Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

REVIEW: ‘The Establishment – and how they get away with it’ by Owen Jones

In R.Richardson, Reviews on March 5, 2015 at 8:13 pm

Reviewed by RUTH RICHARDSON (‘The Establishment’ is published by Allen Lane).

Who’s in charge?

Owen Jones is one of our most able young political journalists. Aged just 30, he is a regular columnist in the Guardian, as well as a former contributor to the Independent, the New Statesman and other publications.

owen_jonesJones’ first book, in 2011, Chavs: the demonisation of the Working Class, was acclaimed both in the UK and elsewhere. Now he has published a searing account of the all-powerful network of the real people with power – the Establishment.

Systematically, chapter by chapter, Jones gives his account of the workings of those at the top of our society – the politicians, the media bosses, the financiers and the big businessmen. He shows how they are interconnected, bound by a common mentality, a set of ideas that helps  to rationalise and justify behaviour directed at maximising wealth and power.

THE “REVOLVING DOOR”:

The Establishment is cemented by a “revolving door” culture – ie, powerful individuals moving between  political, corporate and media worlds, and sometimes managing to inhabit these worlds at the same time.  Political debate is largely dictated by a media controlled by a small number of extremely rich owners,  whilst political parties are funded by wealthy individuals and corporate interests. Many politicians and top civil servants are on the payroll of private businesses, and personal contacts and family connections often make for even closer ties.

THINKING ALOUD:

Jones first chapter is on the “Outriders” – a term with which I was unfamiliar. The Outriders are political “think tanks”, non-accountable bodies which shape political theory and give validity to policies.

He gives a brief but interesting history of the setting up of such think tanks. Immediately post-war, workers in Western Europe demanded far-reaching social reforms at the expense of big business, and the policies that emerged were perceived as mainstream until the 1970s. Meanwhile in !947, the Mont Pelerin Society was born – a think tank of forty academics, economists and journalists. They aimed to turn the clock back to a supposedly “golden age”  of laissez- faire politics at home and free trade  abroad.

The Institute of Economic Affairs was founded in the 1950s, promoting similar ideas. One suggestion of theirs was the privatisation of the telecommunications industry – a notion that was considered totally mad. But the Institute was doing an excellent job disseminating free market ideas, particularly in universities.

ADAM SMITH:

The Adam Smith Institute  was set up in 1977, and following the wave of strikes and the “Winter of Discontent”, in the late ‘seventies it began a relentless campaign of agitation.  The Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs joined with other free marketeers to form the St. James Society. They would meet regularly with senior members of the Tory shadow cabinet, such as Keith Joseph. They helped to make acceptable policies that would soon become the cornerstones of Thatcherism – privatisation, de-regulation and slashing taxes on the rich.   When Margaret Thatcher came to power, much of the hard work of laying the foundations  of her policies had already been undertaken.

To be an outrider in modern Britain is to wield considerable power.  Corporate interests, links with the media and political connections can all be exploited. Exactly who funds right-wing think tanks, such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance and Policy Exchange is not always clear. “We have some donors who would cease giving us money if their name was to be put out in the public domain,” said the  director of Policy Exchange.

The outriders have laid the intellectual foundations of radical right-wing ideas, and then popularised them to a mass audience. They connect together the worlds of business, politics and the media, and are a crucial part of Britain’s ruling elite.

“GREATEST  ACHIEVEMENT”?

In 2002,  the Tories held their party conference in Southampton. Only eighteen months before, Tony Blair had won a second landslide victory and Tory morale was at rock bottom.

But Margaret Thatcher was not daunted. She declared, “Our greatest achievement was Tony Blair. We forced our opponents to change.” “New Labour “ in office was keeping the flame of Margaret Thatcher’s beliefs well and truly burning.

Although Blair was happy to embrace free market principles wholeheartedly, others in the Labour Party were not.  When Ed Miliband was elected leader he was labelled “Red Ed” by the media and portrayed as being in the pockets of the unions.

Miliband made three commitments in 2013:

  1. To take action against firms which hoarded land waiting for its value to increase.
  2. A tax hike on big businesses to fund tax breaks for struggling small businesses.
  3. A temporary freeze on energy bills.

DANGEROUS EXTREMIST?

The Establishment’s response was to paint Miliband as a dangerous extremist. Yet opinion polls showed that three quarters of voters backed the proposals.  And an earlier You-Gov poll showed  60 per cent of the population backing a 75 per cent tax band for millionaires. Polls like these, says Jones, show how out of touch with ordinary people the Establishment is.

Jones touches on many events in recent political history – such as the miners’ strike, the events at Wapping,  the rise of UKIP, and the 2008 financial crisis. The power of the Establishment is highlighted throughout.

POSITIVE POLICIES:

Jones final chapter is entitled “a Democratic Revolution”  He ends on a positive note – that with collective action we can create a new and  fairer landscape for Britain. He sets out a number of policies that could lead us there.

Trade union laws should be reformed and democracy in the workplace put in place (such as workers’ representatives on company boards). Rail franchises should be brought back into public ownership as each comes up for renewal.  There should be public ownership of utilities involving both service users and workers. Banks that were bailed out could be turned into publicly-owned regional investment. Financially more capital controls should be put in place which should shift economic sovereignty from corporate interests to elected governments. The top rate of tax should be raised, and there should be an all-out assault on tax avoidance.

MPs should be barred from taking a second job and former Ministers should be barred posts that operate in their areas of interest and “expertise”. The revolving door should be firmly shut.

“Change is not won through the goodwill and generosity of those above but through the struggle and sacrifice of those below,” says Jones in conclusion.

R.R.

READ MORE OWEN JONES HERE: http://www.theguardian.com/profile/owen-jones

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