corporate power

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Book Review: Ecocide: Kill the Corporation Before it Kills Us by David Whyte

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 11:09pm in

In Ecocide: Kill the Corporation Before it Kills UsDavid Whyte argues that corporations are a critical yet neglected cause of our global environmental crisis. Accessibly written with excellent examples and case studies of modern business conduct, this bold book will be a valuable addition to reading lists, particularly for those studying political economy and business, recommends Atul K. Shah

Ecocide: Kill the Corporation Before it Kills Us. David Whyte. Manchester University Press. 2020.

To save nature, we need to reform the corporation

Multinational corporations are newly created ‘countries’ of the world, with turnover higher than the Gross National Product (GNP) of many countries put together – examples being Google, Facebook, Shell or Monsanto. Unlike countries, however, their responsibility and accountability to society are weak at best, and virtually non-existent when it comes to nature – our Planet Earth. Ecocide, a new book by David Whyte, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Liverpool, argues that corporations are a critical yet neglected cause of our global environmental crisis. The problems they create are wired into their DNA of shareholder primacy and profit or wealth maximisation – a phenomenon now acknowledged widely as financialisation. Furthermore, the corporate veil of limited liability and responsibility, and their concentration of political and structural power, enables corporations to shop between jurisdictions, playing a game of tax, offshore secrecy and regulatory arbitrage to evade environmental responsibility.

Ecocide has four chapters and is 200 pages long, including notes and references. The first chapter explains the nature and history of the corporation, going into the detail of its legal construction as a ‘fictional’ person, with rights to acquire assets and resources like employees or land and to borrow money in capital and debt markets. Business education all over the world focuses primarily on the science of these giant corporations, but often fails to unlock this legal DNA, which makes corporations’ undemocratic license to exploit and expropriate hugely problematic. The first ever corporation in the world was born in Sweden in 1288 and was called Stora Kopparberg. It was established by German merchants to collectively invest in a copper mine in the town of Falun. It still exists today as Stora Enso – from mining, it has morphed into the second largest paper producer in the world. You can imagine the environmental footprint of this historic heritage corporation.

Chapters Two and Three explore the twin dilemmas of capitalism and regulation – whilst capital has a desire to keep on growing exponentially, regulation designed to curb its excesses keeps on failing. For Whyte, the corporation has become a key front for neo-colonialism and has replaced forced conquest with a more subtle form of exploitation disguised under the rhetoric of free markets, economies of scale and efficiency. Bribery and corruption are endemic to corporate operations not just in the so-called resource-rich Global South, but also in the Global North where political influence and capture are seen as key methods of business operations. Regulation designed to make corporations more responsible and accountable consistently fails due to its poor construction, its enabling role in encouraging environmental exploitation and its weak enforcement and policing. Shopping for the lowest-cost regulation in a world where countries are often desperate to attract the investment of multinationals is easy, and our one and only planet suffers from this abuse as its environment respects no borders.

The final chapter is entitled ‘Kill the Corporation Before it Kills Us’, mirroring the subtitle of the book. Whyte makes a bold attempt here to propose different ways of controlling the corporation to limit its environmental impacts. Earlier in the book, he notes how the major United Nations environmental treaties make little reference to controlling and regulating the corporation, even though it is one of the major culprits of environmental harm. Reform suggestions include an International Criminal Court for corporate executives who commit ‘ecocide’ and an ending of the impunity from prosecution for shareholders and investors. The corporate veil should be allowed to be opened and limited liability withdrawn from corporations that consistently break environmental rules and principles.

I would place this book in the field of study known as Corporate Governance, which is primarily studied in business schools and largely avoided by politics and economics departments even though it is central to their education curricula. It is an interdisciplinary field, and Whyte collates history, politics, law, economics, sociology and biology in his analysis. One of the earliest pioneering books in this vein was The Corporation – The Pathological Pursuit of Profits and Power by Joel Bakan (2002), who also produced an award-winning documentary of the same name, which I still use to teach my students.

