Take the Money Out

In 2017, Theresa May’s Conservative Party spent eighteen and a half million pounds on its General Election campaign,[i] earning it the world record for the most expensive bullet ever retrieved from a woman’s foot. A few days later, Mrs May was forced to buy DUP support at a cost of £100m per MP, the most money spent trying to save a face since the preparations for Michael Jackson’s final tour. Political campaigns can be very expensive.

There are two widely acknowledged problems with political parties and money. The first is how they raise it and the second is how they spend it.

Raising it.

The first problem needs little elaboration. During the 2017 General Election, for instance, 83 people on the Times Rich List donated £12m to the big three parties, plus UKIP and the Greens. Unsurprisingly, £5.5m of the loot went to the Tories, with the LibDems taking £3.5m, and Labour £2.2m.[ii] Labour also raised money from affiliated trades unions, while all parties routinely collect smaller donations and membership fees. It’s donations that concerns us here.

metropolis

Election 2017: Theresa May shares a joke with her campaign managers.

The taint of corruption around party finances has lingered long; with legislative remedies beginning with the Corrupt and Illegal Practices (Prevention) Act of 1883. Somewhat more recently, the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act of 1925 addressed the specific problem of parties selling titles for cash, although with only limited success, as the ‘Cash for Honours’ scandal of 2006 fulsomely demonstrated. In 2000, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act created the Electoral Commission, which now regulates party finance and electoral probity.

That political donations should be kept free from graft and rascalism has few dissenters, but it is commonly accepted that parties should have to raise their own funds. Support for the alternative – full state funding – has long been poisoned by the personal avarice of discontinued MPs like Neil Hamilton, Stephen ‘Cab for Hire’ Byers, and Patrick Mercer whose greed seeps along the gutter of recent political history like saliva from an up-turned trough. There’s widespread cynicism about the democratic cost of such fundraising – what precisely it is that wealthy patrons are buying – but not yet enough to make improper spending of private largesse a greater popular evil than correct spending of the taxpayer’s hard-earned cash.[iii] More on state funding in a moment but it’s not happening any time soon.

Spending it.

Party_Spending_UKPGETo the second problem, then; what do parties spend all their treasure on? The Electoral Commission chart makes it clear. Of the nine categories included, only transport and administration aren’t some form of political communication or, to use the older word, propaganda (you can see all the categories by clicking here -ignore the split over s. 75 spending).

One account of the need for political communication, which lives on in the literature to this day, is the work of the celebrated American economist Anthony Downs. In the 1950s, he argued that parties need to build durable coalitions of support among voters who ‘invest’ in them with their votes. However, before buying stock in a party, one first needs to shop around by informing oneself of the competing parties’ positions on key issues. Inevitably, this self-education is time-consuming and, given that one’s own vote makes effectively zero difference to the result, is an ‘irrational’ expenditure of effort for no measurable gain. To counter this problem, political communication acts as a subsidy to the electorate: parties proactively advertise their wares; distilling policies into easily-understood offers that allow the punters to reduce the costs of ‘spending’ their vote on the best deal for them.  More on this in a moment.

Winners and losers.

That’s a formal answer to why parties need to raise so much money for communications but let’s ask another question.  Who, aside from advertising agencies, benefits from the parties’ need to spend so much money on campaigning? I see four consequences to arrangements as they are.

The first, obvious consequence is that smaller parties can only chirp while the Big Two screech.[iv] Parties spending heavily on their campaigns encourages the other parties to compete but if they can’t their presence in the campaign will likely be reduced. This leads to a diminished field of choice and the possibility of a cartel.[v] True, UKIP is a recent example of a small party that did project a  substantial national voice — including a coveted role for Nigel Farage as the Alan Davies of Question Time —  even despite the Party’s failure to trouble the House of Commons (other than by reanimating the political corpses of former Tory MPs).[vi] But its reach until the Brexit referendum was aided by a string of sugar daddies[vii] who allowed it to hate above its weight (and, I must concede, by a preternatural gift for melding decades of inchoate grievance into an unbending determination to vandalise the European flag with blood fresh from the nation’s wrists).[viii]

Secondly, the need to spend so much money on campaigning promotes centralised control within parties. To varying extents, local MPs are dependent on their party machine for access to its resources for canvassing, leafleting, local market research, and so on. In the 2015 General Election, the Tories conducted private polling of 80 target seats to provide local candidates with detailed information. Labour, borrowing from the Obama campaigns, constructed a new database and voter profiling system.[ix] Both parties maintained large teams of volunteers to deploy in key constituencies.[x] The threat of being robbed of all this muscle arguably serves as a strong informal way of disciplining MPs and candidates. In the 2017 General Election, so Alex Nunns suggests, the Labour bureaucracy may have in some cases allocated its social media, wide direct marketing, and targeted direct marketing spending at least partly with the intention of bolstering candidates with whom it had a ‘political affinity’ (i.e. being anti-Corbyn).[xi]

A third consequence of parties’ need for large amounts of money is that it allows capital, individual or corporate, leverage over politics. The investment theory of party competition formulated by the American academic Thomas Ferguson holds that parties can only adopt policies that enable them to attract the investment required to run successful campaigns.

“…it is a simple fact that virtually all the issues that both elites and ordinary Americans think about outside of or alongside campaigns – work and employment, free trade or protection, health care, the future of … production, the cities, taxes – are critically important not only to voters, but to well-organised investor blocs, businesses, and industries. And it is another simple fact that many such groups invest massively in candidates.”[xii]

Ferguson proposes an alternative to Downs’s model, arguing that, while voters cannot practicably invest the time required to properly acquaint themselves with all the issues that affect their interests, capital can. Much like business can give concerted attention to an issue in a way that community activists cannot (as I’ve discussed here, for instance), big business has the resources and focus to thoroughly evaluate candidates and parties to reward those who best serve their interests. This (along with slick lobbying operations and corporate PR generally) naturally influences the boundaries of political debate; promoting some issues and suppressing others.

Fourthly, I think Downs’s market analogy is naïve. It neglects in both cases, the true nature of the communication being deployed, which (to borrow from Jürgen Habermas) is not rational but strategic.[xiii] Strategic communication treats people not as ends but as means, either to shift product or to win office. In a word, it’s marketing. If you doubt this in either case, ask yourself how much of political or commercial communication is a simple attempt to explain the merits of a policy or product without recourse to evasion, emotional manipulation or plain deceit. As Aristotle would have noted, marketing runs long on ethos and pathos but very short on logos.[xiv] Negative campaigning, gimmicks, emotional manipulation, audience research, market segmentation, and targeted messaging impoverish genuine political debate and corrode collective critical faculties. We become a pack of dogs who salivate or snarl whenever the bell is rung (or a whistle blown).

There we have the problem as I see it. Parties prospering through donations is fundamentally undemocratic since, however stridently some protest to the contrary, voting is not the same as spending money. The vote is a token that levels the electorate because everyone gets just one. In the current system, wealth entrenches wealth as parties rent-seek from high-spending minorities while neglecting the stony majority.

You might argue that this doesn’t have too much effect since all parties are heard to some degree (especially under election broadcasting rules, which undoubtedly benefitted Jeremy Corbyn in 2017) and the diligent voter can discover whatever she needs to with a little research. But if the ability to deploy millions in advertising confers little advantage why bother? Some might also argue that individual donations reflect wider support in the country: the more support a party has the more donations they’ll receive and so the louder their voice becomes. But this is to put the electoral cart before the democratic horse. Democracy should not be about allowing popular messages to be heard more loudly but allowing all messages to be evaluated equally.

Keeping them honest.

The parties can be kept honest in two ways: by keeping an eye on how they raise money and a reign on how they spend it.

