David Whyte https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/11089/all cached version 11/07/2018 16:31:18 en Two neoliberal infernos: Grenfell, and Piper Alpha 30 years on https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/david-whyte/30-years-on-from-piper-alpha-grenfell-shows-us-what-we-still-havent-learned <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><span style="font-size: 14px;">Profit-before-safety, warnings ignored, 239 people dead. Britain’s oil bonanza and London’s gentrification have much in common.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/Piper_Alpha_oil_rig_fire.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/549093/Piper_Alpha_oil_rig_fire.jpg" alt="" title="" width="421" height="236" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>Image: Piper Alpha on fire. Credit: <a href="NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48407501">Wikimedia</a>.</em></p><p>Thirty years ago today the Piper Alpha oil platform exploded and was engulfed in flames killing 167 people. Only 61 survived in in what remains the world’s worst offshore disaster.</p> <p>Grenfell Tower is the deadliest fire in Britain since Piper Alpha. Both are events we will never forget. Yet as unspeakable horror of the Grenfell fire is revealed in the public inquiry, it has become obvious we clearly <em>did</em> forget the causes – and the lessons – of the Piper Alpha disaster. </p> <p>Grenfell and Piper Alpha may seem like they come from different eras and occupy different universes, but the oil rush of the 1980s North Sea and the gentrification rush of today’s London have more in common than we think. Both bonanzas were based upon aggressive incentives to investors, including the stripping of planning restrictions, low controls on capital investment, tax breaks and crucially, when it came to human safety, a ‘look the other way’ system of self-regulation. </p> <p>At Grenfell, residents’ pleas for basic safety measures and their warnings of “<a href="https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/kctmo-playing-with-fire/">serious loss of life</a>” were dismissed out of hand. Just as in the oil industry, where Piper Alpha workers’ warnings were also ignored. Those workers who dared to challenge oil industry management safety failings were notoriously dispatched back onshore: <a href="https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:A331SdyAM2AJ:https://spe.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/spe/article/download/6832/3801+&amp;cd=18&amp;hl=en&amp;ct=clnk&amp;gl=uk&amp;client=firefox-b">blacklisted and banished</a> (and disgracefully, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/jun/16/oil-gas-workers-safety-fear-sack">this practice survived</a> long after the disaster). In the months before Piper Alpha,<a href="http://www.icheme.org/communities/special-interest-groups/safety%20and%20loss%20prevention/resources/hazards%20archive/piper%20alpha%20lessons.aspx"> a series of leaks were reported and ignored</a>. On the day of the disaster two workers had complained about a gas leak. Although one received permission by the platform safety officer to down tools, management declined to interfere with work routines and investigate.</p> <p>Workers’ views were easily suppressed in an industry governed by quick returns to speculative investors. In the years leading up to the disaster, spending on the maintenance of equipment by Piper Alpha’s operator Occidental had been savagely cut as the platform’s oil production capacity was <a href="http://offshoremechanics.asmedigitalcollection.asme.org/article.aspx?articleid=1453093">pushed to its limits. </a>&nbsp;</p> <p>The similarities don’t stop there. At both Grenfell and Piper Alpha a chain of sub-contractors was used to minimize costs and maximize profits. </p> <p>And at both Grenfell and Piper Alpha, the victims came face-to-face with the consequences of cost-cutting at the very moment they needed to escape. Just as the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jun/05/grenfell-towers-smoke-ventilation-system-failed-days-before-fire">failure of Grenfell’s ventilation systems</a> and the lack of a sprinkler system appear to have come down to spending priorities, so Piper Alpha’s failures had precisely the same root cause. The water deluge system, the platform’s main defense against fire, were clogged and not working, and at safety critical parts of the plant <a href="http://offshoremechanics.asmedigitalcollection.asme.org/article.aspx?articleid=1453093">did not even exist</a>. </p> <p>There were <a href="http://offshoremechanics.asmedigitalcollection.asme.org/article.aspx?articleid=1453093">no adequate escape routes. </a>&nbsp;Emergency lighting failed. <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com.liverpool.idm.oclc.org/doi/10.1111/j.1467-954X.1994.tb02993.x">Those who disobeyed official emergency instructions</a> had a much higher chance of survival precisely because the muster point happened to be one of the areas on the platform most vulnerable to fire and explosion. <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=gf6nDQAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PT198&amp;lpg=PT198&amp;dq=david+whyte+piper+alpha&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=MCvYmR4kHr&amp;sig=S3urWtt6lifa-NO-JqOdUMM3RA8&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwiowf20hYbcAhUJBsAKHcPND1EQ6AEIXzAJ#v=onepage&amp;q=david%20whyte%20piper%20alpha&amp;f=false">Constructed from wood and fibreglass</a>, it quickly began to burn. As the Chair of the public inquiry into the disaster, Lord Cullen, noted at the time, safety procedures were rendered meaningless by <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=HI2tBgAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PT371&amp;lpg=PT371&amp;dq=david+whyte+piper+alpha&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=7i_2mJUHbh&amp;sig=TTOnwIC-UKJdqn8pQ8fTR05LlTA&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwjJxZ_Ug4bcAhVIKsAKHYxlAikQ6AEIWTAH#v=onepage&amp;q=david%20whyte%20piper%20alpha&amp;f=false">the Occidental’s “gross negligence”.