In a world of specialisation and pressure to publish in top highly ranked journals, I salute academics who take the risk of writing a book and reaching a much wider audience than the few who can understand academic jargon within a narrow domain. This book will have a good audience among the Extinction Rebellion movement, who may not understand the DNA of business but still feel the effects of its monopoly and expropriation of nature. It can help guide their protests and reform policies, as it is clear that corporations are at the centre of the ecological plunder we see today in the world. Ecocide is also written in an accessible way for both undergraduates and postgraduates who study political economy and business – it has excellent examples and case studies of modern business conduct. It is short, concise and easy to understand and follow, with excellent notes and references. I certainly will be putting it on my reading list.

And now for the critique. The book points to a significant ontological crack in our social sciences, where nature has been ‘othered’ and treated as an unlimited resource to be used and dumped upon; only now do we learn about its limitations and experience its revenge. Like the fiction we call money, the social construction of the corporation and its subsequent devastation of society and nature also point to a deep cultural flaw in modernity – the focus on materialism, individualism and endless pursuit of sensual desires and personal ‘happiness’. This culture is not the only mindset in the world – many timeless communities have lived along different values and beliefs, including the Dharmic traditions of India, whose very basis was respect for nature and all living beings. For these cultures, interdependence was a law of nature which was translated into their myths and behaviours. Humans, animals and plants are beings endowed with consciousness which need to be respected and nurtured and not destroyed or cannibalised. My own research on the Jains shows that these cultures and communities are still alive and vibrant all over the world, and continue to live with a low environmental footprint, including in the practice of business, where they have a long record of sustained success. Alongside the regulatory reform of the corporation, we should not shy away from confronting our cultural flaws. We should see the mind, body and spirit as one whole, and respect the ethereal essence, consciousness and inter-generational responsibility of sustainable living.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Banner Image Credit: Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash.

In-text Image Credit:global climate strike on the European elections, Germany, 2019. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

 


Judge Barrett’s Record: Siding With Businesses Over Workers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 7:51am in

The implications of some of Barrett’s rulings are truly grave, and whether or not they slow down or derail her confirmation, they should get a full airing in the committee. Continue reading

The post Judge Barrett’s Record: Siding With Businesses Over Workers appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

I Read it in the Post

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 5:40am in

Democrats have hammered home that putting Barrett on the court at this moment is an extraordinary power grab, and voters seem to agree. Turning attention away from the hearings would be useful for the Republicans when voters are on their way to the polls. Continue reading

The post I Read it in the <i>Post</i> appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

For Your Eyes Only

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/09/2020 - 8:45pm in

The opaque
and secretive networks on which Boris Johnson builds his power.

By George
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 2nd September 2020

To
accumulate power, a government with authoritarian tendencies must first destroy
power. It must reduce rival centres of power – the judiciary, the civil
service, academia, broadcasters, local government, civil society – to
satellites of its own authority, controlled from the centre, deprived of
independent action. But it must do this while claiming to act in the people’s
name.

So it
needs an apparatus of justification: arguments that can be fed through a
sympathetic press and manufactured into outrage against its rivals. This is
where the intellectual work of such a government is focused. Dominic Cummings
is not the sole architect of this project: much of the intellectual landscaping
has been outsourced.

Since the 1950s, an infrastructure of persuasion has been built in the UK, whose purpose is to supplant civic power with the power of money. The model was developed by two fanatical disciples of Friedrich Hayek, the father of neoliberalism: Anthony Fisher and Oliver Smedley. They knew it was essential to disguise their intentions. While founding the first of the thinktanks whose purpose was to spread Hayek’s gospel, the Institute of Economic Affairs, Smedley reminded Fisher it was “imperative that we should give no indication in our literature that we are working to educate the Public along certain lines … That is why the first draft [of our aims] is written in rather cagey terms.”

The institute, and the other lobby groups Fisher founded, honed the arguments that would be used to strip down the state, curtail public welfare and public protection, and restrict and discipline other forms of social strength, releasing the ultra-rich from the constraints of democracy. Unsurprisingly, some of the richest people on Earth poured cash into his project. His groups translated Hayek’s ideas, that were seen by many as repulsive, into a new political common sense, producing the reframings and justifications on which Thatcher and Reagan built their revolutions. 