To take the first approach, the most widely-touted remedy is state funding. In fact, I used the phrase ‘full state funding’ earlier with good reason. Though not widely known, opposition parties in the Commons receive state funding for carrying out their parliamentary duties, research, formulating policy, travel expenses, and so forth. This ‘Short Money’ was introduced in 1975 and is paid to any opposition party with at least two MPs.[xv] There’s an involved formula for calculating payments but, in 2016-17, the Labour Party received just under £6.5m and the LibDems half a million. Somewhat farther from the buffet table, the Greens and UKIP received £216K a piece.[xvi] One might develop this into a formal system of state funding (encompassing the ruling party) and allocate funds for extra-Parliamentary activity. Naturally, as the current system rewards parliamentary incumbency, one would need to find an equitable way to extend it to parties without a seat.

There are several drawbacks to state funding. One is that a background level of mismanagement and expenses-rigging would occur but that is already the case. In fact, it might be preferable for the taxpayer simply to accept MPs’ more venal tastes but take advantage of state buying power. At least a heavily-discounted bulk purchase of Columbian cocaine would finally give Liam Fox a post-Brexit trade deal to crow about. And a similar Parliamentary five-year tender for prostitution services would surely be welcomed by upstanding members on both sides of the House.

Another drawback might be that, as in rentier states, state funding runs the risk of making the political class flabby and unresponsive. Relieved of the need to rattle a tin at donors big and small, parties will sit back and live on benefits. Worse, as the parties would be responsible for drawing-up the rules, this would only increase the tendency of the main parties to act as a cartel. I suspect, however, that both these objections would be firmly at the back of a public mind wholly dominated by one preeminent demurral: “Why should we give those fuckers a penny?”[xvii]

The other approach, spending controls, is also partly in use. Earlier this month, the Electoral Commission fined Leave.EU £70,000 and referred its CEO to the police for failing to report at least £77,000 of campaign spending.[xviii] In 2017, the Commission also fined the official Remain campaign and the LibDems for undeclared spending during the EU referendum campaign and the Conservatives £70,000 for breaches during the 2015 General Election and by-elections in 2016.

Nationally, registered parties may spend no more than £30,000 for each constituency they contest. This means parties fighting all 650 seats have their spending capped at £19.5m but that money doesn’t have to be spent equally on each constituency. Locally, individual candidates may spend an additional £10-16k in the 25 days before a General Election but, for a by-election, the limit is £100k.[xix] Fines are available for breaches of these laws and, if sufficiently grave, theoretically the local result can be voided and the election re-run. There is a defence, however, which applies if the election agent committed the offence without the ‘sanction or connivance’ of the candidate. Which, of course, will always be the case.

A different way?

The shared premise of controls on both how parties raise and spend campaign funds is that it is necessary and proper that parties spend money on campaigning. But what if one were to take a different view and argue that political campaigning — or, more precisely, the promotion of genuine, democratic debate — is too important to allow it to be contaminated with money? Formally at least, elections are supposed to be competitions between competing sets of policies, even visions for the way life should be. Money distorts this competition for three reasons. Firstly, if money confers advantage and is for any reason unevenly distributed then advantage will be unevenly distributed. Secondly, if the flow of money going into the parties reflects the existing distribution of power within society, then those with power will be privileged. Thirdly, and most fundamentally, using money to make one policy more prominent or appealing at the expense of another runs the risk of that other idea not being given its proper consideration. This is labouring an obvious point, I know, and also assumes that the campaign is about actual policy at all and not merely personality or ‘values’.

I’m not arguing that parties should be barred from issuing political communications. But would it not be better if a party’s voice, certainly at election times, had nothing to do with how much moolah it could muster? Instead, imagine if each party meeting certain eligibility criteria (fielding a minimum of candidates for instance) received an allocation of free communications but was barred from purchasing more. This allocation would include the printing and delivery to all homes of its manifesto, a certain number of party political broadcasts, access to hustings, money for events, and social and old media advertising. Locally, each candidate mustering over a certain threshold of signatures would get an equal allocation of materials and promotion. Personally, I would ban local and national polling in the month before a general election so that, rather than fine-tuning a message to get elected, parties would instead have to stake out a position and campaign for it.

Importantly, there would be no state interference with the content of the message, only parity of prevalence. Parliament would inevitably have to set the broad outline and intent of the policy, but the practical details and enforcement could be left to the Electoral Commission. The number of news media appearances — and hence the power of the corporate press to pick winners — would be harder to regulate but democratising the media is a separate issue.

This is a sketch rather than a solid, worked-out policy proposal but I think the idea would address some of the problems of the current system. Shorn of the need for campaign donations, parties would be far less in-hock to business, especially if capped state-funding for administrative costs were standardised. The debate between the larger and smaller parties would also be evened-up: a good thing, as how large a party is has no necessary connection with the merit of its position. If the means of campaigning were roughly the same, then the focus would have to be on the content of what each party was saying. It wouldn’t stop parties trying to bribe and mislead the electorate, but a campaign stripped of a lot of the flimflam might help the substantive issues come to the fore, leading to a more informed and responsible public.

Which is why it’ll never happen, of course.

Notes.

___________

[i] Labour spent £11m and the LibDems £6.8m. Peter Walker, “Tories spent £18.5m on election that cost them majority,” The Guardian 19th March 2018, available at https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/mar/19/electoral-commission-conservatives-spent-lost-majority-2017-election

[ii] Alastair McCall , “Britain’s richest give £12m to parties fighting election,” The Times, 21st May 2017, available at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/rich-list-2017-britains-richest-give-12m-to-parties-fighting-election-jn0dzpvms

[iii] Author unknown, “Britain’s parties should be funded by the state,” Financial Times, 19th February 2015, available at https://www.ft.com/content/6e3c067e-b837-11e4-b6a5-00144feab7de

[iv] And the incumbent party will receive more coverage as both a party and as the Government.

[v] See for example, Katz, R.S., Mair, P., (1995), ‘Changing Models of Party Organisation and Party Democracy The Emergence of the Cartel Party’, Party Politics, Volume 1, pp. 5-28.

[vi] Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless.

[vii] Anna Leach, “Meet UKIP’s 5 biggest donors”, The Mirror, 2nd January 2015, https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/ampp3d/meet-ukips-5-biggest-donors-4909075

[viii] And we may yet see a new small party punch above its parliamentary party if a new ‘centrist’ party, apparently equipped with £50m to ‘break the mould” of UK politics by giving a much-needed voice to marginalised and powerless multimillionaires like Simon Franks, ever emerges into the light (Michael Savage, “New centrist party gets £50m backing to ‘break mould’ of UK politics,” Guardian 8th April 2018, available at https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/07/new-political-party-break-mould-westminster-uk-brexit

[ix] Andrew Mullen (2015) “Political consultants, their strategies and the importation of new political communications techniques during the 2015 General Election,” in Daniel Jackson and Einar Thorsen (eds) “UK Election Analysis 2015: Media, Voters and the Campaign” The Centre for the Study of Journalism, Culture and Community, p. 42.

[x] Tim Ross (2015) “Why the Tories Won: The Inside Story of the 2015 Election,” Chapter Three. The Tories, for instance, spent hundreds of thousands on “Team 2015,” which borrowed psychological motivation techniques (including ‘chivvying teams’ of volunteers supplied by accountancy behemoth PriceWaterhouseCoopers) from the team behind London 2012. The team was 100,000 strong, with groups bused around the country to campaign in target constituencies in what its organiser, Grant Shapps, called a ‘ground war’.

[xi] Alex Nunns (2018) “The Candidate” (2nd ed.), OR Books (London), pp. 335-38.

[xii] Thomas Ferguson (1995) “Golden Rule. The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems,” University of Chicago Press, p. 8.

