Tuesday, January 19

Conservatives are hollowing out the state and consolidating power: democracy is at stake | Conservatives


meEarlier this year, Michael Gove surprised people by quoting the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci in a speech (the second time he did so), but political theory readers may recognize that the conservatives’ strategy owes more to someone else. Gramsci’s student: the German communist. activist Rudi Dutschke. He coined the term “the long march through the institutions“To describe the strategy of gaining a dominant position in each of the main institutions of society, in Gramcian terms, to gain hegemony.

The Conservatives began their long march in the 1980s by breaking down Britain’s socialist institutions: trade unions were chained, public companies were privatized, and municipal housing was sold. The results were clear: some people became very rich, poverty increased, and inequality widened. No subsequent government reversed these changes, but rather reinforced them. As Tony Blair said about Thatcher: “I always thought that my job was to take advantage of some of the things that she had done instead of reversing them.” Today, a generation of young people is less likely to own their own home and earn less than their parents’ generation, while paying exorbitant rents to parasitic homeowners.

Having attacked the institutions of collectivism in the 1980s, conservatives continue their long march, extending it through the institutions that attempt to level the playing field and regulate government. They come for Britain’s liberal institutions: the BBC, the Election Commission, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the Freedom of Information Act and those pesky “activist lawyers”.

The recent appointments of David Goodhart and Jessica Butcher as commissioners of the EHRC are just one example of this. The commission lost 70% of its funding during George Osborne’s austerity years, but now it is also being emptied philosophically. Goodhart has been recorded as praising the racist “hostile environment” policies that led to the Windrush scandal, while Butcher has suggested that women facing discrimination should “go ‘well come on, I’ll show you'” rather than “cry to someone about how they might have been discriminated against on the basis of gender. ”Someone like the EHRC presumably?

After EHRC report from last week Finding that the Interior Ministry “ignored warnings” about its “hostile environment,” the department must now work with the public body to change its culture and practices. Perhaps that is why conservatives are so willing to pack it up with those least vigilant about discrimination.

For 15 years, the Freedom of Information Act has been of great importance in increasing government transparency and scrutiny. Interestingly, Blair continues to defend the Iraq war, but regrets the act of partially opening the government’s “confidentiality”. Michael Gove clearly shares your skepticism, as under his command the Cabinet Office has established a unit that is actively delaying or blocking the disclosure of information legally required under the law.

Conservative party chair Amanda Milling has said the Electoral Commission should be revised or abolished. Its current president, John Holmes, is being forced out and mandatory voter identification is being discussed, which would suppress working-class voters who are less likely to have an identification, another unwanted import from America, where voter suppression has long been part of the republican strategy. The Electoral Commission has been a brake on the well-financed electoral campaigns of the Conservative Party, as well as the exit campaign in the 2016 referendum.

A couple of months ago, rumors abounded that the BBC was about to impose former conservative donor Richard Sharp as its new chairman (Sharp is also Rishi Sunak’s former boss at Goldman Sachs), while the new CEO, Tim Davie, is the former Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party of Hammersmith and Fulham, and introduced himself as Conservative council candidate.

Priti Patel’s rhetoric about “activist lawyers” may have already sparked the attack on one, but successive cuts to legal aid have had the effect of closing law centers and leaving tenants, benefit applicants, migrants and unrepresented refugees, unable to defend their interests against the state, landlords and corporate interests.

Of course, this does not mean that the Tories have finished with the British socialist or social democratic institutions. David Cameron’s 2016 Trade Union Act, which tightened what were already the most restrictive trade union laws in the Western world, and current proposals to eliminate the union apprenticeship fund, are signs of continuity.

There is also a clear acceleration since the Thatcher era. Under compulsive competitive bidding in the early 1980s, boards shifted from suppliers to buyers who contract services from private companies. The NHS was primed for the same transformation with the creation of the domestic market in the later Thatcher years.

The largest emptying of the NHS and local councils through the Covid-19 pandemic, with Serco and Deloitte Running an inferior test-and-trace system: shows that conservatives know how to put a crisis to good use. Not for those who need effective services during a pandemic, but for those who want to make a profit. Serco’s chief executive has said that such contracts “go a long way toward consolidating the position of private sector companies in the public sector supply chain,” specifically the NHS.

In the 1980s, conservative shifts focused on reducing institutional resistance to free-market capitalism: unions restrained employers, municipal housing acted as a bulwark against landlords, and public ownership demonstrated entrepreneurial potential and the ethics of nonprofit service. The current dumping of Britain’s liberal institutions is to consolidate that position and reduce not just opposition, but scrutiny and the liberal principles of truth, rationality, justice, accountability and democracy. Useful if you are interested in handing out lucrative government contracts to your donors and friends.

Liberals and the left should take a leaf out of Michael Gove’s book and start going over Marxist analyzes of power, because what is being regressed is democracy, and we all have a common interest in defending it against the barbarian kleptocrats who are at the doors. .

• Andrew Fisher was executive director of Labor Party policy from 2016 to 2019

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