Others began to copy this model. In his autobiography, Madsen
Pirie, the founder of the Adam Smith Institute, describes how, using funds from
20 of the UK’s biggest companies, he helped to chart the course that Margaret
Thatcher took. Every Saturday, while Thatcher’s Conservatives were in
opposition, staff from the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic
Affairs sat down for lunch with her researchers, and leader writers and
columnists from the Times and Telegraph, to plot the revolution that would
bring her to power. They “planned strategy for the week ahead”,  and would “co-ordinate our activities to make
us more effective collectively.” Pirie describes how he devised many of the
policies that defined Thatcherism.

In Pirie’s book, in the
testimony
of the whistleblower Shahmir Sanni
and elsewhere, there is
evidence that these lobby groups coordinate their work, creating the impression
that people in different places are spontaneously coming to the same
conclusions. Several of them work from the same offices, in 55 and 57
Tufton Street
, Westminster.

The lobby
group that Boris Johnson’s government uses most is Policy Exchange. While it
claims to be a neutral educational charity, it was founded in 2002 by the
Conservative MPs Francis Maude and Archie Norman, and Nick Boles, who later
also became a Tory MP. Its first chairman was Michael Gove. Its proposals and
personnel have been adopted by the Conservative Party ever since.

It seems to
me that Policy Exchange has played a crucial role in shifting power away from
rival institutions and into the Prime Minister’s office. For several years it
has been building a case for
curtailing the judiciary. It provided the ammunition for the
government’s current attack on judicial review.

Judicial
review enables citizens to sue the government to uphold the law. It was the
process Gina Miller used in 2016 to oblige Theresa May to seek parliamentary
approval for Article 50, that began the Brexit process, and to overturn Boris
Johnson’s suspension of parliament last year.

Policy
Exchange calls such rulings “judicial overreach”. It claims that they threaten
the sovereignty of Parliament and the separation of powers between government
and judiciary. To my mind they do the opposite. The law is not whatever Boris
Johnson says it is. It is legislation passed by Parliament and interpreted by
the courts. Both the Gina Miller cases returned powers to Parliament that prime
ministers had seized. The government has appointed a former Conservative
Minister, Lord Faulks, to examine judicial review, along
the lines suggested by Policy Exchange.

The lobby
group has called for the
Prime Minister’s office to have greater powers “to develop and direct policy
change” through the civil service, and to appoint leaders of public bodies
whose “culture and values” align with government’s aims. It has led the public attacks against
what it calls the “chilling effects” of leftwing views in academia. Its recent
report on academic freedom was brilliantly eviscerated in the
Guardian by Jonathan Portes, who found it riddled with basic statistical errors
and mistaken assumptions. What purports to be a campaign for intellectual
freedom looks more like a McCarthyite attempt to suppress left-leaning ideas.
It’s an effective weapon in the government’s gathering culture war.

The
thinktank’s proposals for changing the planning system, that
involve a massive removal of power from local authorities, have been adopted wholesale by the
government. One of the authors of this scheme, Jack Airey, has moved from
Policy Exchange to Downing Street, as a special adviser.

Last year,
Policy Exchange published a polemic that
claimed Extinction Rebellion is led by dangerous extremists. As usual, it was
widely covered by the media. Less discussed was the report that the
lobby group has received funding from the power company Drax, the trade
association Energy UK and the gas companies E.On and Cadent, whose fossil fuel
investments are threatened by environmental activism. These are among the few
funders whose identities we know. Policy Exchange is listed by WhoFundsYou as among
the most opaque thinktanks in the UK.

It might
seem remarkable that its activities qualify as charitable: without having to
reveal its funders, while promoting shifts that could harm civil society,
Policy Exchange remains a registered charity.
Conservative governments attach great importance to the way charities are
overseen. In 2018, a parliamentary committee sent the government an unprecedented letter, pointing
out that the government’s preferred candidate as chair of the Charity
Commission, the former Tory minister Baroness Tina Stowell, was “unable to
demonstrate … any real insight, knowledge or vision”; could not be seen as
neutral; and had failed to withstand the committee’s scrutiny. The government
appointed her anyway, and she remains chair today.