[xiii] See Habermas’s “Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 1: Reason and the Rationalization of Society: Reason and the Rationalization of Society” and especially “The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 2: A Critique of Functionalist Reason”. His “Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere” is also interesting.

[xiv] See Aristotle’s “Art of Rhetoric”.

[xv] Or if they have one MP but received more than 150,000 votes in the previous General Election.

[xvi] House of Commons Research Briefing, “Short Money” 19th December 2016 available at http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN01663 There’s a related allocation in the Lords, known as the Cranborne Money.

[xvii] There have probably been a few third ways proposed. In the US, for example, various experts have suggested systems in which each voter is given a voucher, which they can donate to the party of their choice. The voucher is then redeemable for cash but with enhanced safeguards attached. Seattle have been trying a variant of this for several years, which was touted to get ‘big money’ out of politics. I shan’t dwell on it here but as corporations are still able to make cash donations, the ‘big money’ isn’t getting any smaller.

[xviii] Electoral Commission, “Leave.EU fined for multiple breaches of electoral law following investigation” 11th May 2018, available at https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/i-am-a/journalist/electoral-commission-media-centre/news-releases-donations/leave.eu-fined-for-multiple-breaches-of-electoral-law-following-investigation

[xix] FullFact, “Democratic deficit? The rules on election spending,” 10th May 2017, available at https://fullfact.org/law/election-spending-rules-conservatives-electoral-commission/

Advertisements

No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper

The Guardian ran an opinion column last week by its foreign correspondent, Peter Beaumont, about chemical weapons.[i] He opened by evoking the blood and misery of World War One before coming to his central question: ‘why is it that we regard the apparent use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime (which has claimed relatively few lives overall) as more terrible than the crude pummelling by conventional arms which have [sic] resulted in hundreds of thousands of Syrian deaths?’

It’s a worthwhile question but I was sincerely taken aback by the emaciated reasoning that followed. Before I come to that, first the disclaimer required for those of bad faith or worse intelligence. I do not approve of chemical weapons, I don’t support Bashar al Assad, and I offer no view on whether his forces were responsible for the Douma chemical attack or, indeed, whether it was a chemical attack at all.[ii]

It seems to me that Beaumont attempts to answer his chosen question at two points in his article. His first attempt is partly historical. The Hague convention of 1899 set out the humanitarian principles that would ‘later form the basis of the modern law of conflict.’ Among these was the section that limited the ‘right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy’. The first instance of this was the ban on poisoned weapons, itself building on a 1675 agreement between France and Germany that banned poisoned bullets.

But what of poisoned gas? This was singled-out because it ‘inspired a particular horror, in large part psychological.’ That it ‘has remained a special case is because of the way its prohibition has become emblematic of restrictions on warfare. We decided gas must not be used because of our horror of being gassed ourselves.’

Is this why we regard gas as more terrible than bullets, because we were its victims? When we become the victims of nuclear weapons will their possession also move beyond the pale? Were the thousands of Japanese adults and children incinerated in our twin fireballs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not enough for us to forever renounce these most indiscriminate of means? Evidently not. They’ve not even been enough for states like the US and UK to take seriously their obligations, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to make good faith efforts to eliminate them (and certainly not to develop more ‘useable’ nuclear weapons.[iii]). Indeed, the atom bombs are still defended as having helped ‘shorten the war’ – a defence Beaumont seems reluctant to allow Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons. The salient different, of course, is that Assad is on the ‘other’ side. Being on the ‘other’ side forbids our enemies the right to make such decisions, to wage ‘just’ war or to self-defence at all.[iv]

In the Great War, we were supposedly horrified by chemical weapons but, as Beaumont mentions, not enough to forswear them ourselves. In 1919, Porton Down boffins in Wiltshire developed the ‘M Device’, an exploding shell containing diphenylaminechloroarsine. 50,000 ‘M Devices’ were shipped to Russia to be used in British bombing of Bolshevik soldiers. Though few were ever used, those caught in their green cloud reportedly vomited blood and then collapsed unconscious.[v]

Winston Churchill infamously did not understand the ‘squeamishness about the use of gas’ against ‘uncivilised tribes’ (he was speaking of India), noting that it was not ‘necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.’[vi] Churchill’s defenders often assert that he was talking only of tear gas and not poison gas per se. Yet, this  distinction might seem a little academic when, as the War Office noted of one then common variant of tear gas in 1921, while it was ‘classified as non-lethal’ and was ‘far less noxious than even mustard gas,’ at the same time it might have ‘serious and permanent effects on the eyes, and even, under certain circumstances, cause death.’[vii] I’ll also note that, while the historian Ray Douglas has pored over the evidence for Britain actually using CW in Iraq and found it wanting, he most certainly acknowledges that our lack of use arose from ‘practical difficulties rather than moral qualms’. Even in the oft-cited passage above, Churchill did not appear to think it wrong to use the ‘most deadly gasses,’ merely that it was not ‘necessary’. There’s no ‘horror’ there, simply a candid acceptance of chemical weapons as another tool in the white supremacist’s armoury. For some, in fact, chemicals were perhaps even a better weapon since their effects were ‘less terrifying’ than artillery shells or flamethrowers. Indeed, Douglas quotes a General Staff memorandum from 1919, which mused: ‘if it is advisable and possible to abolish gas on purely humanitarian grounds, the abolition of High Explosive, a far more terrible weapon which removes limbs, shatters bones, produces ‘nerves,’ and generates madness, is equally advisable.’[viii]

There may well be a public revulsion to chemical weapons but evidence of the same within elites seems thin. It certainly wasn’t suggested by British and American support for Saddam Hussein’s gassing of the Iranians – for which the US provided logistical support[ix] – or of Halabja, for which the US provided diplomatic cover[x] and the UK rewarded with £340m of additional economic support.[xi] To take just one more example, in 2006, a Ministry of Defence Inquiry reported that scientists at Porton Down had exposed 11,000 people to mustard and nerve gas in experiments carried out between 1939 and 1989; experiments which claimed the life of one serviceman and inflicted lasting damage on many more.[xii]

Beaumont then deploys his perfunctory second argument:

‘The argument that relies on the idea that other weapons are equally deadly misses the point, which is that we have decided that this class of killing – like the wanton murder of civilians and shooting prisoners – is beyond the pale.’

Is this really the point? That chemical weapons are uniquely horrific because ‘we’ have decided that they are? This is to invoke that old parental standby, ‘because I said so’. The argument betrays a certain western bias and the usual reek of hypocrisy. I can well imagine that other parts of the world might think we ‘miss the point’ that much of our arsenal is equally, if not more, reprehensible. We clutch our scented handkerchief to our nose at the whiff of chemical weapons while our depleted uranium leaves ‘babies with two heads. Or missing eyes, hands and legs. Or stomachs and brains inside out.’[xiii] Our white phosphorous burns people to their bones,[xiv] we perforate limbs to unstitchable mush with Dense Inert Metal Explosives,[xv] and rupture people’s internal organs or burn them to death while showing off the Mother of All Bombs, which might also be said to inspire a ‘particular horror, in large part psychological.’[xvi] Beaumont’s ‘fitful advances in the laws of war – contradictory and permissive as they remain’ seem all too ‘optional and reversible’.

So why do we pillory chemical weapons, which are revolting but not uniquely so? Perhaps it is because they, unlike our latest glittering engines of fully-automated luxury death, are not beyond the pocket of the Lesser Nations. To quote the Iranian politician Hashemi Rafsanjani, they’re ‘the poor man’s atomic bomb’.[xvii]As such, the taboo on their use is not only prophylactic but also a useful moral lever to justify our enlightened intervention.

