new nuclear power plants, but one the corporate media explain without such new sources of energy people may have to forgo the convenience of cheap motoring, air travel and affordable winter heating, the Greens may not win over the general public. However, they may sway votes on other contentious issues on immigration, welfare reform and the European Union, where ironically they may be on the same side as big business. 

Coalition Record

Five years on, big business seems very much still in control. The same social trends that started under Thatcher and were rebranded under Labour have continued unabated under the Cameron/Clegg partnership. Fewer young adults can afford a house, the rich/poor gap continues to widen, the country’s debt keeps rising and its population is rising at the fastest rate since the end of WW2, largely through unsustainable migratory flows. Despite initial scepticism, the government has not lost its appetite for meddling in other countries' affairs with disastrous military interventions in Libya, Syria and Iraq. Yet if we believe the raw numbers, the economy keeps growing. The Tories can blame the LibDems for their failure to bring down net migration, while the LibDems can blame the Tories for their failure to tackle inequality. Whenever anything goes wrong, the government of the day can simply blame either their predecessors or their coalition partners.

After 13 years of New Labour rule and mounting public and private debt following the 2008 financial meltdown, many greeted the new common sense Coalition with a sigh of relief. Maybe they would not commit British armed forces to foreign military intervention we ill-understand. Maybe they would deal with long-term worklessness and enable young people to learn valuable practical skills. Maybe they would regulate big corporations rather than private citizens. However, beyond the rhetoric we were only dreaming. The so-called ConDem coalition brought us more of the same NewLabourite policies. Even their cuts in public sector spending were moderate compared to much tougher reductions in other European countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal or Greece, all with comparable national debts, but much lower household debts. Despite all the empty talk of fiscal responsibility, the government continued with the previous administration’s quantitive easing (QE) and reliance on property speculation and service sector for economic growth.

On the ground Labour have lost much of their traditional working class base to the SNP in Scotland and to UKIP in provincial England. Their core vote is now wishful thinking Guardian Readers, ethnic minorities and welfare dependents. However, as Tower Hamlets and Bradford West show, Labour’s rainbow coalition is unlikely to withstand the rise of identity politics in Britain’s disparate communities.

Shifting Alliances

Many observers wrongly assume big business simply wants to ally UK PLC with the USA and NATO. The global balance of power is shifting fast away from North America and Western Europe to China, India, Russia and Brazil. China is now the world’s industrial superpower, while India’s economy will soon overtake the UK. Both will need resources available in Russia, South America and Africa. Big business has always wanted one thing above all, to expand markets and maximise profits for its share-holders. It will forge alliances with any national or regional state organisation likely to further these aims. It sees the European Union as a microcosm of a future borderless New World Order. If the EU expands potentially to Turkey and Western Ukraine, it will lose its original Eurocentrism and encompass a far wider range of cultures and income levels, which will inevitably transform the welfare state from an essential component of socially cohesive society to a mere enabler of greater labour mobility and faster rates of cultural change.

In the evolving world of the early 21st century, large corporations can no longer afford to place all their eggs in one basket and will push regional trading blocks and military alliances to merge and cooperate. Thus the likes of City of London, BP, Shell, Monsanto, Walmart, Sinopec (China), Volkswagen Group, Samsung, Gazprom (Russia) and even Apple and Microsoft ( see full list ) are actually much keener on facilitating global trade than on siding with the US against Russia or China. That’s why the LibDems have already indicated they want a cheaper alternative to Trident, but are very keen on the new European Defence Force (to deploy against rebels denying corporate access to key resources).

Reading between the lines

You might think the Greens care most about the environment, the SNP and Plaid Cymru care most about Scotland and Wales and UKIP care most about autonomy from the European Union, but you may soon be very disappointed for none can win the coming general election. Whoever wins, the same corporate forces will be working behind the scenes to ensure big-business-friendly outcomes in a dynamic globalised economy. Listen carefully and consider what policy decisions these small political lobbies may change one way or another. To Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP and Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru, continued membership of the European Union seems much more important than the nominal independence of their countries. They have openly stated that any future referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU must have the consent of a majority of Welsh and Scots too. The Greens see the EU as a vehicle for cultural and environmental change and imagine joining forces with green movements across Europe to challenge corporate power. All three left-of-centre parties welcome increased immigration and deplore calls for stricter controls to restore greater migratory balance. In short, rather than offer a viable alternative to Labour, the three smaller notionally left-leaning parties present a more radically universalist vision at odds with the conservative views of their electorates. They pander to low-income and welfare-dependent voters through vain promises to oppose all cuts, raise the minimum wage or spend more on healthcare, while expecting someone else, whether taxpayers in other parts of the UK or transnational corporations, to fund their social engineering projects. If you believe the SNP, we can save a bundle by scrapping Trident, approx. 3-4 billion year if we take Greenpeace’s estimate of 97 billion over the missile system’s 30 year lifespan. With a growing population, the UK will need to invest heavily in healthcare, education, new housing and transport infrastructure, while its armed forces are likely to join ranks with NATO and the new European Defence Agency. As a result, a future Labour/LibDem government may well opt for a much cheaper nuclear deterrent or to scrap Trident altogether. Even voices within the Ministry of Defence oppose Trident renewal. The former head of the armed forces, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, the retired Army generals Lord Ramsbotham and Sir Hugh Beach, and Major General Patrick Cordingley signed a letter to The Times that stated:

“Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently face or are likely to face, particularly international terrorism. Our independent deterrent has become irrelevant, except in the context of domestic politics.”

However, scrapping Trident will be a pyrrhic victory if the British Isles remains integrated in a military alliance with the United States and EU in future conflicts such as a potential standoff with Russia over Eastern Ukraine. We could soon see some rapidly shifting alliances as the mainstream Western media up their rhetoric against Russia to swing public opinion in favour of rapid rearmament.

As the debt crisis mounts worldwide, we can soon expect another banking meltdown. This will provide a coalition government with an excellent excuse to scale back some of their spending plans. The NHS may simply become unaffordable. I suspect only a rhetorically leftwing coalition could privatise it, possibly by signing an international treaty for Global Health Insurance system. Expect the rich-poor gap to continue to grow and for larger and larger pockets of the Third World to take root in Western Europe. With the rise of the SNP and Anglo-centric UKIP, the UK will soon become little more than anachronism. A potential left-of-centre LibLabSNP pact may well be short-lived as a precursor to a divided Kingdom integrated with an enlarged EU / NAFTA trading block.

Verdict: The Business Party will win and the electorate will once again be bitterly disappointed as world events eclipse parochial UK politics.

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