</a> </p> <p>Yet even as the Grenfell Inquiry unfolds, in recent weeks the fire service - rather than the Tower’s management – has faced savage criticism for encouraging the victims to stay in their flats. How could workers on the Piper Alpha and firefighters entering Grenfell Tower know, amidst the chaos, that cut-price materials and substandard safety systems appeared to have rendered normal safety procedures meaningless.</p> <p>In the years preceding both disasters, an explicit profit-above-safety ethos was enthusiastically championed in government. This is not controversial. The Piper Alpha public inquiry pointed to a conflict of interest in government that had ensured <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306066616_Regulating_Safety_Regulating_Profit_cost_cutting_injury_and_death_in_the_North_Sea_after_Piper_Alpha">safety regulations either did not apply offshore or were simply not enforced. </a>&nbsp;Kit Carson, author of ‘The Other Price of Britain’s Oil’, the prophetic book published in 1982, argued that a ‘political economy of speed’ had spawned collusion between the British government and the oil companies to get the oil revenues flowing as quickly as possible. A comparable political economy of speed has developed in London’s housing market. In the 20 years preceding the Grenfell fire, fire regulations have been removed and diluted, <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/bf6bcbd0-5b35-11e7-9bc8-8055f264aa8b">private regulators such as BRE Global have been permitted to define safety standards</a>, desktop surveys have replaced real testing and <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/steve-tombs-and-david-whyte/on-grenfell-one-law-for-rich-one-poor">local authority and local fire service inspectors have quite literally ‘disappeared’. </a></p> <p>Both bonanzas are based on a model of neo-liberal capitalism, the features of which are clear: aggressively ignore people, maximize the chances of profit, and ensure that there is no adequate system of regulation in place. <a href="https://www.energyvoice.com/other-news/102141/new-declassified-documents-reveal-thatchers-reaction-to-piper-alpha-explosion/">Cabinet papers from 1988</a> show that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was mystified about the causes of this “accident”. Theresa May described Grenfell as an “<a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-commons-statement-on-grenfell-tower-22-june-2017">unimaginable tragedy</a>”. Yet Piper Alpha and Grenfell were both imaginable and predictable. They were the result of a neo-liberal model of capitalism that puts people at risk and asks questions later. It is time to end this fundamentally deadly way of organizing our lives before we are marking the next anniversary of the next neo-liberal fire.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/angela-mcrobbie/fire-in-neo-liberal-london"> Fire in neo-liberal London</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/anthony-barnett/age-of-corbyn-2-inferno">The Grenfell Inferno</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/james-cusick/trust-is-in-recession-and-there-is-little-sign-of-recovery">Trust is in recession: and there is little sign of recovery</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/james-mariott/behind-storm">Behind the storm</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/anthony-barnett/why-brexit-won-t-work-eu-is-about-regulation-not-sovereignty">Why Brexit won’t work: the EU is about regulation not sovereignty </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Grenfell Tower Fire David Whyte Fri, 06 Jul 2018 07:00:00 +0000 David Whyte 118734 at https://www.opendemocracy.net One law for the poor at Grenfell Tower https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/steve-tombs-and-david-whyte/on-grenfell-one-law-for-rich-one-poor <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In austerity Britain, can justice and accountability be served for the victims of the Grenfell fire? Or are our laws already too much shaped to the needs of the business class?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/35353492476_e6860be791_h.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/35353492476_e6860be791_h.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Devastation at Grenfell Tower. ChiralJon/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Days after the Grenfell Tower disaster, London Mayor Sadiq Khan expressed the sentiments of many, not least the bereaved, the survivors and the local community at large, when he <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/18/sadiq-khan-grenfell-tower-tragedy-establish-full-truth">stated </a>that, “if negligence or other wrongdoing by individuals or companies played any role whatsoever, I will fight for the full force of the law to be brought to bear.” But what exactly is the full force of the law in this case?