[i] Peter Beaumont, “The taboo on chemical weapons has lasted a century – it must be preserved,” The Guardian, 18th April 2018, available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/18/chemical-weapons-taboo-syria

[ii] Robert Fisk, “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack,” The Independent, 17th April 2018, available at  https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-chemical-attack-gas-douma-robert-fisk-ghouta-damascus-a8307726.html

[iii] Most recently, see Clark Mindock “Trump administration considering developing two more ‘usable’ nuclear weapons,” The Independent, 16th January 2018, available at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-nuclear-weapons-new-latest-more-usable-a8162351.html Note that such intentions are portrayed as a response to Russian behaviour but as Charles Ferguson of the Centre for Non-Proliferation notes, the US has been ‘downplaying and, in key instances, repudiating arms control agreements’ since at least 2002 (see Nuclear Threat Initiative, “Nuclear Posture Review” 1st August 2002, available at http://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/nuclear-posture-review/ )

[iv][iv] According to one BBC Radio Four new report I heard, Trump ‘warned’ of his recent attack on Syria while Russia ‘threatened’ to respond.

[v] Giles Milton, “Winston Churchill’s shocking use of chemical weapons,” Guardian, 1st September 2013, available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2013/sep/01/winston-churchill-shocking-use-chemical-weapons

[vi] J. A. Webster, Air Ministry, to J. E. Shuckburgh, Colonial Office, September 15th, 1921, PRO, CO 537/825, quoted in R. M. Douglas, “Did Britain Use Chemical Weapons in Mandatory Iraq?” The Journal of Modern History, Vol 81, No. 4 (December 2009), pp. 859-887. Italics mine.

[vii] Webster, op. cit. Note that the effects of exposure to mustard gas include blistering, blindness of up to ten days or in some cases for good, severe abdominal pain, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, and death. https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/sulfurmustard/basics/facts.asp

[viii] Webster, op. cit.

[ix] Patrick E. Tyler, “Officers Say U.S. Aided Iraq in War Despite Use Of Gas, New York Times, 18th August, 2002, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/18/world/officers-say-us-aided-iraq-in-war-despite-use-of-gas.html  Shane Harris and Matthew M. Aid,  “Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran,” Foreign Policy 26th August 2016, available at http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/08/26/exclusive-cia-files-prove-america-helped-saddam-as-he-gassed-iran/

[x] Prof. Juan Cole, “US Protected Iraq at UN from Iranian Charges of Chemical Weapons Use,” Informed Comment, 28th August, 2013, available at https://www.juancole.com/2013/08/protected-charges-chemical.html Robert Fisk reported that ‘the CIA – in the immediate aftermath of the Iraqi war crimes against Halabja – told US diplomats in the Middle East to claim that the gas used on the Kurds was dropped by the Iranians rather than the Iraqis (Saddam still being at the time our favourite ally rather than our favourite war criminal).’ (Robert Fisk,  “This was a guilty verdict on America as well,” The Independent, 6th November 2006, available at https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-this-was-a-guilty-verdict-on-america-as-well-423147.html)

[xi] A month after Halabja, the UK Government extended a further £340m in export credit guarantees to Saddam Hussein (John Kampfner (2003) “Blair’s Wars” Free Press, London, p. 7. See also Alex Danchev, Dan Keohane (eds.) (1994) “International Perspectives on the Gulf Conflict, 1990-91,” Palgrave Macmillan, London p. 148.

[xii] Rob Evans, “Porton Down chemical weapons tests unethical, says report,” Guardian, 15th July 2006, available at https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2006/jul/15/uk.greenpolitics

[xiii] As Barbara Koppel wrote in 2016, “what is little known is that for the past 25 years the United States and its allies have routinely used radioactive weapons in battle, in the form of warheads and explosives made with depleted, undepleted or slightly enriched uranium. While the Department of Defense (DOD) calls these weapons “conventional” (non-nuclear), they are radioactive and chemically toxic. In Iraq, where the United States and its partners waged two wars, toxic waste covers the country and poisons the people.” Barbara Koppel, “How the U.S. Made Dropping Radioactive Bombs Routine,” Newsweek, 4th April 2016, available at http://www.newsweek.com/how-us-made-use-radioactive-bombs-routine-443732 For detail on the US use of DU in Syria, see Samuel Oakford “The United States Used Depleted Uranium in Syria,” Foreign Policy 14th February 2017, available http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/02/14/the-united-states-used-depleted-uranium-in-syria/

[xiv] See George Monbiot, “Behind the phosphorus clouds are war crimes within war crimes,” Guardian 22nd November, 2005, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/nov/22/usa.iraq1

[xv] DIME weapons were developed by the US and use a fine powder of tungsten or carbon fibre to confine the blast to a small area, perforating flesh and bone. Allegedly have also been used by Israel in its colonisation of Palestine. See Raymond Whittaker, “’Tungsten bombs’ leave Israel’s victims with mystery wounds,” The Independent 18th January 2009, available at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/tungsten-bombs-leave-israels-victims-with-mystery-wounds-1418910.html  According to a report commissioned for the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2016, there are ‘concerns that wounds from DIME weapons are particularly difficult to treat surgically, and may have ongoing health impacts’ (Cross, Kenneth, Ove Dullum, Marc Garlasco & N.R. Jenzen-Jones. 2015. Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas: technical considerations relevant to their use and effects. Special Report. Perth: Armament Research Services (ARES), available at https://www.icrc.org/en/download/file/23603/aresweb-generic.pdf )

[xvi] Thermobaric weapons like the MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Blast) were developed by the US Government and used in Vietnam as well as being used by the Russians in Chechnya. Human Rights Watch quote a 1993 Defence Intelligence Agency Report on the Russian bombs (although the effects don’t differ with whichever flag is painted on the casing): ‘The [blast] kill mechanism against living targets is unique–and unpleasant…. What kills is the pressure wave, and more importantly, the subsequent rarefaction [vacuum], which ruptures the lungs…. If the fuel deflagrates but does not detonate, victims will be severely burned and will probably also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common FAE fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, are highly toxic, undetonated FAE should prove as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical agents.’ Human Rights Watch (2000) “Backgrounder on Russian Fuel Air Explosives (“Vacuum Bombs”),” available at https://www.hrw.org/report/2000/02/01/backgrounder-russian-fuel-air-explosives-vacuum-bombs One Pentagon report into the MOAB used typically anodyne language: ‘It is expected that the weapon will have a substantial psychological effect on those who witness its use.’ Robin Wright, ‘Trump Drops the Mother of All Bombs on Afghanistan,’ The New Yorker, 14th April, 2017, available at https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/trump-drops-the-mother-of-all-bombs-on-afghanistan

[xvii] ‘While nuclear weapons represent the zenith of mass destruction, their fabrication requires advanced industrial capabilities as well as access to rare, tightly controlled materials. Chemical and biological weapons, on the other hand, are cheap and easy to build using equipment and materials that are used extensively for a host of civilian purposes.’  Lord Lyell “Chemical and Biological Weapons: The Poor Man’s Bomb Draft General Report,” North Atlantic Assembly International Secretariat 4 October 1996 Draft, available at https://fas.org/irp/threat/an253stc.htm

 

I Will Not ‘Move On.’

Tony Blair almost makes this atheist wish for a hell. Today’s ruling by the High Court is reasonable in its own terms. There is no crime of aggression in British law and, even were we to enact one tomorrow, it would be questionable to apply it retroactively. With the International Criminal Court unable to act on the events of 2003, it seems all legal routes are closed. There is no justice. Just us.

This is our shame as a nation. Britain, which postures and swaggers at summits and conferences and brandishes its ‘democracy’ and its ‘rule of law’ literally has no mechanism for laying a million skulls at Blair’s feet and demanding a reckoning.

