The Contest for the Centre

September 19, 2008 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

The contest for the political centre ground is well documented. We can all see it taking place as the differences between the parties become blurred. Yet with millions of people living in the UK what is the centre ground?

It is often referred to as ‘middle England’ while others see it as the consensus of public opinion, where the left and the right meet. These terms, however, are not borne out in reality. The majority of moves to the centre are really moves to the corporate position. This has resulted in policies which often go against the public consensus being categorised as being in the centre ground, while policies which are supported by most of the population and are in their interest are labelled as extreme.

As the Labour party has moved to the right they have embraced deregulation of financial markets, privatisation of public services, centralisation to London and lower taxes for businesses and the wealthiest paid for by higher taxation for the rest. Recently, despite overwhelming public support and demands from their own MP’s, the government has not implemented a windfall tax on energy firms. When Northern Rock needed bailing out suddenly nationalisation wasn’t the terrible term which it had been for the previous 10 years. All of these policies and many more were designed to help corporations. As Neal Lawson, director of Compass, wrote in the New Statesman: ‘new Labour inverted the principle of social democracy: Labour governments would no longer try to make society the master of the market; it would make society its servant.’

While all of this has been happening the Conservatives have also been moving into the so-called centre ground. The Tories have always been a party supporting the interests of the rich but under David Cameron they are seen as moving to left and now claim to be the “party of the poor”. Many of these changes, however, are also subtly helpful to large corporations. They are now in favour of the European Union and controlled immigration based on skills brought to the job market, whereas before many Tories wanted out of the EU and very limited immigration. This change is not because they want to help migrants; instead it boosts cheap labour and increases the number of consumers. They appear to be in favour of high levels of investment in public services, a stark contrast to their position when they were last in power. However, as private companies are increasingly being contracted to deliver services traditionally provided by the public sector, this is also helpful to big businesses allowing them to benefit from state funding.

The true reflection of the centre ground according to recent YouGov polls is that 67 per cent of people support a windfall tax on energy companies; 78 per cent think that there are already too many immigrants in the UK; 64 per cent feel that London has too much power; 89 per cent think that political leaders should do what the majority want; only 7 per cent think that the balance of tax between rich and poor is correct. Whilst public opinion is malleable and not always correct, some of these positions make up what is the true centre ground. Yet none of them are in the interests of corporations hence the lack of support for them from political parties.

A report by Media Lens published this week highlighted another area where what is now considered a central issue – environmental policy – is being distorted by corporate interests. It wasn’t long ago that being green was seen as the idealism of the radical left but now, as the dangers of climate change become evermore apparent, every party boasts about its green credentials. The difference between now and the idealism of the past is that now there is money to be made.

The report said that senior UK government advisor, Professor Bob Watson’s ‘response to his own dire warning to prepare for a 4C rise was to call for the UK to take a lead in research on carbon capture and storage (CCS). This would require an “Apollo-type programme” akin to the huge resources devoted by the US in the 1960s space race.

‘As indicated by its rapidly escalating media profile, CCS has been hyped into the foreground with serious discussion of alternative measures, policies and ideas left trailing in its wake. Corporate energy chiefs have pushed CCS hard, a greenwashing strategy to protect business interests, profits and power.

‘But consider the extent of the hype. A recent report from Corporate Watch warns that CCS technology is unlikely to be proven, scaled up and in widespread use until 2030 at the earliest, and possibly not until 2050 – too late to prevent climate chaos.”

With so much profit at stake energy companies will be lobbying politicians of all parties. They don’t want to see a strategy of decreasing energy use, improving efficiency, personal energy generation, expansion of renewables which produce lower profits, better public transport and higher taxes on fossil fuels. They want CCS (with research expenses subsidised by the state), more drilling, and more nuclear power plants. When the next energy policies are revealed they will be presented as policies of the centre, for ‘middle England’ and backed by public consensus. If they follow the majority of policy changes, though, they are likely to be made with one group’s interests at heart: corporations.

While the government is responding to the pressure exerted by corporations there is still the chance that others will be listened to. Once these corporate ideals become institutionalised, however, it will be too late. Noam Chomsky’s and Edward Herman’s propaganda model showed why the American media is a conduit for corporate power due to the fact that it is owned by some of America’s largest companies. In his book ‘The Triumph of the Political Class’, journalist Peter Oborne shows how government departments and the highest levels of the civil service have been taken over by people employed by large financial companies in the City. ‘At the same time the private equity industry has injected millions of pounds’ worth of donations not just into the governing Labour Party but into the Conservative opposition. Both parties give important public support to the very controversial private equity movement.’

Speaking about the book Mr Oborne said: “Jeremy Heywood is a fascinating figure actually, the private secretary to the prime minister [Tony Blair] and now under Brown. In the three years between he hopped over to Morgan Stanley and arranged privatisation with the Treasury. A classic case of the debasement of our public domain and capture of our civil service super-rich American bankers.”

Once political parties are made up of people from large City companies and receive large amounts of funding from super-rich individuals they will, in a similar way to the ‘Propaganda Model’, become conduits for the ideals of the rich and powerful. This process, as Oborne illustrates, is well underway.

Currently no party represents the consensus of public opinion or acts for the benefit of the majority while protecting vulnerable groups. Moving to the centre ground has become a euphemism for their subservience to corporate power at the expense of the general population.

The full Media Lens report can be accessed here:

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This post was written by Matt Genner

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