Jul 012012

All in it together?

As the frenzy surrounding the Jubilee celebrations dies down, and the inevitable hype of the European Cup has evaporated, we are only left with the Olympics to console us as a national distraction from our economic woes. Not that the Olympics will distract us for long mind, as the enforced and coerced straightjacket of global-corporate branding will give island Britain very little opportunity to express the wide and diverse range of its authentic voices. The Olympic message is pre-packaged, pre-heated and, quite frankly, nothing but naked totalitarianism.

Under the ideology of brand-management, the individual freedom of British communities to express themselves has been squashed. The Olympic Torch passes through Melton Mowbray on 3rd July, but what difference can a small market town like Melton make when the story is tightly controlled and managed by LOCOG? The organisers of the London Olympics wont dare let anyone deflect these local events away from the centrally defined message. This is a chance for London to share in the power of global super-brands alongside global corporate organisations. These organisations claim to be on our side, but don’t play any meaningful role in our communities. Coca Cola and MacDonald’s bring us better lives, they say, but once the torch has moved on, so will the super-brands.

The power of executive management, branding and global corporate organisations have defined Britain for some time now. Small elites of super-connected individuals have been able to ‘executively manage’ Britain with impunity. Spending and wasting billions on half-baked projects that have no meaningful checks and balances in place to provide accountability and stability. Since the 1980s British political life has been about how a tightknit clique of people can get to the top of the centralised state and exert executive control over the machine of government. To make it do what they believe should be in the interests of themselves and people like them. This was the model that the Labour Party accepted with New Labour in the 1990s, and which the Tories initially struggled to re-brand in the 2000’s.

The present attempts by Britain’s governing coalition of Conservative and Liberal Democrats to maintain this model of governance are looking shaky and increasingly fragile. This particular brand of politician wants to be treated like CEO’s for some international conglomerate. A conglomerate that is recognised for its brand identity only, but which is otherwise faceless and shadowy. The decision making process they use is opaque. While the rhetoric extols the heroic nature of ‘crucial decisions’ and ‘doing whatever it takes’, these are nothing but power-plays that boost the image of each politician’s individual prowess and executive autonomy. Their aim might not be sky-high salaries while in government, but they are likely to earn millions when they leave office. Their grip on power is justified, however, along the same terms as the CEO of many international corporations, in the name of the market and of ‘talent’. There can be no independent corroboration of their abilities, and we are told that there is no way to test if the two are not mutually exclusive.

Britain has been governed since the 1980s, off-and-on, by so-called strong leaders who have sought to express themselves through simple slogans. ‘The lady is not for turning’, ‘New Labour, New Britain’, ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’, and more recently ‘We are all in it together’. As the economy hovers, however, on the edge of a meltdown even worse than the great depression of the 1930s, it would be appropriate for us to reflect on what has brought us to this place. Particularly, it is time to start thinking about our self-delusions, those things that brought us to the point of self-imposed, reckless austerity being seen as the only answer to our economic problem. When in fact, all of the evidence is suggesting that austerity is leading us nowhere. In this maelstrom of self-delusion one phrase resonates and cuts-through more than any other. ‘We are all in it together’. And yet, recent events and news about the crisis in banking practices have convinced us that this is far from the truth.

George Osborne’s empty soundbite and slogan has been found out for what it is. It is a vapid and narrow papering. A veneer over the ideological dismantling of the British state and the imposition of the rule of one class over another – in perpetuity and without a single shot being fired. George Osborne minted this sound bite in order to justify the most extreme fiscal contraction the British economy has seen for many generations. The aim was to bind the British people into a neo-liberal drive towards a smaller state that would be founded on low taxes, individual reliance and hand-bag economics that equates good governance with simple moralism. Cameron, Clegg and Osborne banged on about how the country had ‘maxed-out’ its credit card, how we were next in line to be trashed by the financial markets, and how private companies would ride to our rescue and rush in to fill the gap that was being cleared for them with the dismantling of the state.

Never has so sudden an economic turn-around been imposed with such scant evidence. As Nick Cohen argues in today’s Observer, “Although it is easy to damn David Cameron, Nick Clegg and, above all, George Osborne, as boys doing men’s jobs, it is not true that they are incapable of taking bold decisions. In 2010, they took the audacious step of stopping Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling’s Keynesian efforts to nurse Britain out of the crash.”

So what is the starting point for getting us out of this mess? Actually there is a simple approach that can make effective headway almost immediately. Adopting, turning and using the slogan ‘We are all in it together’ as the battle-cry of a coalition of patriots, progressives and radicals. Cheering this slogan back at George Osborne and his clique would drown-out the message of the neo-liberals, who so plainly don’t want us to all be in this together. Adopting this slogan to challenge the powerful elites and corporate executives jetting around the world with impunity would serve as a reminder that corporate capitalism has a single purpose, and that is to serve society, and not the other way around. ‘We are all in this together’ resonates as an ideal that is clear, heartfelt and something that can be taken up by diverse communities of different backgrounds and different expectations, but who all recognise that the extreme individualism of the past should be consigned to the past.

There are calls for a debate about how we renew social capitalism as an essential part of our social democracy, our civic society and the moral fabric of our nation. To be sustainable this re-evaluation of our economic sustainability has to find wide-based agreement and support founded on a moral and ethical democracy that is transparent and fair. If we are all in it together, then bankers will face prison for their crimes alongside rioters. The powerful will have to negotiate and agree their freedoms along with the powerless. The global will have to negotiate with the local to agree their freedom of action. The short-term needs of industry will have to be negotiated with the long-term sustainability of the eco-system. And the Olympic ideal of peaceful competition without the burden of politics, religion, or racism might be achieved – only now we might want to include ‘corporate might’ within the core of these ideals as we wake up to the dangers of executive dominance and self-serving rip-off capitalism.

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