I’m not going to rehearse the arguments of 2003 here. I’m done with that. As the invasion loomed, I spent months in fruitless debate with journalists and message board posters arguing the toss over every issue, supplying reams of citations and hoping to hammer home to each interlocutor the savage injustice of the attack. On some level, I was doubtless assuaging my own guilt, hoping that one more pointless victory online would somehow be the toothpick that stopped the monster’s jaws from snapping shut. I literally pleaded with some journalists to expose the lies, which were so easily refuted if one had the will to do so, to stop the tanks in their tracks. I hoped to the last that by forcing Britain from the train the whole murderous campaign could be derailed. Even afterward, I continued the arguments; as if any of them would restore a son to his mother or arms to a body.

The lies and hypocrisy still burn today. No, there were no weapons of mass destruction, save for the decayed remnants we already knew to be there. No, Saddam was not working with terrorists. No, he didn’t hate America. The WMD pretext in ashes, Blair now argues that it was ‘still right to remove Saddam’ -eliding the truth that the US announced it would invade even if Saddam and his family went into exile. Now it’s portrayed as a great humanitarian enterprise gone awry -our noble vision to bring democracy brought low by our own naivete and Arab scheming. We didn’t wage a war – we didn’t go out of our way to provoke a war – no, we were ‘sucked into’ the war. We were the victims. Iraq was wearing a short skirt, your honour.

No, I will not forget. We weren’t asked to help the Iraqis. We weren’t asked what could be done to free them from their dictator. That would have delivered the wrong answer. That would have led us to first stop doing what were doing to keep him in power. We’d been keeping him in power since the 1970s, even after the first Gulf War when the US had actively stopped Iraqis overthrowing Saddam in order to maintain the ‘regional balance’ (in US favour).

We were told that they were a threat; a danger so great that we had no choice to begin killing them. Imagine the media coverage if we had journalists who had the guts to say that. We’re not ‘commencing operations,’ we beginning to kill. “We started killing at 1am and my sources tell me they will go on killing Iraqis until they stop fighting back.”

The invasion was not a British decision but enabling it was. The attack was inevitable and the inspections just adding to the torture. Every time Blair went through the motions of responding to Hans Blix he knew that it was a charade, that it was a side show while troops were massed and armour transported. Did he give ordinary Iraqis hope? Did any of them genuinely pray for inspections for be a success, hoping that the nice Mr Blair, who looked so honest, so trustworthy, so reasonable, was telling the truth? Iraq in 2003 was a nation of 26 million people, half of whom were under 15. In the final weeks, the price of Valium skyrocketed because Iraqi parents were trying desperately to get their kids to sleep. Blair knowingly have them false hope: that maybe, just maybe, the bombs wouldn’t fall.

And how I loathe the journalists who affect world-weary cynicism but trot after ‘statesmen’ like puppies, tails all waggy. How I loathe their plastic compassion and the pompous declamations that ‘something must be done,’ that they ‘can’t stand idly by’. Their tears fall and dry to order, always on tap to grease the wheels of the war machine. Iraq, Libya, Syria, soon Iran or N. Korea or Venezuela; they care as long as it’s convenient to their masters. Vapid hacks who were musing on their favourite Starbucks last week are pontificating on international politics the next. Simpering New Labour apparatchiks tutting at me for not considering Tony Blair’s ‘legacy’ in the round – as if Sure Start and the Minimum fucking Wage can be put on a set of scales drenched in blood.

NSAnd how I resent being told to ‘get over it’; as if rage over Iraq were some hang-up, some teenage obsession and that caring about all those poor little brown people is just so passé. We live in a country that can’t stop commemorating World War One and Two. We’re constantly being told how grateful we should be to The Fallen, how we owe them our freedom. Even today, on the state-sanctioned commemoration of Passchendaele, the New Statesman retweeted their article telling us to ‘move on’. Yet our press pilloried Jeremy Corbyn for not bowing deeply enough at the Cenotaph -when it’s our dead ‘moving on’ is forbidden. We know the names of our dead. I’ve lost count of the number of articles about the ‘costs’ of Iraq that number our dead but can’t even be bothered to give the weight in tons of the Iraqis we’ve murdered.

If we had justice, Tony Blair would be sent to Iraq. He’d be locked in one of Saddam’s old palaces with a hammer and a chisel. And every day he’d be visited by Iraqis who’d hand him small slips of paper, each one bearing the name of one of the dead. And he’d have to carve every one of those names into the walls until nobody was left uncommemorated. Only then, would be allowed to ‘move on’.

I will not get over it. I will not forgive. I will not forget. And until there is justice I will not move on.

Selling America to the Americans

Last week, I sketched the outlines of Public Relations’s development during the period from World War One through to the beginning of the next global conflict, World War Two. Rapid economic growth during the 1920s saw PR flourish. Business, seeing the importance of thought control in formally democratic societies, drew upon and expanded the techniques developed by the American and British propagandists who marketed the ‘Great’ War. Then, when the US economy collapsed in 1929, PR was deployed in order to maintain popular consent for the corporate capitalist system and forestall the perceived threat of revolution.

This project was still in motion when World War II came. As the nation pulled together pressure for social and economic reform faded behind ‘national’ priorities. ‘War and war only,’ wrote the philosopher Walter Benjamin, ‘can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system.’[i] For business, the fortunes of war were mixed. The wartime ‘miracle of production’ ‘symbolized one of the finest hours of the free enterprise system’, restoring to it a measure of prestige.[ii] Profits rose, business control over the economy broadened, and the Marshall Plan opened European markets and was a lever against left-leaning governments.[iii] Nonetheless, business fretted that the ‘miracle’ came at a price.

Since the government had regulated so much wartime production, business feared that success had strengthened relations between government and labour unions and promoted continued interventionism. They also feared that the American public was once again prey to ‘strange and bewildering doctrines’ about mutualism, cooperation, and industrial democracy. Surveys conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation and the Psychological Corporation found that people neither ‘feared nor understood State Socialism’ and neither craved nor understood the system business likes to call ‘free enterprise’. One prominent captain of industry of the time, W. W. Suitt stated publicly that,

the thinking of the general public must turn from acceptance of controls, restrictions and regulations placed as a war-time exigency on business as well as individuals, to a demand on the part of the voter for a return to a system where a work economy can function –– where business can seek its own level in a free competitive enterprise.[iv]

this-is-americaAs the President of Sun Oil, J. Howard Pew put it at the time, business must not ‘let the praise now being showered on industry blind us to the fact that our American way of life barely survived the onslaught against it in the thirties’.[v] Nor had the danger passed as, emboldened, the working class  might extend its influence beyond pay and conditions to assail the sacred domains of pricing and investment.[vi] Note that, once again, the ‘American way of life’ was under potential threat from the American people.

These fears of business highlight one of the late Alex Carey’s most telling insights: because modern wars require broad-based support, wartime propaganda has little choice but to valorise the ‘humane, egalitarian, democratic character of the home society in a way that no elite or business interest has any intention of allowing actually to come about.’[vii] The proposition has become only more absurd in the present day, when humanitarianism and ‘bringing democracy to the world’ can be taken seriously only when facts are scratched from the page.  Back in 1946, the hollow promise of a ‘world made safe for democracy’ would be followed by a PR campaign to ensure that such elevated notions never penetrated those realms properly reserved to the Captains of Industry. A year before war’s end, business began to prepare for the next war, its gaze fixed once more on the enduring foe.

