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The Establishment: And how they get away with it – OWEN JONES

November 24, 2016

teahtgawiAs with Chavs, the author tells us everything we need to know in the forward – the rest of the book fleshes it out.

There’s some repetition of material already in Chavs.

Many reviewers, even in The Guardian, have criticised him for things he never said or even refuted.

He exposes the financial shenanigans of Philip Green long before he came to pubic attention.

The idea of an “establishment” was first popularised in the mid 1950s by the journalist Henry Fairlie, who coined the term to describe how the elite networks at the top of British society closed ranks to protect their own. The particular instance he had in mind was the way the families of the Soviet spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean had been protected by their friends in high places, inside and outside of government (Fairlie’s establishment stretched from the BBC to the Church of England). Fairlie did not think ideology was the glue that held the establishment together: after all, these people weren’t helping out because they sympathised with communist defectors. It was an unthinking allegiance based on personal connections. Social ties trumped political ones. What mattered, Fairlie said, was not what you believe, but “who you know”.

Jones quotes the blogger and inveterate political troublemaker Paul Staines (aka “Guido Fawkes”) talking about the political class: “I hate the fucking thieving cunts.”

Yet on Jones’s account Staines is one of the ins, not one of the outs, because he is fully signed up to the idea that the state needs to be pared back to the minimum. He belongs to the ideological “outriders” of the new establishment, in a tradition stretching back to Hayek in the 1940s. By attacking the self-serving rapacity of politicians, he is doing the dirty work of the economic and power elites for them, since he is making it far harder for any politician to take them on.

Why did they go for the comedian Jimmy Carr and not for the many big figures in the City who have engaged in tax “minimisation”? Because, he argues, Carr has fewer friends in high places.

His solution is a ‘democratic revolution’. The trouble is that the masses would need to be educated to withstand the lies of the media.

Chapter 1 – The Outriders

In this chapter, Jones discusses think tanks and groups which function to push the Overton Window, including the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies, the Adam Smith Institute, the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Jones claims that these are all groups that pose as non-partisan grassroots organisations but that actually have an agenda to push right wing policies. They receive funding from and contain many members with links to the Conservative Party.

Chapter 2 – The Westminster Cartel

This chapter discusses the political system in Britain and how it has changed over the years. It discusses the revolving door between politicians in the UK and big business, quoting for example, that 46% of the most profitable companies in Britain have an MP on their board of directors or as a shareholder. It discusses the Church of England’s relationship with British politics, and claims that many decisions made in parliament financially benefit the MPs that make the decisions, quoting a Daily Mirror report that at least 40 MPs stood to gain financially from changes made in privatising the NHS.

Chapter 3 – Mediaocracy

This chapter discusses the British Media, and its relationship with both the outriders discussed in the first chapter, and the politicians discussed in the second. Jones claims that the wealthy people that control much of the press have interests closely aligned with the establishment, and therefore tend to promote the establishments views, rather than the views of their readers, saying, “The British people are not being served by a media that exists to inform them, to educate them, to understand the realities of the country they live in and the world around them. Instead, much of the media is a political machine, lobbying for the often personal objectives of their owners. The media and political elites are frequently deeply intertwined, sharing as they do many of the same assumptions about how society should be run and organized.”

Chapter 4 – The Boys in Blue

This chapter discusses the British police force and their role within the establishment. It discusses a number of incidents which involved the police including Plebgate, the Hillsborough disaster and the News International phone-hacking scandal, and uses these incidents to highlight the complex relationships the police have with the media and politicians, and how these are often at odds with the ‘policing by consent’ model that the British police adopt. Jones claims that due to recent political changes which effectively privatise and incentivize areas of the police force “Britain faces the prospect of police forces policing by consent of their shareholders rather than their communities.”

Chapter 5 – Scrounging off the State

This chapter discusses the establishment’s relationship with The State. It describes how recent governments have been privatizing previously public services, including the NHS, by following free-market ideologies, whilst at the same time, the establishment demonises benefits fraud and makes cut-backs and imposes austerity measures on those at the bottom of the financial pyramid. Jones points out what he believes to be a contradiction in this position, where big business rely on the state to provide infrastructure, education to their workers, and also to subsidise their low wages with income and housing benefit relief. Jones calls this a form of “socialism of the rich”.

Chapter 6 – Tycoons and Tax Dodgers

This chapter discusses how big businesses in Britain avoid paying tax. It gives several examples of companies who have complex systems set up to avoid tax, and it discusses how the big accounting firms give advice to the government on the drafting of their tax laws and then use this information to advise their clients on how to avoid paying tax. It discusses how these practices are legal but cost the country huge amounts of money. It contrasts this with the other end of the financial scale where people on low income convicted of benefits fraud are jailed, despite the amounts in question being a fraction of those lost to big businesses avoiding tax. Jones also discusses the difficulties in imposing effective legislation to combat tax avoidance in a global marketplace.

