The western phenomenon of neoliberalism that has been exported globally, whilst exploiting vulnerable people throughout the world, still sits tightly, in a rather smug way throughout the UK and US. Right off the bat, I must reject that either of these countries have a functioning democracy. This is not inherently an Anglo-American issue, but comparisons between these two nations are glaringly obvious.
The word democracy appears in the late 16th century: from French démocratie, via late Latin from Greek dēmokratia, from dēmos ‘the people’ + -kratia ‘power, rule’.
To be fair, I guess at no point was it determined which ‘people’ would possess the ‘power’. So yes, it is technically people power, however, these people are a tiny minority, who hold tightly to the reins of control, whilst deluding the masses into thinking they have any say in the political arena. Forty years of unfettered capitalism and individualism has destroyed any valid social cohesive opposition able to mount a serious attack on the status quo. Capitalism declared an ideological victory following the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall, with no valid opposing thoughts to challenge it waiting in the wings. Now any serious debate outside this narrow corridor of an acceptable political narrative is brutally derided before it ever gains traction. Supporters of an alternative to neoliberalism (unfettered capitalism as seen in the UK and US) are pilloried by the mainstream media and laughed at by the establishment who gain exponentially from the current system. Our choices over the last 4 decades have been unbridled capitalism with strong conservative societal morals or unbridled capitalism with an occasional shy nod to social justice. With this lack of choice political despair has increased; leading to voter apathy and poor voter turnouts on both sides of the Atlantic.
On either shore of the ‘pond’ we are offered an illusion of democracy, in the form of political parties. The two main parties in the US and the UK have moved ceaselessly to the right over these 40 years, admittedly the US has veered much further than the UK, but the trends are similar for both. Neoliberalism has now become the only accepted game in town and anything outside of this is considered crazy, at least by the ruling elite.
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum….”
― Noam Chomsky,
However, this hasn’t always been the case. Following World War II, the UK adopted a Social Democratic model, in an attempt to rebuild the depleted economy and the decimated infrastructure following the war. Primarily Clement Attlee and Nye Bevin were responsible for creating the National Health Service. Attlee also nationalised the railways, coal mining, gas, electricity, canals, the Bank of England and finally the steel in 1951. This particular economic model known as Keynesian was readily accepted until the mid 1970’s. Across the Atlantic the US employed a similar system under Franklyn D Roosevelt. This package was known as the ‘new deal’ this started in 1933 as a response to the great depression. Some of its content included; the social security act, banking reforms (primarily the Glass-Steagall act), maximum work hours and huge public spending on infrastructure creating 8.5 million jobs. However, after economic stagnation this system eventually gave way to neoliberalism in the late 70’s. This ideology went into overdrive following the arrival of Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in UK. Most of the safeguards regarding job security, in terms of both ‘real wages‘ and workers rights have now been stripped away. Most assets including power, water, airlines and any industry whatsoever has been commodified, with maybe air the exception so far. Neoliberalism ripped the heart out of society and never gave it back.
Since the late 70’s we have had decades of unbridled capitalism, an increasing erosion of our civil liberties due to concocted wars, massive inequality driven by corporate greed, all cemented with government collusion, such as low to non-existent corporate taxes. We have a world that is ailing, our home globally speaking is on the ropes because big businesses coerce governments to abandon the people all to secure increased power. This is not a democracy, we end up succumbing to whatever the ruling elite decide, whether we know this or not. We only have to examine the derailment of the Bernie Sanders campaign and his attempt to launch a serious systemic challenge in the US, to realise the system doesn’t work for the people. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn is facing massive resistance, not from the grassroots members who he resonates with, but MP’s on the centre-right of the party who still dream of those halcyon, Blairite, neoliberal-lite days. The attacks on Mr Corbyn are numerous, personal and devoid of evidence. All of the mainstream media, including the so-called left media such as the Guardian are persistently running stories on his inability to lead. Although, the recent leadership coup had been planned for months, which was obviously designed to disrupt the efficiency of the shadow cabinet and more importantly undermine Corbyn. All this is designed to distract us from what is really important. Jeremy Corbyn has some logical, straight forward, common sense ideas and the establishment do not want these to gain any traction with the populace. Jeremy Corbyn offers real change from the usual ‘lesser of two evils’ election day dilemma and the ruling elite will endeavour to destroy this credible option at all costs.
A functioning democracy that works for all of society in the US and the UK is currently a myth. The US had their glimmer of hope, but this was quickly extinguished and the majority of Bernie supporters were brought back into line behind Hillary Clinton. For the UK, the dream is not over, but the fight will be long and bloody. The establishment have the power, the money, the MP’s on both sides and the media to spread their propaganda. Our power will be found with the people, but in all honesty we don’t have them yet either. People consistently vote against their best interest; economically, health wise and on education to name a few issues. The media have maintained their grip of the people by creating fear. The rich will always vote Tory, as they belong to the 1%, it’s highly unlikely they will ever vote against their own interests. However, the middle classes are coerced to take out their frustrations on the poor, lambasting so called ‘benefit scroungers’. While the poor are convinced via rags such as the Express and the Sun to direct their anger towards the immigrants who are supposedly taking their jobs.
This cunning sleight of hand misplaces our collective angst away from the real culprits; the CEO’s, bankers and the government. As they usher in the next round of tax reductions for the rich and cuts to services that has had catastrophic effects towards the other end of society. Austerity is just another tactic of capitalism that has decimated lives, while making the 0.1% of society obscenely rich. We need to recognise that neoliberalism is the problem. It is protected vehemently by the few and promoted vociferously by the media billionaires. If such a pretense wasn’t guarded so closely the game would have been over long ago and the people would have revolted. It is our job, therefore, to explain to whoever will listen, that there is another way, that this path attempts to look after everybody in society and this is called Socialism.
Here’s the great Noam Chomsky’s with his views on democracy and capitalism.