</p><p dir="ltr">One demand has been that those who had the knowledge and ability to prevent what has happened should be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter. And the fire at Grenfell seems exactly the kind of disaster which the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act was introduced in 2007 to deal with. Yet in almost 10 years since it was introduced, the law has only been used successfully 21 times – and <a href="https://oucriminology.wordpress.com/icccr-online-series/corporate-killing-with-impunity/">in no cases has a large organization been convicted</a> following a multi-fatality disaster. In fact, following the deaths of six people at the Lakenal tower block in 2009, the CPS eventually decided against pursuing a case of corporate manslaughter against Southwark council despite the fact that the council “<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-18280160">knew the building posed a fire risk but did not act and had not carried out a fire risk assessment</a>.”</p><p class="mag-quote-right" dir="ltr">Even the laws that appear to be holding the wealthy to account tend to do nothing of the sort.</p><p dir="ltr">In any case, the scope of this relatively new law was carefully shaped to the needs of the business class rather than ordinary people. Champagne and Pimms glasses would no doubt have been chinking in some parts of Kensington and Chelsea when the Blair government announced in 2006 that the new law would grant <a href="http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2007/19/section/18">a blanket exemption</a> to directors and senior individuals in organizations. This means that the most likely result of any such prosecution is a fine against the organization (and in this case the costs of a fine against the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) would ultimately fall on local taxpayers). It is a prime example of what happens so often in our legal system: even the laws that appear to be holding the wealthy to account tend to do nothing of the sort.</p><p dir="ltr">Some senior experts have noted that there may be evidence to support a different approach, a prosecution of individuals for the common law offence of manslaughter. We already know unequivocally from the testimonies of the Grenfell Tower Residents Association, that the RBKC was told about the fire risks, and were warned of specific risks on multiple occasions. Yet apparently there was no adequate fire safety assessment.</p><p dir="ltr">Here we confront a much deeper problem with the law designed to regulate organizations and businesses. Regulation has been on the back-foot in the UK for some 30 years. Successive governments have virtually mandated a withdrawal from law enforcement in health and safety and in local authority regulation.</p><p dir="ltr">When David Cameron <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-i-will-kill-off-safety-culture-6285238.html">pledged </a>to kill off health and safety for good, he followed a long line of governments desperate to prove their <a href="https://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/publications/better-regulation-better-whom">pro-business credentials</a> by cutting inspection and prosecution, and stripping back regulations. In most recent years, austerity cuts have taken us to the point that the average workplace can now expect an inspector to call once every 50 years.</p><p class="mag-quote-left" dir="ltr">The cuts to fire and rescue services have fallen hardest on the poorest.</p><p dir="ltr">Fire protection has been similarly compromised by the cuts. A <a href="https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Financial-sustainability-of-fire-and-rescue-services-summary-amended.pdf">report </a>by the National Audit Office shows that between 2010 and 2015 funding for stand-alone fire and rescue authorities fell by 28% on average in real terms. Savings came predominantly from reducing staff costs and reducing audits, inspections and fire risk checks. The result: fire safety checks in tower blocks <a href="http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/tower-block-fire-safety-checks-10641046">fell </a>25% in the most recent 5 years. Perhaps most alarmingly in light of Grenfell, the report noted that the government had “reduced funding most to fire and rescue authorities with the highest levels of need….as defined by the social and demographic factors.” In other words, the cuts to fire and rescue services have fallen hardest on the poorest –&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/vickie-cooper/government-austerity-demands-that-we-die-within-our-means">just like all austerity cuts</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">More generally, at local authority level, since the cuts began to bite, campaigns to enforce regulation against business have become almost extinct. This is because most councils, unlike RBKC, have <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/25/councils-poorest-areas-biggest-cuts-labour-says">reached rock bottom</a> in terms of their ability to maintain services. As an Environmental Health Officer in Merseyside <a href="https://oucriminology.wordpress.com/">put it </a>to one of us recently: “it’s going to come to the point where it’s going to affect the residents, the local population, in many ways we are at that point now, public health and protection is being eroded.” Even more galling is that RBKC, the richest borough in London and one of the few councils that remains cash-rich, is choosing law enforcement on behalf of the rich over enforcing the law in the general interest.