The not-so-great dictator: It seems David Cameron’s government is now ignoring all attempts to hold it to account.
Ladies and gentlemen of the United Kingdom, your plight is worsening: The government now no longer pays any attention to the decisions of your Parliamentarians.
You’ll remember that a debate was held on Monday, in which MPs called for an inquiry into the effect of changes to the benefit system – introduced by the Conservative-led Coalition government – on the incidence of poverty in this country; the question was whether poverty was increasing as a result of the so-called reforms.
Parliament voted massively in favour of the inquiry (125 votes for; two against), as reported here.
We considered it a great victory at the time, and looked forward to the commissioning of the inquiry and its eventual report.
Now that dream is in tatters as Michael Meacher, the MP who brought the motion to Parliament, has reported that nothing is to happen and the government is ignoring the vote.
It seems he is blaming this partly on the media because “it wasn’t reported” – and he has a point; only 2,500 people have so far read the article on Vox Political, and that’s not nearly enough interest to worry David Cameron and his unelected cadre.
This turn of events raises serious questions about the role of Parliament in holding the government of the day to account, influencing legislation and taking effective initiative of its own.
Perhaps we should be glad that this has happened, because the illusion that we have any kind of democracy at all has been, finally, stripped away.
(On a personal note, this saddens me greatly as it confirms the belief of a very rude Twitter user who accosted me on that site earlier the week to inform me that democracy died many years ago, and I was deluded in trying to save it now. What a shame that such a person has been proved correct.)
Here are the facts, according to Mr Meacher – and they make bitter reading: “The chances of influencing … legislation are negligible because the government commands a whipped majority at every stage of a bill’s passage through the commons.
“Parliament can make its voice heard, but it can hardly change anything that the government has decided to do.
“The only rare exception is when there is a revolt on the government benches which is backed by the opposition, and even then when the government lost a vote on that basis last year on the EU budget, it still ostentatiously dismissed the vote as merely ‘advisory’.
“Nor, it seems from Monday’s vote, can parliament take any effective initiative of its own either.”
He said newly-instituted systems that followed the expenses scandal are already disappearing:
“The backbench business committee, which for the first time gives parliamentarians some control over what is debated in the house, is being sidelined and decisions on its motions ignored.
“The promised house business committee, which would share negotiations between government and parliament over the passage of all business put before the house, has been quietly dropped.
“Only the election of members of select committees by the house, not by the whips, has so far survived, but one cannot help wondering if that too will be taken back by the party establishments over time.”
This is, as Mr Meacher states, a major constitutional issue – especially as our current government was not elected by the people but created in a dirty backroom deal, and its actions have no democratic mandate at all; nobody voted for the programme of legislation that we have had forced – forced – upon us.
Did you vote for the privatisation of the National Health Service? I didn’t.
Did you vote for the privatisation of the Royal Mail? I didn’t.
Did you vote for the increase in student fees? I didn’t.
Did you vote to protect the bankers who caused the financial crisis from having to deliver compensation to us? I didn’t.
Did you vote to protect tax avoidance schemes? I didn’t.
There are many more examples I could list.
Mr Meacher suggests possible ways to reassert the authority of Parliament, but none of them will have any immediate effect – or possibly any effect at all.
He ends his piece by saying “the most effective way of making progress is greater awareness among the electorate of how Parliament actually performs, or fails to perform. If the public understood more transparently how the corrupting influence of patronage actually works, how the power system turns everything to its own advantage, and how the genuine objectives of democratic elections are so readily thwarted, a lot of these unedifying practices would have to be curbed.”
Considering Cameron’s attitude to the will of the people so far, this seems unlikely.
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The Coalition government has finally put its cards on the table, calling for the completion of a ‘free trade’ agreement with the United States of America that will end democracy as we know it today.
Do you think this statement is needlessly hyperbolic? In fact, it probably does not make the point strongly enough!
You will lose the ability to affect government policy – particularly on the National Health Service; after the Health and Social Care Act, the trade agreement would put every decision relating to its work on a commercial footing. The rights of transnational corporations would become the priority, health would become primarily a trade issue and your personal well-being would be of no consequence whatsoever.
Profit will rule.
Also threatened would be any other public service that has been privatised by this and previous governments, along with any that are privatised in the future; all would fall under the proposed agreement. So the debate over energy bills would be lost because gas and electricity provision would come under the agreement, along with water and the Royal Mail, among others.
Speaking today (Wednesday), Osborne announced: “We should set ourselves the urgent task of completing the transatlantic trade and investment partnership – the EU-US Free Trade agreement.
“This would be the world’s biggest ever trade deal – together our economies would account for half of global output.