By such means, political life is steadily undermined, until little remains but authority and obedience to the Prime Minister. Without strong civic institutions, society loses its power. From the point of view of global capital, that’s mission accomplished. To resist the government’s machinations, first we must understand them.

www.monbiot.com

Contract Killers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 19/07/2020 - 5:15pm in

Coronavirus deals worth billions of pounds have been awarded by the government to “unusual” companies, without advertising or competition.

By George Monbiot,
published in the Guardian 15th July 2020

This
stinks. It stinks worse than any of the other carrion this government has
buried. Every day for the past fortnight, I’ve been asking myself why this
scandal isn’t all over the front pages. Under cover of the pandemic, the
government has awarded contracts worth billions of pounds for equipment on
which our lives depend, without competition or transparency. It has trampled
its own rules, operated secretly and made incomprehensible and – in some cases
– highly suspicious decisions.

Let’s
begin with the latest case, unearthed by investigative journalists at the Guardian and openDemocracy. It
involves a contract to test the effectiveness of the government’s coronavirus
messaging, worth £840,000. It was issued by the Cabinet Office, which is run by
Michael Gove. The deal appears to have been struck on March 3, but the only
written record in the public domain is a letter written on June 5,
retrospectively offering the contract that had already been granted. There was
no advertisement for the work, and no competition. No official notice of the
award has yet been published. The deal appears to have been done with a
handshake and a slap on the back.

But we do
know who the contract went to. It’s a company called Public
First
, owned by a married couple, James Frayne and
Rachel Wolf. Since 2000, James Frayne has worked on political campaigns with
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser. When Michael Gove was
education secretary, he brought both Cummings and Frayne into his department.
Cummings was Gove’s chief political adviser, while Frayne was his director of communications. At
roughly the same time, in 2010, Gove’s Department awarded Rachel Wolf a
£500,000 contract to promote his “free schools” obsession. Guess what? That didn’t go to competitive tender, either.
Rachel Wolf co-wrote the Conservative party’s election manifesto in 2019.

In
response to these revelations, the government claims it had to override the
usual rules for public procurement because it was responding to an emergency.
There are several problems with this claim. The first is that it had six weeks
to prepare for the pandemic, before the deal was done. The second is that, of
the four contracted services later listed on the
government’s website, two were not for testing the government’s coronavirus
messaging at all, but for “EU exit comms”: in other words, Brexit. The
coronavirus work, according to this list, did not begin until May 27. The
Cabinet Office now claims that when it said “EU exit”, it meant coronavirus.
This seems an odd mistake to make. The third problem is that the government’s
communications on the pandemic have been disastrous. Did it
choose to ignore Public First’s “emergency” work, or was it of little value?

On Friday, the Good Law Project issued proceedings in the High Court against Michael Gove, alleging breaches of procurement law and apparent bias in the grant of the contract to his long-standing associates. It is crowdfunding the challenge.

But this,
extraordinary as it is, is not the strangest of the cases the Good Law Project
is taking on. Another involves a pest control company in Sussex called PestFix,
which has listed net assets of only
£18,000. On April 13, again without public advertisement or competition, the
government awarded PestFix a £32 million contract to supply surgical gowns.
PestFix is not a manufacturer, but an intermediary (its founder calls it
a public
health supply business
): its role
was to order the gowns from China. But, perhaps because of its lack of assets,
the government gave it a deposit worth 75% of the
value of the contract. The government’s own rules state that prepayments should
be made only “in extremely limited and exceptional circumstances”, and even
then must be “capped
at 25% of the value of the contract”.

If the government had to provide the money upfront, why didn’t it order the gowns itself? And why, of all possible outsourcers, did it choose PestFix? In the two weeks before it awarded this contract, it was approached by 16,000 companies offering to supply protective equipment (PPE). Some of them had a long track record in manufacturing or supplying PPE, and had stocks that could be deployed immediately.

Again, the
government relies on the emergency defence to justify its decision. But it
issued its initial guidance on preventing infection among health and care
workers on January
10
. On
February 14, it published specific guidance on the use of PPE. So why did it
wait until April 13 to strike its “emergency” deal with PestFix? Moreover, it
appears to have set the company no deadline for the delivery of the gowns.
Astonishingly, even today only half of them appear to have reached the UK, and
all those are still sitting in a warehouse in Daventry. On the government’s own admission, “none of
the isolation suits delivered so far has been supplied into the NHS”. So much
for taking urgent action in response to the emergency.