</p><p dir="ltr">We know this by looking closely at what building enforcement officers in Kensington and Chelsea have been doing in recent years. In 2015 RBKC embarked on a major campaign to stop construction companies displaying unlawful and ugly advertisements and messages on the side of the buildings. At the time, RBKC planning policy head <a href="http://www.getwestlondon.co.uk/news/local-news/developers-warned-comply-strict-advertising-9945778">Cllr Timothy Coleridge said</a>:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“Unfortunately, some developers ignore the rules and turn their hoardings and scaffolding covers into huge adverts, sometimes in the heart of historic and sensitive residential areas. This is unfair on our residents and it is unfair on those developers that follow the rules and we will prosecute when required.”</p><p dir="ltr">In other words, this was a law enforcement campaign aimed at enhancing the aesthetic appeal of the area, and maintaining the successful gentrification of the area, rather than ensuring high standards of building renovation for working class residents.</p><p dir="ltr">The public inquiry and inquests will seek to learn how we can prevent another Grenfell Tower happening again. If the police and the CPS are serious about using the full force of the law, it may well be possible to prosecute for corporate manslaughter and for common law manslaughter. Individuals in charge of key decisions can be held accountable for this latter offense if they have acted with gross negligence and have breached a particular duty of care. It is very possible those conditions will be met in the case of Grenfell Tower.</p><p dir="ltr">By contrast, a lack of prosecution will send a clear and powerful message: that <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81IKostVXZk">justice and accountability cannot be served in austerity Britain</a>. But the solution to what happened at Grenfell will not be found in the courts. If there is one resounding lesson that must be learned, it is that any future government must reverse 30 years of attacks on regulation and law enforcement and cease this war against the poor.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/vickie-cooper/government-austerity-demands-that-we-die-within-our-means">Government austerity demands that we die within our means</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/christine-berry/after-grenfell-ending-murderous-war-on-our-protections">After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/adam-ramsay/fire-in-worlds-laudromat">A fire in the world&#039;s laundromat</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk Grenfell openJustice Grenfell Tower Fire David Whyte Steve Tombs Wed, 21 Jun 2017 10:17:19 +0000 Steve Tombs and David Whyte 111783 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Government austerity demands that we die within our means https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/vickie-cooper/government-austerity-demands-that-we-die-within-our-means <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Most people still don't fully understand the true scale of the human cost that government imposed austerity has unleashed.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/563411/osborne.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/563411/osborne.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="276" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>BBC Parliament. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>As we move towards the general election, we are paralyzed by what is probably the biggest single issue affecting ordinary people in the country: austerity. We are unable to fully understand both the economic madness of austerity and the true scale of the human cost and death toll that ‘fiscal discipline’ has unleashed. </p><p dir="ltr">Since coming into power as Prime Minister, Theresa May has made a strategic decision not to use the word ‘austerity’. Instead she has adopted a more palatable language in a vain attempt to distance herself from the Cameron governments before her: “<a href="https://leftfootforward.org/2016/07/pmqs-theresa-may-defends-austerity-while-preaching-social-justice/">you call it austerity; I call it living within our means.”