Friday, 1 July 2011

The Big Con

Just as everyday con merchants trick people into handing over their valuables for nothing, the Big Con in politics deceives people into thinking they would be better off without the power they derive from a strong, democratic state.

Centuries of misery have shown that businesses and voluntary organisations are not capable between them of guaranteeing people even the most basic means to cope with the iniquities of life or the fluctuations of arbitrary fortune. But the Big Con maintains that smaller the state, the better society would be. It does this by relentlessly promoting the myth of an ‘all powerful yet wasteful’ state that needs to be drastically cut down.

The reality should be made plain for all to see. The Con Party is cutting the state, not as a short-term measure to cope with the deficit created by the lack of strong government regulation of the banking sector, but as a way to cripple public services permanently. And while the burden of the cuts fall much more heavily on those with less resource, the wealthy few are getting extra help from the not so invisible hand of the Tories. Corporate profits are taxed less. Bankers’ bonuses are no longer taxed at all. The rich who already command many ways to evade taxes are rewarded with staffing cuts in HM Revenue and Customs so there is even less capacity to investigate them.

As public services for all are cut, support for the corporate elite to make profit for the few is increased at every turn. The BBC’s budget is cut by 20% but Murdock’s phone-hacking media empire is given the go-ahead to expand. The Competition Commission, which might stand in the way of such market distortions, is to be abolished, along with many other state bodies which have up to now defended public interests against attempted encroachment by commercial exploitation. Thus, the Food Standards Agency, which has been at the forefront of raising industry standards in tackling unsafe and unhealthy food, is being dismantled in favour of an advisory body dominated by representatives of big corporations with a vested interest in the food business; and the Gambling Commission, which has an independent regulatory role in keeping crime out of gambling, ensuring that it is conducted fairly and openly, and protecting children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited, is to be closed down.

Public provision for everything from education, health to legal aid and care for the vulnerable are cut, undermined and fragmented so that private firms can pick off contracts that make them a handsome profit, while more and more people who cannot afford to pay fall through the widening cracks.

Remember what happened to hygiene in hospitals after they were forced to contract out their cleaning services to private companies. Remember what is unraveling as a consequence of the expansion of for-profit organisations in running care services without public accountability. Remember a small state serving only the wealthy elite is the ultimate pay-off for the Big Con – and the consequences for society would be absolutely dire. To stop the Con from succeeding, we must expose it.

(The full version of my dissection of the ‘Big Con’ is published in the PPR Journal March-May 2011, Volume 18, Issue 1; it can be accessed via:

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