“The Commission estimate it would boost the European economy by 120 billion euros a year – that’s over 500 euros for every family in the EU. It would bring £10 billion pounds a year to the UK alone.
“Some in the European Parliament talk about stalling this Trans-Atlantic Partnership to pursue other agendas.
“But when a quarter of young people looking for work in Europe are unemployed, this would be a complete betrayal.
“We need to create jobs, increase trade, support business growth – we’ve got the European tools to help with the job, let’s get on and use them.”
Did you notice that, for him, it’s all about the money? Yes – he mentions job creation. But these jobs would be provided under terms dictated by the hugely powerful global corporations. Their bosses would take the profits and ground-level employees would be treated like – well, like Orwell’s metaphor for the future: a giant boot, stamping on your face, forever.
You may have heard very little about this – and for a good reason. The architects of the planned agreement want the deal done before anybody realises what is going on and organises robust protest against it.
So let’s give you some of the facts:
The US/EU Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP), called Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) in the US, is a bilateral trade agreement between the US and the EU. It goes much further than any previous EU trade agreement in deregulating, in establishing the rights of transnational corporations and in undermining the ability of governments to control corporations.
It is set to completely change our society, and is already in process, as with the NHS.
‘Trade’ and ‘international trade agreements’ are different. While most people would consider trade to be good thing, international trade agreements give rights to transnational corporations while reducing states’ rights to regulate them, thus reducing democracy.
All free trade agreements include goods, services and intellectual property rights – but the additional elements of the TTIP that are the main part of the agreement are much more far-reaching. These are regulatory harmonisation, investor state dispute settlement and the intention to establish global rules via these trade agreements.
‘Regulatory harmonisation’ means ‘harmonising’ regulation between the EU and US, downwards to the most lax form, across all areas, to suit transnational corporations. This will mean the degrading of regulation on health and safety, food, environment, labour standards, privacy and much more, including financial services regulation. The NHS is now already ‘harmonised’ with the US corporate-access public health model – and this was always the Conservative Party’s plan.
TTIP will also include ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS), allowing transnational corporations to sue governments directly for the loss of any future profits resulting from any government action, at any level, such as new legislation. Where ISDS is already included in ‘trade’ deals, it is shown to lead either to big payouts from governments to transnational corporations or to deter governments from legislating – the ‘chill’ effect.
In theory, this means that if a national government had banned a product – a toy, perhaps – on the grounds that it was harmful to health because it contained lead – for example – the manufacturer could then sue that government for infringement of the TTIP. The national government would lose, and our children would come down with lead poisoning.
In practice, we can see a classic example in the current lawsuit taken out by Philip Morris, the antipodean tobacco giant, against the Australian government over the law that enforces plain packaging on all tobacco products there. The law was enacted to discourage people from smoking – an act with proven health risks – but it seems likely that Philip Morris will win because Australia’s government has restricted its ability to make massive profits.
TTIP and the TPP are intended to set global ‘trade’ rules which will eventually become the norms for the multilateral World Trade Organisation, but formulated outside of a structure that allows other countries to jointly resist the corporate-dominated agenda.
As with all bilateral ‘trade’ agreements, TTIP negotiations and agreement texts are secret until the negotiations are completed – ensuring that the public cannot protest against them until it is too late.
Trade agreements are effectively permanent.
Although international ‘trade’ agreements are negotiated government-to-government (by the Trade Commission for EU member states), they are promoted and driven by transnational corporations, which benefit from states being bound by international trade law – these are the the same transnational financial service corporations that caused the global financial crisis.
As part of the TTIP, a framework for the ongoing ‘harmonisation’ of all future regulation is being put in place with the setting up of a Regulatory Co-operation Council. This non-elected Council will be able to override national and EU legislation.
‘Public procurement’ – government spending – is a major target in the international trade agenda.
The TTIP is being rushed through, with the aim of completion by the end of this year (2014).
TTIP will include provision for the movement of temporary workers across borders. This will inevitably mean cheap labour, and the undermining of working conditions and labour rights, especially in a context of degraded regulation. These are the jobs George Osborne wants for you!
The Trade Commission has set up a communications ‘spin’ unit to manage public opinion on the TTIP.
Once TTIP negotiations are completed, the European Parliament will only have the right to say yes or no, to the deal, with no amendment allowed. It will then, as with all EU ‘trade’ agreements, be provisionally implemented before it comes to member state parliaments for ratification.
In the US, the government is seeking ‘Fast Track’ provision or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) from the Congress. If granted, US representatives will similarly only be allowed to pass the agreement or not, without amendment.
You may wish to examine the following documents for further evidence:
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