Again, the
contract is surrounded by secrecy. Crucial sections, such as the price paid for
the gowns, have been redacted. Bizarrely, the award notice initially stated
that the contract was worth £108 million. But in responding to the lawsuit, the
government claimed it had made a mistake: the real value is £32 million.
Apparently, it struck “further contracts” with PestFix for other items of
equipment. It has so far failed to reveal what these might be, or to publish
the contracts. It is worth remembering that while all this was happening,
frontline health and care workers were dying as a result of inadequate supplies of PPE.

There are
plenty of other cases: such as the employment agency with net assets of £623, which was awarded an £18 million government contract to supply
facemasks; the confectionery wholesaler given a £100 million contract to supply
PPE; and the £250 million channelled through a “family office” registered
in Mauritius, specialising in currency trading, offshore property and private
equity, also to supply
protective medical equipment. Altogether, billions of pounds’ worth of
contracts appear to have been granted, often to surprising companies, without competition. I think we may reasonably ask what the hell is going on.

This is
not just about value for money, important as that is. Transparent, competitive
tendering is a crucial defence against cronyism and corruption. It is essential
to integrity in public life and public trust in politics. But the government
doesn’t seem to care. As the scandal over Dominic Cummings’s trip to Durham
shows, its strategy is to brazen out disgrace until public outrage subsides. We
know it cheats and lies. It knows that we know, and it doesn’t care.

But these
things matter. People die when the government gets them wrong. Our challenge is
to discover how to make them count.

www.monbiot.com

When Bosses Shared the Profits

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/07/2020 - 10:17am in

After the bruising crises we’re now going through, it would be wonderful if we could somehow emerge...

When Bosses Shared the Profits

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/07/2020 - 10:17am in

After the bruising crises we’re now going through, it would be wonderful if we could somehow emerge...

Road to Perdition

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/06/2020 - 11:54pm in

How did wildlife
groups start collaborating in the destruction of nature?

By George
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 24th June 2020

Out of this
horror comes hope. In the backwash of the pandemic’s first wave, we see the
shingled ruins of the old economy, and the chance to construct a new one. As we
rebuild our economic life, we should do it on green principles, averting a
crisis many times greater than the coronavirus: climate breakdown and the
collapse of our life-support systems.

This means no
more fossil fuel-based infrastructure. Even existing infrastructure, according
to climate scientists, could push us past crucial
thresholds
. It means an end to megaprojects whose main purpose is enriching
construction companies.

Perhaps the
definitive example of such projects in the UK is the Oxford
– Cambridge Arc
. It’s a plan to build a conurbation twice the size of
Birmingham (1 million homes) from Oxford to Cambridge. This is far beyond the
region’s housing demand. Its purpose, government
agencies admit
, is not to meet the need for homes, but “to maximise [the
area’s] economic potential”.

Originally, the
Arc was to be built around an Expressway: a new motorway linking the two
cities. After a furious public backlash, the Expressway, according
to Highways England
(the government agency promoting the project), is now
“paused” while it explores “other potential road projects”. In either case,
there would be a massive expansion of the road network and the traffic it
carries, though air pollution in the region already breaks
legal limits
. The new housing would mean a huge increase in water use.
Already rivers in this area are running
dry
, as demand exceeds supply.

Even before the
pandemic struck, this megalomaniac scheme was in trouble, due to the strength
of public opposition. The pandemic, some of us assumed, would be the death
blow. Why would the government spend money on this grandiose nonsense, when
there are so many other priorities?

But last week, a
new campaign came to the rescue. It has rebranded
the project
“Nature’s Arc”. Apparently, with some adjustments, this massive
exercise in concrete pouring “could show how development can restore nature,
rather than destroy it”. Building up to a million homes, the
new PR blitz tells us
, is “the perfect opportunity to invest in nature,
improve people’s lives and realise the green recovery.” There’s no mention of
traffic, no mention of the Arc’s contribution to air pollution, climate
breakdown, resource consumption or water use. It’s suffused with the kind of
corporate-Maoist exhortations you see in brochures for new estates: “Nature’s
Arc: Be part of it”.

