It says a lot about democratic accountability that the most profound and far-reaching issues are not discussed in Parliament. It was true of the decision in the UK to build the first atomic bomb, it was true of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment in the 2000s which aimed to give the world’s rich countries the right to draft universal investment laws which would guarantee corporations unconditional rights to conduct financial transactions which could not be challenged by governments or citizens. And it is true now of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which US and EU trade negotiators are currently trying to bring to fruition. It too, if carried through, will allow international companies to hold governments to account, rather than the other way round, if they believe that governments are introducing environmental, social or labour standards which unreasonably impinge on their commercial prospects.
Of course in selling the idea to the (gullible) public, not a word is said about this. Instead we are told that it will increase transatlantic economic growth by 1-2% a year and that that will increase incomes by several hundred pounds a year. What is not mentioned, even if you believe the salesman’s patter about the benefits, is that the increased incomes will accrue very largely to the holders of capital, not to ordinary folk to any noticeable degree. But the real impact is felt on democracy. There is a touching faith that everyone in the West accepts that democracy is the foundation stone of our society and culture and the immoveable basis of our rights for justice and redress. But the capital holders, the corporate class, have never accepted this – and nor really have the ideological wing of the Tory party.
They have never accepted the social democracy of the Attlee government after the second world war, and inspired by market ideologues like Hayek and by political ideologues like Thatcher they sought relentlessly to overturn the Keynesian settlement. The hyper-inflation of the 1970s caused by the quadrupling of oil prices gave them their chance. It ushered in the monetarist deflationary approach of the Callaghan government which then paved the way for full-blown Thatcherite neoliberal capitalism in the 1980s. It was consolidated by the Blairite betrayal which harnessed the Labour party to the same market fundamentalist principles. Now the Cameron government of aggressive right-wing radicalism is taking the supremacy of the market and of capital yet further by its deliberate espousal of austerity, not to reduce the budget deficit (it patently isn’t doing so), but to redistribute income, wealth and power yet further towards the corporate class. Their eagerness for the US-EU trade pact is another dimension of this same drive, even more powerfully deployed at the international level.