Who governs?


puppet.jpgBy Owen Jones / @owenjones84

I’ll be honest. A couple of weeks ago, I was in utter despair with Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party. I bet many of you reading this were, too. He was stuck on repeat (literally) attacking public sector workers driven to strike by the government, leaving it to PCS leader Mark Serwotka and the BBC’s Evan Davis to shred Francis Maude’s fatally flawed arguments. He looked weak, directionless, spineless – and with no apparent prospect of leading Labour to victory at the next election.

But the British political scene has been transformed in just a fortnight. The wrongdoings of News International – a criminal syndicate that has corrupted and subverted British democracy for a generation – have repulsed the nation. David Cameron’s links with the Murdoch clan have raised the first question marks over his premiership. And – against the odds – Ed Miliband has tapped into public anger and led a remarkable crusade against Murdoch’s empire – which played no small part in forcing News Corporation to drop its bid for BSkyB.

What Ed Miliband has done is not without risks. Much of the power of Murdoch’s empire depends on terrifying politicians, not least with the presumption his goons have a bigger file on them than MI5. His advisors have already been warned by the empire that are seeking revenge.

Miliband’s tack has raised the spirits of Labour supporters – and no wonder. The Labour leadership – for the first time in God knows how long – has been leading a struggle against a key pillar of the Establishment. But now Miliband must take the courage and determination he has shown in this battle and apply it elsewhere.

Britain is a democracy, because we have the right to vote for whoever we want in free and fair elections. But it is a ‘managed democracy’ or a ‘democracy with caveats’, because there is a powerful Establishment – made up of media oligarchs, private business interests, authoritarian elements of the state and their political representatives (with lots of links between them) – who always in power, whoever is in power. The News International saga has brought some of this to public view. Ed Miliband’s leadership must now take the fight to this rotten Establishment.

Taking on the media oligarchy should be the first step. For a start, Murdoch should be judged not fit or proper to run any media outlet. His staff have run a criminal enterprise in this country, and News International should be cast from our shores. But Labour should also support legislation to ensure that no-one can own more than one outlet. Allowing a single businessperson to own multiple titles and TV stations allows them to amass huge political influence that corrupts and subverts our democracy.

The Metropolitan Police should be another target. Their treatment of protesters in the last three years in particular has been nothing short of a disgrace. But they now have been shown to be riddled with corruption. Are we really supposed to believe that police officers susceptible to bribery have only taken cash from News International? Testimony from Andy Hayman (and others) to the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday have – at the very least – shown that the Met has been run by a bunch of clowns. Labour needs to support an inquiry into the workings of the entire Metropolitan Police Service, with a view to implementing drastic, radical change.

Links between politicians and private companies should be another focus. We’re all now fully educated about the sordid links between media oligarchs and politicians. But it goes a lot wider than this: take the revelations in the Telegraph that Andrew Lansley – intent on privatising our NHS – was bankrolled by private health companies who will benefit from his “reforms”. Ex-ministers routinely end up on corporate boards or in lobbying firms related to their previous briefs. We need a systematic inquiry into the power of private interests over the political elite.

Then there are all the other elements of the British Establishment that distort our democracy: not least, the City which helped plunge the economy into a catastrophe it may not recover from for a decade or more (perhaps a generation), whose tentacles have stretched into the heart of political power, and which continues to get away with what it did and retain its influence. We need a Labour leadership that stands up to the City and commits to genuinely ending Britain’s dependence on speculative finance.

And then there is the political wing of the Establishment, the Conservative Party, which failed to win a parliamentary majority in the last election but is still pushing far-reaching policies it never put before the electorate. Ed Miliband must show that Labour stands for working people against a government of millionaires intent on making the average Briton pay for a crisis they had no role in creating. As the News International crisis gripped the nation on Monday, David Cameron made a speech at Canary Wharf (where else?) committing to opening all public services to privatisation: far beyond what Thatcher ever dreamed of.

Tessa Jowell produced Labour’s woeful response: effectively, that these reforms were not as radical as those begun by New Labour. Instead, Miliband must stand against any attempts to further extend the power of private interests over our public services.

Labour needs to take advantage of the changing political climate. It must lead a populist campaign against a thoroughly rotten Establishment that undermines British democracy.

In his war with the miners in 1974, Tory PM Ted Heath went to the British electorate (unsuccessfully) with the slogan: “Who Governs?” Not a bad question, perhaps, for Labour to start asking.

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