Last week Parliament debated the Transatlantic Trade and investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated – in secret – between the EU and USA. It was almost universally approved on both sides of the House, with only one Labour and one Tory MP expressing scepticism or opposition. It was argued that it will stimulate trade by removing tariffs and thus promote jobs and economic growth. That is nonsense since these tariffs are already at minimal levels. Even US and EU officials admit that the real goal is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations . Yet these ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most valuable social standards and environmental regulations such as labour rights, food safety rules (including restrictions on GMOs), regulations on the use of toxic chemicals, digital privacy laws and even banking safeguards introduced to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crash. Constant attempts by the big corporates to circumvent these ‘obstacles’ have regularly foundered, but this time the issues are being rushed through as swiftly as possible with no details entering the public domain, in the hope that they can be concluded before the peoples of Europe and the US can find out the true scale of the threat. So why isn’t Labour opposing it?
This is all the more extraordinary when, in addition to the deregulation agenda, TTIP also seeks to open up new markets in public services and government procurement contracts to competition from the big private multinationals. That will usher in a further wave of privatisations in the most sensitive key sectors of health and education among others. But the really biggest issue of all is that TTIP would grant foreign investors a new right to sue sovereign governments in front of ad hoc arbitration tribunals for loss of profits from public policy decisions over health, safety, workplace standards, chemicals use, etc. This investor-State dispute settlement mechanism effectively elevates transnational capital to a status equivalent to the nation-State itself. That would undermine the fundamental principles of democracy in both the EU and USA.
So again why isn’t the Labour Party wholly opposed and not even demanding that the veil of secrecy over the current negotiations be immediately lifted so that the public can be aware of what is being negotiated ostensibly in its name? This goes to the heart of Parliamentary politics today. The Blairite domination of the Labour Party from 1994-2007 perverted Labour from a social democratic/socialist party into a fully signed up neoliberal capitalist party. The Left was decimated and the Blairite ideologues together with their centre-right careerist hangers-on have made Labour into a pseudo-Tory party mark II. Ed Miliband is doing his best to move on and break from this constricting stranglehold from the past, but it still lingers on and kow-towing to this secret stitch-up with transnationals subverting British laws is a classic example of the difficulties he still has to contend with.