It’s one of the
most outrageous exercises in greenwashing I’ve ever seen. But I haven’t told
you the worst of it. This guff was not published by the government or the
housebuilding companies. It was published by a consortium of wildlife groups:
the RSPB, the Woodland Trust and the region’s two Wildlife Trusts. All of them
once fought the Arc and its associated developments. The two Wildlife Trusts
once mounted
a legal challenge
to the Expressway. This looks to me like a switch from
opposition to collaboration.

There’s a
remarkable, distressing similarity between their campaign and Highways
England’s own PR materials
. The wildlife groups use the same dismal,
instrumental language. They call nature “natural capital”. They rebrand nature
reserves and woodlands as “green
infrastructure
”. They uncritically deploy one of the most controversial
concepts in development planning: “net gain”. This is the principle that
established wildlife habitats destroyed by a project should be replaced by a
greater area of new habitat. It has been used repeatedly as an excuse to
destroy ancient and precious wild places, replacing them with uniform saplings in
plastic guards
. Government newspeak appears to have framed their language
and shaped their thinking.

Both the Wildlife
Trusts in this consortium, in response to my questions, tell me they have
applied for funds from Highways England, for other projects. The boundaries
blur and the objectives mesh, until it seems hard to tell the difference
between protectors and destroyers. But I don’t think this is about money. I
think it’s about power.

The four groups
all tell me that, despite the statements in their press materials, they still
oppose the housing target. They say they want to lay down green principles for
construction in the Arc and ensure it “respects environmental limits”. But by
rebranding the Arc as the potential saviour of nature, I believe they are
playing straight into the government’s hands.

To make matters
worse, none of them consulted the local campaign groups who have been leading
the fight against the Oxford – Cambridge Arc. Deborah Lovatt of the Buckinghamshire Expressway Action Group
tells me she had no idea Nature’s Arc was coming. “When I saw that they were
describing this scale of destruction as ‘a perfect opportunity’, I felt sick.”
They have “completely undermined community campaigns”. This is ironic, as one
of the many complaints against the government’s proposal is the lack of public
consultation.

The bigger and
more established an organisation becomes, the more timid and conformist it
seems to get, until it’s almost indistinguishable from the interests it should
be confronting. In this age of environmental crisis and collapse, of government
lies and corporate power, we need our nature defenders to rise like lions after
slumber. Instead, they queue at the abattoir gate like sedated lambs.

As commercial
propaganda seeps into every corner of public life, trust collapses. No one
knows what or whom to believe. We need campaigning groups that stand on
principle, mobilise their members, use their own words and think their own
thoughts. Instead, they swing in the winds of power.

www.monbiot.com

Sold Out

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 15/06/2020 - 8:28pm in

The government intends
to use a US trade deal to bypass democracy, override Parliament and rip down our
public protections.

By George Monbiot,
published in the Guardian 10th June 2020

The Conservative
manifesto made a clear promise. It pledged that in the government’s trade talks, “we will not compromise on
our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”. Just six
months after the election, the promise has been ditched. Our government is now proposing that
chlorine-washed chicken, beef treated with growth hormones, pork from animals injected with ractopamine and scores of other foods produced in the United States by dangerous,
cruel and disgusting means will be allowed into this country, as long as higher
trade taxes (tariffs) are applied to them.

The trade
secretary, Liz Truss, has made it clear that any such tariffs would be removed within 10 years. It’s impossible
to see the US negotiators allowing them to pass in the first place. The US intends to secure “comprehensive” access to our food markets, while “reducing
or eliminating tariffs”. This nonsense about higher tariffs is a blatant
attempt to soften us up, to sugar the toxic pill of US imports that don’t meet
our standards. When I say sugar, I mean high fructose corn syrup.

It’s not as if our
standards are wonderful. But by comparison to the revolting practices in the
US, our food rules, laid down by the EU, are a haven of sanity. As well as
washing chicken flesh with chlorine, to compensate for the filthy conditions in
which it is raised and processed, and injecting dangerous substances into
cattle and pigs, Big Farmer and Big Food in the US use 72 pesticides that are banned here and food colourings that have been linked to hyperactivity in children, impose no limits on the amount of sugar baby food contains, and permit cow’s milk to contain twice the amount of pus that the UK allows.