Chapter 7 – Masters of the Universe

This chapter discusses the financial sector, which Jones claims is a threat to British democracy. Jones discusses how the role of the City has changed over the years and talks about the bailout of the banks in 2008 and the subsequent quantitative easing employed to revitalise the financial sector at the expense of taxpayers. Jones also discusses the PR companies that represent the financial sector and their close relationship with politicians and the media. For example, he discusses the top financial publicity firm the Brunswick Group, “When Brunswick founder Alan Parker got married in 2007, his wedding guests included then Prime Minister Gordon Brown – whose wife Sarah was a Brunswick partner – and David Cameron. Brown is godfather to Parker’s son, while Parker and Cameron holidayed with each other in South Africa in March the following year. At the beginning of 2008 – just months before financial calamity struck – Brown appointed Brunswick’s CEO Stephen Carter as his Chief of Staff. Parker’s sister, Lucy Parker, is a Brunswick partner who, after David Cameron entered Number 10, headed up the government’s taskforce on Talent and Enterprise. Brunswick has gone fishing for talent in the Murdoch empire, too: one senior partner is David Yelland, former editor of The Sun.”

Chapter 8 – The Illusion of Sovereignty

This chapter discusses the British establishment’s relationship with America and with the EU and how that has changed over time. It discusses historical events which have shaped Britain’s special relationship with America. It also discusses Britain’s relationship with the EU and how that represents a different dynamic with regard to what British people regard as The State and The Establishment.

Conclusion – A Democratic Revolution

Here, Jones gives a broad summary of the preceding chapters and the complex relationships between the groups which make up the establishment, and how through common interest rather than any sort of organised conspiracy, it has become a vehicle to serve the rich and powerful. He then goes on to give a number of examples of groups and ideas which aim to improve the system by challenging the systems described elsewhere in the book, stating that people should be working towards a “democratic revolution”.

For example, he describes the work of think tanks such as Class and The New Economics Foundation; activist groups such as UK Uncut’s work on forcing politicians and media to deal with tax avoidance by big business and wealthy individuals; the Occupy movement highlighting inequality; anti-austerity campaigners such as Disabled People Against Cuts, the People’s Assembly (of which Jones himself is involved) and The Green Party. Jones claims that these disparate groups need to organise to form a coherent and credible alternative to the current status quo which resonates with a mass audience.

Jones then goes on to describe some proposals which he believes would help to reassert the democracy which he claims has been lost in modern Britain. Some of these are: Higher top rates of tax; “Democracy in the workplace”, citing Co-determination – Germany’s model of employee representation within company board meetings; A system of “democratic public ownership” of key utilities such as railways, electricity companies and banks; laws to shut the revolving door of politics including banning MPs from taking up second jobs.

He calls for the government to adopt an “industrial policy based on an active, interventionist state” but explains that this does not represent a “statist” model as has been seen in the past, but rather a new model whereby taxpayers have representation and ownership within the systems they pay into.

Quotations:

It’s important to point out that when post-war Britain had higher taxes on the rich, stronger trade unions and widespread state inter­vention in the economy, it also experienced higher levels of economic growth which was more evenly distributed than today. Today’s Establishment — formed from the late 197os onwards — has presided over a Britain with lower levels of growth, which has been less evenly distributed, as well as the three great economic crises of post-war Brit­ain: the early 1980s, the early 1990s, and post-2008.

Here, it’s worth reiterating that the book is an explicit rejection of the idea that the Establishment represents a conscious, organized con­spiracy. Sure, there are undoubtedly specific conspiracies, from police cover-ups to tax avoidance on an industrial scale. Yet the whole prem­ise of the book is that the Establishment is bound by shared economic interests and common mentalities. There is no need for any overarch­ing planned conspiracy against democracy. The Establishment is an organic, dynamic system.

my deep attraction to the idea of the ‘Overton Window’, a concept invented by US conservatives to describe what is deemed pol­itically possible at any given time.

Governments enter and leave office, and yet the Establishment remains in power.

Developing out of a primary focus on the environ­ment, the Greens offer policies that represent a genuine assault on the Establishment: a statutory living wage, public ownership, workers’ rights, higher taxes on the rich and companies, a clampdown on tax avoidance, a council-house building programme, and so on.

Yet Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system represents a formid­able obstacle to any new party.

Here is what I understand the ‘Establishment’ to mean. Today’s Establishment is made up — as it has always been — of powerful groups that need to protect their position in a democracy in which almost the entire adult population has the right to vote. The Establishment represents an attempt on behalf of these groups to `manage’ democracy, to make sure that it does not threaten their own interests. In this respect, it might be seen as a firewall that insulates them from the wider population. As the well-connected right-wing blogger and columnist Paul Staines puts it approvingly: ‘We’ve had nearly a century of universal suffrage now, and what happens is cap­ital finds ways to protect itself from — you know — the voters.’

Bailed-out banks; state-funded infrastructure; the state’s pro­tection of property; research and development; a workforce educated at great public expense; the topping up of wages too low to live on; numerous subsidies — all are examples of what could be described as a ‘socialism for the rich’ that marks today’s Establishment.

