Privatized Planet

By T J Coles

Published by New Internationalist, 2019, rrp £9.99, Bookbuster price £4.99

Review by Tim Barton

Over a decade ago, Cameron, then opposition leader, complained of a ‘far too cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money’, and claimed a desire to expose ‘secret corporate lobbying’. Of course, he did nothing ‘real’ about it once in power, and cronyism, graft and corruption are now overweeningly apparent throughout our supposedly democratic system. Cameron is now the focus of a Johnsonian focus-shifting exercise – ‘look over there! Not over here!’ I have no sympathy for our ex-PM, but don’t bend to Boris’s will – take a close look at his autocratic Cabinet Office and its nefarious links.

For just one example, amongst many instances of disgusting opportunism during the current global crisis, health minister Matt Hancock “has shares in a firm run by his sister and her husband that was given NHS contracts during the pandemic” (Peter Geoghegan, LRB, 6th May 2021). Under Thatcher, the expansion of the QUANGO system opened a backdoor to extra-parliamentary political power. Blair’s continuance of the Tory policy of indebting public funds for generations to give private contracts and loans for projects (PFI) was a wet dream for nepotist lobbyists, and still a financial sleight of hand used today.

Organised corporate cartels have always lobbied and bribed government officials, elected and otherwise. Moneyed and entitled corporations, paid lobbyists, ‘family friends’ and ‘Etonian school chums’ of the elite have a vastly disproportionate influence on policy. In the Depression era, big companies that stayed solvent had immense influence over US government policy, DuPont and Kimberly-Clark, for example, waging a successful war on the competition from the hemp industry. Government drives to privatise as much public finance and infrastructure as possible are global and long-standing. It is, frankly, a war and one we the people are clearly losing. The UK state machine, corporate power, and billionaire-owned media cut out and eliminated the last Labour leadership, clearly in order to avert a Left-Centrist renationalisation and repair of public services.

In reality, it should be clear to all by now that governments do not act for us, but for their richer and brighter friends and relatives, with huge rewards once out of office. Coles’ excellent book is sub-titled ‘Free Trade’ as a Weapon against Democracy, Healthcare and the Environment. Although published in 2019, and therefore ‘pre-pandemic’, it is even more relevant today. I urge you to read it. It gives an in-depth narrative on post-War attacks on national peoples for globalist corporate gain, from GATT and the WTO, to NAFTA and TTIP, with useful insights of the iniquitous ‘bilateral investment treaties’ and the ‘liberalisation’ strings attached to loans to ‘help’ states recover from war and poverty. These plans to take over and control a countries economy are not only limited to ‘the Third World’, but, for example, the UK too took large IMF loans in the late 1970s that required ‘structural adjustments’. The public, if they were aware, would have fought tooth and nail.

Coles covers further assaults on the possibility of economic and social democracy through the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations (fans of ‘the Donald’ would do well to pay attention). He looks at rising powers such as India and China, who threaten to steal the exceptionalist torch from America (and who will clearly be no better). He then offers excellent chapters on corporate rape of the environment, with a very good chapter on ‘financialisation’, off-shoring of production, and the effects of the removal of tariffs and taxes on foreign imports.

He ends by covering assaults on healthcare. If you have a pet, or friend in the US, you may have some insight into the inequalities and costs of health insurance and private healthcare. If so, you will be terrified of it coming here. But it is, and faster than ever. The current regime in Downing Street, whilst ‘bigging up’ the NHS throughout the pandemic, have under-funded public services, contracted out more services than ever,  and prepared the ground for the capitalist fantasy of a fully privatised healthcare system in the UK. Whilst much of the damage was already done for us here in England, the last Labour manifesto (which no-one read) was the first in at least 40 years to address real concerns – the anti-Corbyn coup will destroy us all in the end.

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