When international hostilities closed, business assessed that its position had indeed declined. Following the rash of strikes during 1945-46, business writer Whiting Williams warned of industrial unrest that threatened ‘nothing less than a catastrophic civil war.’[viii]  According to the sociologist, Robert Lynd, the ‘old liberal enterprise system’ had to ‘fight for its life’. PR firms eagerly stoked these anxieties – one grim prognosis giving the  ‘present economic system, and the men who run it… three years — maybe five at the outside — to resell our so-far preferred way of life as against competing systems…’[ix] Business would have to act quickly, while the afterglow of the war remained. As the War Advertising Council concluded, because the nation’s wartime information mechanism had been ‘powered almost entirely by American business’, with the war over ‘business could ill-afford to abandon the powerful advantage spawned by the image of this “unselfish” contribution to the war effort.’[x]

9eced8de366d0cd8ab3dc94e073bc17b--free-poster-team-usaTo achieve the required reconversion of thought, business found itself with remarkable new resources. To manage war-time PR, Roosevelt had created the Office of War Information (OWI), a less innovative scion of the CPI. In peacetime this released 100,000 cutting-edge practitioners into Civvy Street. A new generation of firms emerged, including modern day giants Edelman and Burson-Marsteller. PR technique was being studied on campuses throughout the nation and the number of academic articles and professional journals increased markedly.[xi] By 1949, there were 500 independent PR firms, many with annual turnovers exceeding half a million dollars as well as 4,000 corporations with dedicated departments.[xii] The foundation, in 1948, of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) symbolized this growth.[xiii]

Likewise, the means of propagating the faith were improving. Radio continued as one of the best carriers of the corporate message with the 1940 census revealing that it reached almost 83% of American families.[xiv] In 1954, Herbert Muschel introduced the first PR newswire service, providing the beginnings of a news service that gave PR offices access to newsrooms across the globe.[xv]

Then there was the medium of the 20th Century, which with ‘skilful use’ could reach into the ‘hearts and minds of… 134,000,000 people…’[xvi] In the early fifties, business began to shift its institutional advertising out of radio and into television. The importance of advertising to American television should not be understated. As Michael Dawson argues,

In reality, television in America has always been permitted to operate as a subsidiary institution of modern corporate marketing. Marketers pay for the lion’s share of the U.S. television system, which is devoted almost entirely to transmitting sales communications. Under such arrangements, as every television veteran knows, the programs are merely lead-ins to the advertisements, which are the raison d’etre for the whole institution.[xvii]

Or, as a French TV executive put it in 2005, the function of television is to sell ‘human brain time’ to advertisers.[xviii]

More than ever, corporate PR after World War II drove at a broadly political object, rather than the narrow commercial considerations of shilling for this or that product or company.[xix] The prominent businessman, Vernon Scott spoke of ‘the greatest ideological war of all times,’ against government economic planning. General Floods’ PR supremo amplified this, warning that if PR did not win over ‘men’s minds and men’s loyalties’ people would continue to expect government to ‘keep an eye on business’.[xx] The Psychological Corporation’s Henry C. Link restated the familiar strategy that business should downplay ‘free enterprise’ in favour of the ‘freedom of all individuals under free enterprise; from capitalism to the much broader concept: Americanism.’[xxi]  PRSA President Howard Chase urged business to identify with simple goals, such as better education, health and nutrition, housing, and social security. Likewise, Edward Bernays pressed business to lead ‘the fields of racial relations, housing, and education’ and the head of the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson held that business must develop a ‘permanent and complete social policy’.[xxii] Absent from this was the citizen in a democracy, only the consumer in the market.

In sum, businessmen[xxiii] and their PR swamis advocated using corporate propaganda to push welfare capitalism in order to forestall a welfare state. Taking a lead in social policy would challenge what one Fortune editorial consultant called ‘the curious assumption’ that it should rest with government. Government’s accretion of competence in social policy severely compromised the rights of private business and so the ‘principle of private initiative in social matters’ should be reaffirmed.[xxiv]

Business, Opinion Research Inc. counselled, should also roll back the grassroots ‘collectivist and authoritarian ideology’ of government as a necessary safeguard against miscreant business. [xxv] For example, in 1947 business lobbying managed to pass the Taft-Hartley Act, which significantly reversed the business regulation introduced by the National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act of 1935. The act, passed over President Truman’s veto, was itself drafted by corporate lobbyists.[xxvi] I won’t belabour the obvious parallel with Brexit, the ‘Great Repeal Bill’, and the malign caperings of Liam Fox. Suffice to say, business seizes any opportunity to free itself of red tape, even when that tape is fire retardant.

The rollback required a dual PR strategy. Firstly, it had to undermine New Deal interventionist assumptions and welfare state programmes. Corporations instructed  America that ‘prosperity could only be achieved through reliance on individual initiative, the protection of personal liberty, and increasing productivity.’ Radio programmes, for instance, editorialized on the importance of profits in the ‘American Free Enterprise System’ and the  threats to ‘our’ ‘American Way of Life’ and the ‘freedom of the individual’ augured by a  ‘Welfare State’. [xxvii]  Business spent $100m a year on an ‘almost overwhelming propaganda of doctrine’, which saturated the media with ‘advertising calculated to sell ideas rather than merchandise’.[xxviii] By the mid-50s, 20 years of institutional broadcasting and associated PR combined with other PR activities helped business achieve the status of a respected institution in American society.

marrycommy1The strategy’s second component boosted corporate social policies as an alternative to the New Deal. This was helped by international politics. The rise of the Soviet Union and the second ‘Red Scare’ – personified by the incendiary scheming of J. Edgar Hoover[xxix] – allowed a pogrom against ‘New Deal liberals’ and collectivists. Hoover, a 20th Century Matthew Hopkins, even managed in 1953 to secure the ‘burning of all books in American Information Service libraries throughout the world that were offensive to him; from books suspected of being “soft” on communism to detective stories by pro-communist authors’.[xxx] Such was the appetite for expunging  ‘communist fellow travellers’ business also used the ‘Red Menace’ to lobby for a ‘war economy’ and the massive funding of the new ‘military industrial complex’ ­– an analysis echoed in government planning documents of the time.[xxxi] This had the advantage of maintaining state intervention but ensuring that it intervened in favour of business.[xxxii] Corporate PR, therefore, portrayed massive corporate welfare as a patriotic, necessary defence and decried New Deal programmes – social welfare ­– as communism cloaked.[xxxiii] Again, how little has changed. The 2008 financial crisis (widely and wrongly referred to as a ‘recession’) shows how much business welcomes state intervention in its favour.

The corporate assault on ‘communist’ social Keynesianism in favour of military or commercial Keynesianism continued throughout the 1950s. The New Deal was significantly reversed, mostly notably price controls, health insurance legislation, and government house-building.[xxxiv] While the economy grew, this welfare capitalism model reigned unchallenged.[xxxv] Business advertised itself as reformed, with class divisions finally healed. In 1951, Fortune celebrated a ‘permanent revolution’ in capital-labour relations, with ‘left-wing ideologies’ routed.[xxxvi] It was finally ‘the end of history’.

Next week. PR, marketing, and democracy in the modern era.

______________

Notes

[i] Walter Benjamin (1936) “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” available at https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm

[ii] Seymour Melman (1974) “The Permanent War Economy, American Capitalism in Decline,” p 15.

[iii] Meyer Weinberg (2003) “A Short History of American Capitalism,” p. 245. One of the conditions of the Economic Recovery Plan was the exclusion of left-leaning elements from the governments of recipient nations and the introduction of capitalist policies.

[iv] W. W. Suitt, quoted in Stuart Ewen (1996) “PR! A Social History of Spin”, p. 345. The scale of federal wartime expenditures had been immense and far exceeded total spending on all New Deal programs of the 1930s. Between 1939 and mid-1945, the size of the armed forces, as measured by active-duty personnel, grew more than 36 times and annual military spending grew almost 60 times The U.S. Treasury became the dominant source of capital investment during the war and, between 1940 and 1943, supplied almost 70%  of industrial investment, in contrast to 5% in 1940. None of this diminished the economic power of private industry, which in 1945 controlled 66.5% of all industrial assets as compared to 65.4% in 1939 (Robert Higgs, “Private Profit, Public Risk: Institutional Antecedents of the Modern Military Procurement System in the Rearmament Program of 1940-41,” p. 188 quoted in Weinberg 2003, p 229).