“New Labour thought it could keep winning without tackling some of the things that progressive politics should be challenging. They regarded elections as in the bag. They didn’t need to go further or to challenge the Thatcherite settlement. As a result, millions of citizens find themselves unrepresented by conventional politics. Even mild shifts by the Labour leadership away from the establishment’s group think trigger a frenzied response. A narrow consensus is zealously guarded and policed.”

“Future generations will surely look back with a mixture of astonishment and contempt at how British society is currently organised.”

“Private interests are completely dependent upon state largesse if they are to prosper, and thus they should pay up accordingly.”

Chris Bryant, a Labour shadow minister, knows just how frighten­ing it can be to end up on the wrong side of a media baron. Bryant, a blunt, sardonic man, has an odd background for a Labour MP. As a student, he was an officer of the Oxford University Conservative Association; he then became a priest, before deciding it was inconsis­tent with being gay. When he was elected as a Labour MP for the solidly working-class South Wales constituency of the Rhondda in 1997, he was seen as an unwavering leadership loyalist. But his appar­ently uncontroversial politics would not save him from his whole life being turned upside down by media barons.

The Murdoch empire ‘operated by fear and favour’, Chris Bryant tells me in his House of Commons office; he speaks in the past tense because, rather optimistically, he believes its stranglehold over the political elite has come to an end. ‘Whether granting a political favour in supporting you in a general election through your newspapers, or just inviting you to smart dinners to watch the tennis, whilst at the same time having the threat that if you do us over, we can do you over individually or individual members or your Government.’

In 2003, Rebekah Brooks, then editor of The Sun, had been sum­moned to answer questions before the House of Commons Culture and Media Select Committee, of which Bryant was a part. He asked her directly whether she had ever paid police officers, and she responded that the newspaper had. It was an illegal practice, and yet at the time it was barely reported. ‘God knows, I tried to get it cover­age,’ Bryant says. ‘In the end I think it may well be because quite a lot of newspapers were doing it and no newspaper would shoot at another newspaper, it was a code of thieves really.’ As part of the Select Com­mittee, Bryant also criticized other newspapers for the same practice: ‘I did all of them in the course of five weeks and, by the end of the year, all of them took their revenge by doing a fairly hefty attack on my sexuality.’

It was a humiliating experience. ‘I think they bided their time,’ Bry­ant says, ‘they waited, and then they caught me and the stupidity was I let them catch me.’ Newspapers published salacious details of his use of a gay dating website, including the seeking of sexual encounters with other men. Most embarrassingly of all, they splashed a photo­graph of him posing naked except for his underpants. Other prurient stories were dredged up, whether based in fact or not. ‘Apparently I forced seven men to perform fellatio on me at the same time while singing “Things can only get better” on the night of the General Elec­tion in 1997,’ he says with a wry smile. ‘That’s quite impressive.’ Bryant was reduced to a wreck. ‘It was really horrible at the time,’ he recalls. ‘I didn’t sleep for three months. I literally shook for 24 hours after they came and turned up on my doorstep. It felt like I was being violated. I had a stalker, I had people on my doorstep, they pub­lished my address in the newspaper.’ The response to Bryant’s criticism had been ruthless. One former Daily Mail journalist passed on a message to one of Bryant’s friends: ‘We hope you’ll be dead by Christmas.’

[And I bet the photo wasn’t from Gaydar – no self-respecting gay man with any taste would wear cheap, dirty Y Fronts like those.]

You have a fiduciary responsibility as a company director to make sure you do the right thing for the company and there’s nothing in company law about doing the right thing for society.’

And yet this is not an accurate representation of the law at all. The Companies Act 20(36 includes nothing about maximizing profit. Rather, it calls on the director ‘to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole’, including taking into account ‘the interests of the company’s employees’ and, crucially, ‘the impact of the company’s operations on the community and environment’.

Russia has a top income-tax rate of 13 per cent — but there is hardly a stampede of British billionaires heading to Moscow, or to Serbia, say, where the top rate is 15 per cent. The wealthy have other factors to consider: where their friends and family are; their social and cultural life; whether they feel at home; whether they feel safe and secure, and so on.

Large companies have long used the threat of pulling the plug and taking jobs elsewhere in order to blackmail elected governments. But it is bluster. According to research by Richard Murphy, a handful of multinational companies relocated elsewhere after the threat of some changes in tax law in zoo8, but they were barely paying any tax in the first place, so the loss to the Exchequer was negligible. It hardly seems likely that corporations would seek to abandon Britain, one of the world’s biggest and most lucrative markets, if there was a genuine clampdown on tax avoidance. After all, the country has many advan­tages: world-class education, infrastructure and a highly functioning legal system, as well as a national language that happens to be the international business language.

as Francis Beckett, the biographer of Labour’s post-war Minister, Clement Attlee, put it. ‘If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.’

One City stockbroker and energy analyst, Peter Atherton, put in plain English what the Big Six were threatening: brownouts and blackouts.

If trade unions had been issuing such threats, there would have been a tsunami of outrage from the right-wing press. But now there were no tabloid headlines along the lines of ‘Energy Barons Hold the Nation to Ransom’ or ‘The Enemy Within’….. they suffered no blackouts as a result. EDF, effect­ively run by the French state, had to abide by price restrictions back at home.

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