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THE ESTABLISHMENT. AND HOW THEY GET AWAY WITH IT – OWEN JONES

This book offers a most shocking and insightful view behind the scenes of British politics. It is mainly based on interviews with a large range of powerful people and academics. What might appear like a conspiracy theory is simply a different interpretation of facts that are out in the open. Owen Jones presents the hypothesis that Big Corporations have a suffocating grip on political decision making in this country, steering the process to profit their own vested interests. This is not only undemocratic, but also to the peril of economic prospects for most other people. The Establishment in Jones’ view consists not only of the 1% on the top, but also of the stakeholders that help to create this authoritarian twist of a democracy.

And he covers them one by one. He starts with the outriders, a network of academics and think tank researchers that slowly prepared the ground from the 1950s onward and are still crucial to justify the status quo. He carries on by showing to what a disturbing extent the political elite is in the pocket of the Corporate Sector, through a string of material and immaterial rewards. One of the more extreme cases he quotes is of a politician who received a million pounds in payments from various sources during  two years in Parliament alone (on top of his MP salary, obviously). What might be called a legitimate remuneration for extra-curricular activity, Jones reveals as really nothing less than corruption.

Jones goes on to show how the media throw themselves behind this, pursuing the interests of their rich owners. He also demonstrates how the independence and economic prospects of journalists are weakened, whilst their work load ever increases, leaving less and less time for background research. Most of the news is really public relations tactics. The police have helped aggressively to build this new Britain, only to find themselves the victims of financial cuts, when they were considered expendable.

Owen Jones show how the ‘Big 4’ Accountancy Firms are drawn in to write blurry legislation, which they then use in turn to achieve large scale tax evasion for their clients. As a pattern, these big companies at first don’t pay their tax bill at all. They let their debt build up to a substantial amount, and then they enter into negotiations. The Big 4 sell their contacts to HMRC to achieve ‘sweet heart deals’ for their clients. Jones demonstrates how privatisation really means that profitable chunks of state activity are sold off, whilst the costly ones remain public. Consider the rail system: private companies provide the low cost train services and get the money from ticket sales, with subsidies on top. Meanwhile, the state has to fund the expensive building and upkeep of the rail network. Today, the government after inflation spends six times more on rail, than before privatisation!

Jones goes on to highlight how contracting out of public services to private companies usually leads to a sharp decline in workers’ rights and pay, whilst the quality of the service deteriorates. But despite the fact, which watchdogs constantly show, that private contractors don’t fulfil their obligations, contracts usually get renewed. Privately run public services are wanted politically. Despite all the anti-state rhetoric, private companies earn handsomely from the public sector.

This book is disturbing. And well worth a read.

Robert SSF