[v] Quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 342.

[vi] Elizabeth Fones-Wolf  (1992) “Selling Free Enterprise: the Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945-1960,” p. 2.

[vii] Alex Carey (1995) “Taking the Risk Out of Democracy. Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty,” p. 137.

[viii] Quoted in Fones-Wolf (1992), pp. 16, 32.

[ix] Fones-Wolf (1992) p. 37.

[x] War Advertising Council, quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 346. 1942 also saw the formation of the War Advertising Council, which used domestic PR to combat absenteeism, promote rationing, sell war bonds and so forth (Scott Cutlip (1994) “The Unseen Power: Public Relations. A History,”  p. 528).

[xi] Cutlip (1994) p. 528; Larry Tye (1998) “The Father of Spin. Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Spin,” p. 103. In 1946, there were only 26 institutions in the in the whole of the US that offered courses on PR. By 1964, there were 300, with 14 offering bachelor degrees (Cutlip 1994, p. 529).

[xii] Fortune (May 1949), pp. 68-69, quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 356.

[xiii] Cutlip (1994) pp. 528-29

[xiv] Elizabeth Fones-Wolf ‘Creating a Favorable Business Climate: Corporations and radio broadcasting, 1934 to 1954,’ in Harvard Business History Review Vol. 73, No. 2; Pg. 221-255 Summer 1999.

[xv] Cutlip (1994), p. 529.

[xvi] Quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 386.

[xvii] Michael Dawson (2003) “The Consumer Trap”, p. 103.  Dawson was writing before the advent of pay television services such as Netflix but his point still stands for broadcast media.

[xviii] Patrick LeLay, the head of the French media giant, TF1, described the purpose of his company thus ‘There are many ways of talking about television. But from a business perspective, let’s be realistic: fundamentally speaking, the job of TF1 is to help Coca-Cola to sell its product … If an advertising message is to register, the viewer’s brain needs to be made available.’

The object of our programmes is to make it available: that is to say to entertain the viewer, to relax him and prepare him between the adverts. What we sell to Coca-Cola is an availability of human brain time.’ Cited in Ignacio Ramonet, ‘Final edition for the press’, in  Le Monde Diplomatique (English Edition), January 2005  available at  http://mondediplo.com/2005/01/16press

[xix] A parenthetical note of caution here. While the 20th Century saw large-scale, explicitly political campaigns by business to shore up the stability of the corporate system, one should be wary of reading a political intent into everyday advertising. This is where I would agree with Dawson argue that writers like Stuart Ewen (and before him Herbert Marcuse) over-egg the pudding: ‘While most owners and managers of big businesses are undoubtedly opposed to the growth of coherent class struggle from below and often take or condone strong action to prevent and combat it, while ads do generally reinforce market values and can and perhaps should be read politically, and while advertising and marketing certainly have tremendous political side effects and implications, the truth remains that the vast majority of corporate advertisements are neither intentionally motivated by politics nor dedicated to directly political ends’ (2003, p. 98). Individual adverts are, 999 times out of a thousand, simply small acts of class coercion designed to affect our private behaviour.

[xx] Ewen (1996) pp. 357-58.

[xxi] Quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 360.

[xxii] Ewen (1996), p. 362.

[xxiii] And in those days it was men.

[xxiv] Russell Davenport, quoted in Ewen (1996) p. 363.

[xxv] Quoted in Ewen (1996), p. 359. Meanwhile, business was also setting about the dismantling the governmental infrastructure that allowed it to regulate ‘miscreant business’.

[xxvi] John B. Judis (2000) “The Paradox of American Democracy, Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of Public Trust,” p. 11.

[xxvii] Fones-Wolf (1999).

[xxviii] $100 million figure from MacDougall 1952, quoted in Carey; Key, V. O. (1961) “Public Opinion and American Democracy,” pp. 106-7.

[xxix] Aided by the House Un-American Activities Committee  and the less notorious Senate Internal Security Committee.

[xxx] Ewen (1996) p. 365; Carey (1995), pp. 64-74.

[xxxi] According to Seymour Melman (1974 p. 16.) from the onset of the Cold War ‘methods of military containment, nuclear and nonnuclear, were given high priority by American planners. The concept of a “permanent war economy” formulated in 1944 was soon made a reality.’   The principal government planning document of the time, widely regarded to have shaped American post-war planning for decades was National Security Council Memorandum 68 (April 14th 1950, declassified in 1975), ‘United States Objectives and Programs for National Security’ (NSC 68), written by an ad hoc committee under the direction of Paul Nitze (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Vol. I, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1977, pp. 234-292; the basic concept of the military industrial complex was developed by Dwight D. Eisenhower (then only  a General) in a 1946 memo to War Department. In the memo he argued that WWII had ‘demonstrated more convincingly than ever before the strength our nation can best derive from the integration of all our national resources in time of war’ and that ‘civilian resources which by conversion or redirection constitute our main support in time of emergency be associated closely with the activities of the Army in time of peace.’ (quoted in Melman (1970) “Pentagon Capitalism,”, p. 231); As President, Eisenhower later coined the term in his ‘Farewell Address’ on January 17, 1961 . Perhaps contritely, Eisenhower warned that, ‘Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defence; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions.… We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications… we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.’ (reproduced in Melman 1970 pp. 235-239, my emphasis); During this period, US military spending rose enormously. According to Hogan (1998) during the first two decades of the Cold War the US federal government funnelled $776bn into national defence, approximately 60% of the entire federal budget.

[xxxii] Melman (1974, p 16) ‘The ideological consensus that evolved from World War II transformed the justification for military spending from a time-limited economic effort to achieve a political goal (winning World War II) to a sustaining means for governmental control of the economy.’

[xxxiii] Melman (1974, p. 17), for example, notes that the war economy required the support of the American people and that, by the 1950s a ‘cross-society political consensus had developed… Businessmen, industrial workers, engineers, government employees, intellectuals all joined in the confident assessment that war economy on a sustained basis was not only viable but economically desirable.’

[xxxiv] Carey (1994), p. 34; Ewen (1996) pp. 366-369.

[xxxv] As Meyer Weinberg (2003 p. 247) describes, ‘Rearmament was welcomed by many large enterprises… Many lucrative contracts were awarded without bidding. There being no civilian market for most defence goods, defence producers did not constitute competition to non-defence producers. Political connections were critical…Increasing federal support for research and development (R & D) contained commercial subsidies in disguise… whether financed by government or business. In one way or another, federal patronage through research subventions or outright purchase proved decisive to the future of numerous critical products. This was especially the case in the electronic revolution after World War II.’

[xxxvi] Fones-Wolf (1994, p. 68) observes that many historians have accepted that the introduction of welfare capitalism ended the conflict between capital and labour. However, as she observes, while unions made concessions, especially in the area of managerial prerogatives, ‘the fight for economic security  continued to galvanize workers for serious struggle’ and only the ‘threat of strong union action brought increased wages and benefits’.

Election of the Fittest

There’s an evolutionary reading of the Tory predicament. Theresa May is mortally wounded but, like their very own Sir Gregor Clegane, the Tories’ calculating necromancy ensures she lurches on. In normal times, Mrs. May would have already been cut down by the (Orange)Men in Grey Suits. The nation would now be fidgeting through a Tory Blind Date special in which the divider pulls back to reveal Clive Barker’s Cenobites.

That this hasn’t happened betrays the Tory palsy. True: Johnson, Gove, Davis, and the others are all doubtless waiting for someone else to lead the first, customarily doomed, charge but -in some deep vault of their psyche – each must know that they’re the electoral equivalent of the rehashed Are You Being Served?

