Neoliberal globalisation has been the central policy of most parties for 20 years. Why don’t we get a say in this during general elections?

As we come up to the UK 2015 general election, is it worth asking how important elections are in the affairs of state today. Elections are supposed to express ‘the will of the people’; to be the essence of ‘civilised’ society, and to distinguish us from oppressive regimes. I am on sticky ground if I question these assumptions.

Politics is about power; and the assumption of our national elections is that ‘the people’ express their wishes in the national election. The entire Western world organises its affairs in this manner. The national election is supposed to be more than just a symbol, it is supposed to be the real thing, where real power changes hands. The state is the centre of that real power, where all decisions about “our” affairs are made.

But how much power actually resides with the politicians that we elect? People intuitively feel that our national power is waning away. One of the major issue of the forthcoming election rests with the question of the power that has now resides in Brussels, and in the European Union. And there is no question that many issues that effect our domestic affairs are determined by EU officials.

Certainly key major national issues of peace and war, the pound sterling still reside in Whitehall. Yet it is correct that we have given away power in many areas that have not caused major debate. I believe the gravest issues of our time are the powers that have been given away and are simply not discussed. Over the last 30 years our governments have been willing and active partners in globalisation. And, it is through the processes of globalisation that most powers have been lost.

Globalisation includes the privatisation of of the public sphere, which ultimately threatens all countries, public services; the deregulation of the corporate sector, which has allowed our own private companies to relocate to cheaper labour domains; and the lowering of corporate taxation, which has led to all international companies attempting to avoid domestic taxation, thus making the State dependent on domestic taxes. These are the central tenets of globalisation.

The costs of globalisation have been well documented. Costs include; the instability of the Western economies, accompanied by low growth on a near permanent basis; Inequality at a level that was common in the 19th century, which has now reappeared; kleptocratic governments in large parts of the so-called developing world, with the resulting ‘popular’ movements like the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIS, and al Qaeda, that we so disparage; wars against peoples we cannot win; political instability in Europe against Russia, and a European Union that cannot run its own economic affairs; and perhaps most worrying of all, our inability to change sufficiently to combat climate change.

This short catalogue of dysfunctional government can all be laid at the door of globalisation. (I am sure some would dispute the connections, bring them on so we can debate). But none of it is debated. Globalisation is the central unstated policy of all our governments, over the last 20 years, Labour and Conservative. Globalisation seems not to be questioned. But what is the use of elections if we don’t ask these difficult questions?

The real problems are the global corporations that straddle our world, dominate in ways that it is difficult to explain in such a short article. The corporations provide the money that the politicians needs to run their party. They provide the impetus to pressurise the politicians to pass global trade laws that will make many parts of the world their playground. TTIP, a free trade agreement between Europe and the USA, is one; similar laws on trade are in process across the globe. The global corporations have been freed of nearly all constraints, so that it has become near impossible to handle the issue that climate crisis has thrown up. While the majority of people live under policies of austerity, these same corporations hoard vast surpluses of cash in tax havens created for the purpose, by our politicians.

My question is why is little or none of this debated at election time, it is all in your interests and mine. Cromwell broke up the Catholic church in the 16th century as King Henry needed its money for his wars, so today, we need the money of the global corporations, for our people and the development of our land. The 16th century Catholic church is our corporations of today, we need a new Cromwell…. without the obfuscation of King Henry’s wives!


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Roger van Zwanenberg

Dr Roger van Zwanenberg is the former managing director of Pluto Books.

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