What this means is
that we will bring into this country food whose production is banned here.
Either our farmers and food processors will be outcompeted, or our domestic
production standards will be brought down to match. Some Conservative MPs
attempted to insert an amendment into the Agriculture Bill, to uphold the manifesto promise. But it was
decisively slapped down by government loyalists.

The US government
argues that these matters should be left to consumers. We should each be allowed to decide whether we buy cheap vegetables
containing residues of pesticides that are banned here. But I suspect that,
rather than having to read and interpret the labels on everything we buy from
shops, takeaways and restaurants, most of us would prefer to know that all the
food on sale is safe to eat. Anyway, just in case we did try to exercise such
choice, the US also insists that all useful labelling be banned.Perversely,
it has argued that warning labels are “harmful” to
public health.

This doesn’t end
with food. In the same section of their manifesto, the Conservatives promised
that “in our trade talks … the NHS is not on the table. The price the
NHS pays for drugs is not on the table. The services the NHS provides are not
on the table.” The leaked dossier of trade documents released by the Labour Party last year revealed that
the US is seeking “full market access” to the NHS. If the promised food and
farming standards were a lie, how long will it be before we discover that the
NHS pledge was also worthless?

I suspect this has
been the agenda all along. The neoliberal extremists who populate the front benches have long sought to rip down our public
protections, rip down our public services, rip down everything that stands in
the way of the most vicious form of capitalism. A trade deal with the US allows
them to do so while disclaiming responsibility for the consequences. Once they
have signed it, they can claim that, sadly, their hands are tied.
Unfortunately, the rules don’t allow us to maintain food standards, and force
us to open the NHS to competition. Perhaps mistakes were made during the
negotiations, but it’s a done deal now, enforced by legal instruments. There’s
nothing we can do.  They know they could
never obtain public consent for these policies. A US trade deal would impose
them without consent.

Even parliamentary
consent is unnecessary. The Trade Bill, in its current form, makes no provision for parliamentary scrutiny of any deal. Parliament has no legal right under this bill to debate or vote on a trade deal, or even to know what
it contains. The bill also grants the government Henry VIII powers to change the law on trade agreements without parliamentary approval. The governments
of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are granted no formal role in
negotiating or approving trade treaties. In other words, nothing is being left
to chance. This is not democracy. This is elective dictatorship.

To make matters
worse, the US is likely to insist that the deal is enforced by an offshore
tribunal, which allows corporations to sue governments if domestic law affects
their “future anticipated profits”. This mechanism has been used all over the
world
to punish nations for laws their parliaments have passed. It ensures
that, over time, legislation everywhere has to be tailored to the demands of corporate power. Far from taking
back control, a trade deal on these lines with the US involves a massive
renunciation of sovereign power.

The government
knows that accepting such a deal means no deal with the EU. US food rules are
incompatible with EU standards. In the leaked documents, US officials remark that “there would be all to play for in a No Deal situation”. I suspect
our government sees it the same way. The pigheaded obstructionism of the UK in
the current EU talks is at stark odds with its willingness to prostrate itself
before US power. Dominic Cummings says he intends to stay in his post for the next six months. In other words, he will stay for long enough to ensure that the
transition period is not extended, making a no deal Brexit more likely.

Just as Trump seeks to erase Obama’s legacy, Johnson and Cummings seek to erase Clement Attlee’s much deeper legacy. It’s not about sovereignty. It’s not about taking back control. It’s not about British values or British autonomy. It’s about locking deregulation and the demolition of public services in place, by means that cannot be challenged by either people or Parliament. The combination of a no deal Brexit and a coercive US trade agreement will allow the government to rip down a wide range of rules and protections, creating a paradise for the disaster capitalists funding the party, and hell for the rest of us.  

They intend to pursue this agenda regardless of the pandemic, regardless of a petition that has already gained 800,000 signatures, regardless of the economic
and political harm it might do. This is their game, and we must use every
democratic means to stop it.

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