How did the fridge end up with only a few manky vegetables in the drawer? Arguably, the Tories have been terminal for 20 years but, like a dying Godzilla temporarily wedged between two skyscrapers, our absurd electoral system has kept them on their feet and still able to stamp on the sick and piss on the poor. Yet two factors that have worked in their favour have also contributed to their torpor.

The first is the curse of New Labour. Margaret Thatcher’s ‘greatest achievement’ pitched its tents on the Tories’ village green for thirteen years. This showed in voter (dis)engagement, with overall turnout dropping from 1992 on. The previously bemoaned low youth vote, for instance, is not an immutable historical reality, having declined only since then. In 1997, it fell from 66% to 56% and had dropped to 38% by 2005. The idea that the young might be apathetic or content was belied by the ‘Cleggmania’ of  2010, which lifted turnout to 49%, but that bubble was burst by a single prick. Only 43% voted in 2015.

From 1994 to 2005, the Tories were forced from their lands into the wilderness and, despite proffering a parade of alternately comical, bewildered or sinister leaders, without a distinctive prospectus they enthused no one. Finally, in 2005, having mixed a lock of Tony Blair’s hair with a chalice of deflowered pig’s blood, they were able to shamble into office only thanks to an exhausted New Labour and a crutch of LibDems.

By 2015, Labour (their ‘New’ worn off) was still scrambling around for a brand; needing to adapt, but hampered by the dead weight of their necrotic Blairite carapace. A feeble manifesto presented by a decent but toothless Miliband raised Labour’s vote just 1.5% (to 30.4%) but FPTP…FFS cost them 26 seats. The Tories advanced a whopping 0.8% (to 36.9%) but won a majority of twelve (while consigning Faust to the flames).

After pulling UKIP’s teeth with the Brexit referendum, the Tories were without a predator and grew dull and complacent as a result. Meanwhile, Labour painfully and messily adapted. In summer 2015, Blairite condescension inadvertently enabled a beneficial atavism as their socialist DNA reasserted itself. The Party might still have been dragging round the half-shed skin and withered limbs of New Labour but beneath was vital, exciting new growth.

The second factor has undoubtedly been the benign media environment. Much as it likes to portray itself as a dogged fourth estate, the media is institutionally a sub-department of business. A largely compliant press promotes a (big) business-friendly environment, which allows fierce debate within acceptable bounds but keeps certain topics largely beneath the visible spectrum or at least absurdly distorted (the Anglo-Saudi war on Yemen, for instance). None of this requires active conspiracy -journalists are seldom told what to think or what to write, they just (with a few exceptions) wouldn’t be mainstream journalists if they thought or wrote anything different.  This is not so controversial, even Media Guido, when criticising George Osborne’s elevation to Evening Standard editor, observed that ‘[e]ditors have to keep advertisers sweet. Big business has [them] over a barrel’. And Osborne’s new position examples the cosiness of the Westminster village: journalists and politicians eat, drink, fuck, and live together and the door between the two professions does not merely revolve, it spins.

This is compounded by media training that conditions politicians to deliver a message rather than engage in debate (often literally refusing to debate their opposite numbers). We’ve seen this for years now; that the first question of a political interview is almost irrelevant, given the planned monologue that has replaced the first answer. May’s toe-curling duckspeak was not novel, merely this trend ad absurdum. Politicians were used to rudeness, combativeness even, but only as one is when playing an organised team game. No wonder politicians seem to fear, above all else, the unscripted questions of the public. It’s not that we plebs are all well-briefed inquisitors, it’s simply that we’ve not had the journalistic training required to not ask the difficult questions. Little wonder politicans were ill-equipped and unwilling to debate Corbyn and defend political choices they’d spent thirty years casting as physical laws.

These two factors, a lack of competition and stagnant media environment, have resulted in a flabby, ideologically moribund Tory Party that is not only unfit to govern but unfit to campaign. And, neglecting properly to sell itself, its mask has slipped. People can see more clearly than ever that the job of the Conservative Party is not to represent the interests of the people but to represent the interests of capital to the people.

June 2017 has been the peak (so far) of these trends: an election called not out of need but out of greed. The Tories thought themselves impregnable, that a carefully stacked deck of marginal constituencies and two years of unrelenting and near universal mediaCorbyn hostility toward Corbyn had left them with nothing to do but drive pensioners to the polling booth. The result was a ‘campaign’ that could scarcely hide its laziness and contempt for the electorate, fronted by a cryogenic domina who appeared almost to wretch when questioned. The throwaway manifesto, the absurd non-answers to questions, the refusal to debate, the arid visitations to speech at apathetic knots of closely-surveilled factory workers; the dim persistence in making it all about Corbyn even when that clearly wasn’t working, all betrayed a Party that felt itself above the need to grub votes. Yes, they reabsorbed their UKIP contingent (as did Labour) but they put on votes only by consolidating the right, not by converting anybody to their cause.

Labour had a radically different offer and an enthused grassroots campaign in Momentum. They also had a vital window, created by election broadcasting rules, to present themselves to the electorate without  some of the media’s usual funfair mirrors. Crucially, in Corbyn, they had a leader who knew how to campaign. Here is a man who had spent thirty years in the margin, having to argue every point, fight for unpopular causes, persuade, and scrabble for every inch of ground. He’s spent two years fighting the Tories, the media, most of his parliamentary party, and J. K. Rowling.

True, he was bitten by Trident and his Woman’s Hour felt more like a year but his natural temperament and his years as an old-school political streetfighter, tempered by the two year firestorm of his leadership, meant he stepped in the ring fitter and more agile than May. He exploited the poor Tory campaign and May’s frosty persona, and mobilised an energised youth vote who WhatsApp and Facebook beyond the distant crump of tabloid shells.

Labour did not win the battle but they’re in sight of their target and the enemy’s ears are still ringing. In fact, Labour arguably would be even further ahead if not for their own understandable lack of ambition in a number of marginal seats that we now see they could have won but didn’t think to target. Labour have consolidated the left and called-up an important, if so far insufficient and untested, column of the young.

The Tories are now in office but scarcely in power. Years of a congenial environment and no competition have left them ill-equipped to adapt to Corbynism. Evolution is a slow process, it can only work with what is already there. Hence the Tories cannot suddenly grow an exciting new leader to take on Corbyn. Until a novel mutation comes along, they are stuck with the same vestigial appendages.

The least harrowing of the contenders, ‘Spreadsheet Phil,’ is considerably less exciting that his soubriquet suggests. Michael Gove is like the apparition of a sailor-suited Victorian child murdered in his bath, while Amber Rudd would have made a fine villain in the Sarah Jane Adventures. Their most likely prospect, Boris Johnson, calls to mind what might happen were the Honey Monster’s career to fall into the bottom of the whisky bottle. None of these candidates is likely to win anything more than grudging support from people who would never think of voting Labour anyway. David Davis will never read Shelley at Glastonbury, Liam Fox will never open for the Libertines, and there will be no chants of “Oh, An-drea Lead-som”. One of them will have to wear the toy crown but being forced by poor planning to pull on the least odorous option from the laundry basket shouldn’t occasion triumphalism.

Only the most blinkered would deny that, agree with him or not, Corbyn has shown the most extraordinary resolve and courage during the most vicious onslaught directed against any politician in memory. He stood at the Despatch Box week after week, facing screaming derision in front and, at best, baleful silence from behind. May collapsed like a soufflé after a couple of weeks of having to campaign against him, even with the press’s guns ranged behind her. Corbyn has forced the Tories into a minority with one hand tied behind a back studded with knives. The Labour Party is adapting and growing and its leader is fit for the fight ahead.