Anyone looking at Greece’s recent battle with its creditors would have wondered what became of national democracy. A radical but democratically elected government was forced into an impossible position during bailout negotiations with foreign institutions, the likely result being the collapse of that government. As 2011 demonstrated, when the technocrats Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos were imposed on Italy and Greece respectively, democratic governments who don’t comply can be ejected.
But, if we look again at the UK now, the future threat to democracy should also be of concern. In 2010, under cover of austerity cuts it became clear that the real intention of the first Cameron government was to cut back the UK State and with it, democratic accountability. Cuts to local and central government, linked to marketization, out-sourcing and privatization, were the tried and tested routes. All the building blocks were put in place for future full-scale privatization of higher education, the NHS, the justice system and schools. When the not so small matter of European membership is decided, the alpha testing period will be over and privatizations will be rolled out. Each of these steps has already begun undermining democratic tenets, from diminishing access to legal representation, to a discarding of critical social science education subjects, to large scale outsourcing of public functions to private contractors under opaque deals.
However, that drip of anti-democratic forces, being rolled out under cover of austerity in 2010, has suddenly become a flood in 2015. In recent weeks, it has become clear that the current agenda of the Conservatives is to ruthlessly attack any potential lines of future opposition to its plans and its attempts to win the 2020 election. First has come a budget driven more by a desire to wrong-foot the Labour Party than actually restore the economy. Second, has been the shoddy attempt to slip through EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) without proper debate or via the normal consultation and legislative process. The main aim here is to exclude large numbers of opposition MPs from key parts of the political process. It’s also designed to make any future Labour government or Labour-SNP coalition unworkable.
Third, has come attempts to make strike action almost impossible to carry out and further attacks on a union movement which is a shadow of what it once was. No-one seriously believes the UK union movement can still be held culpable for the UK’s economic failures. And slipped into these proposals comes an important change to the union political levy that will greatly cut back Labour Party income. Like EVEL, such an issue of party funding has always been debated more openly, rather than being shoved into another bill.
Last of all comes the attack on the BBC. The BBC is no supporter of the left. Despite the endless complaints of Conservative MPs and the right-wing press, studies of BBC news usually find it is naturally more supportive of the market and establishment agenda. But, at the same time, the BBC does not fall into line with the UK print media, 80% of which is rabidly pro-Tory, and even more so now than at the height of the Thatcher years. If the BBC can be cut back, privatized and backed into a small corner, even ordinary centre views (let alone centre-left ones) will be even further diminished. Perhaps we should be asking what ruse do the Conservatives have in mind for legally dispensing with the Guardian, Daily Mirror and the Trews?
All this is happening in a balmy summer period, when many have already gone on holiday, and the Labour Party remains leaderless. None of this is coincidence. And while Labour is trying to find itself, and suntans are being cultivated, the means of future opposition are being shut down in every direction. We are in the midst of a far right coup. The Greek and British cases may be very different but both leave one wondering how free-market financiers and technocrats are undermining the democratic process. In Greece they are operating from outside the country. In the UK they are working directly inside Westminster.