</a></p><p dir="ltr">The experience of countless thousands of people is precisely the opposite: people are actively prevented from living within their means and are cut off from their most basic entitlement to: housing, food, health care, social care and general protection from hardship. And people are dying as a result of these austerity effects. In February, Jeremy Corbyn made precisely this point when he observed the conclusions of <a href="https://www.rsm.ac.uk/about-us/media-information/2017-media-releases/new-analysis-links-30000-excess-deaths-in-2015-to-cuts-in-health-and-social-care.aspx">one report</a> that 30,000 people were dying unnecessarily every year because of the cuts to NHS and to local authority social care budgets. </p><p dir="ltr">But this is really only the tip of the iceberg. The scale of disruption felt by people at the sharp end of these benefit reforms is enormous. &nbsp;Countless thousands of others have died prematurely following work capability assessments: <a href="http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13630395.DWP_reveals_benefit_claimant_deaths/">approximately 10,000 according the government’s own figures</a>. People are dying as a result of benefit sanction which has fatal impacts on existing health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. </p><p dir="ltr">Austerity is about dismantling social protection. The crisis we face in social care is precipitated by cuts to local authority funding. &nbsp;In the first 5 years of austerity, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/sep/01/local-government-association-cannot-cope-further-cuts">local authority budgets were cut by 40%,</a> amounting to <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/5fcbd0c4-2948-11e5-8db8-c033edba8a6e">an estimated £18bn in care provision</a>. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">A decade of cuts, when added up, also means that some key agencies that protect us, such as the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency will have been decimated by up to 60% of funding cuts. Scaling back on an already paltry funding in these critical areas of regulation will lead to a rise in pollution related illness and disease and will fail to ensure people are safe at work. </p><p dir="ltr">The economic folly is that austerity will cost society more in the long term. &nbsp;Local authorities are, for example, housing people in very expensive temporary accommodation because the government has disinvested in social housing. &nbsp;The crisis in homelessness has paradoxically led to<a href="http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/labour-john-healey-housing-tories-8857369"> a £400 million rise in benefit payments</a>. &nbsp;&nbsp;The future costs of disinvesting in young people will be seismic. </p><p dir="ltr">Ending austerity would mean restoring our system of social protection and restoring the spending power of local authorities. &nbsp;It would mean, as all the political parties except the Conservatives recognise, taxing the rich, not punishing the poor in order to pay for a problem that has its roots in a global financial system that enriched the elite. It would also mean recognizing that the best way to prevent the worsening violence of austerity and to rebuild the economy is to re-invest in public sector jobs.</p><p dir="ltr">In our <a href="http://www.plutobooks.com/display.asp?K=9780745399485">book published this week</a>, we bring together 31 leading authors to challenge this violent agenda. The book provides a comprehensive guide to the social violence that has been unleashed by austerity and shows, unequivocally, that austerity is not about ‘living within our means’ like some kind of fantasy household budget in Hampstead. &nbsp;Austerity is designed to punish already disenfranchised populations, in targeted and violent ways.</p><p>Both the economic madness and the vicious cruelty of austerity have been almost written out of this election. &nbsp;&nbsp;Come June, the next elected government has to produce a viable alternative strategy to austerity if it wants to reduce the death toll and properly protect its people. &nbsp;No matter how the politics of Brexit or the politics of devolution and independence play out in the future, austerity is the key political issues that will shape the lives and deaths of the British people.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81IKostVXZk">Violence of Austerity</a>, edited by Vickie Cooper and David Whyte, is published by Pluto Press.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk David Whyte Vickie Cooper Tue, 23 May 2017 15:24:23 +0000 Vickie Cooper and David Whyte 111103 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Trump’s first one hundred days: corporate rights trump human rights https://www.opendemocracy.net/david-whyte-st-fanie-khoury/trump-s-first-one-hundred-days-corporate-rights-trump-human-rights <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Trump's&nbsp;administration has disdain&nbsp;for all rights, except, of&nbsp;course, the rights of corporations. Over the past 100 days, he has taken this enduring tendency to new extremes.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/PA-31085852.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/558532/PA-31085852.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="324" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Amnesty International hold a protest to mark US President Donald Trump's first 100 days in office (29 April), outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. Yui Mok/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>After 100 days in office, the Trump Administration continues to wear its abject disdain for human rights on its sleeve. It has threatened to leave the United Nations Human Rights Council and has signalled <a href="https://news.liverpool.ac.uk/2017/01/26/comment-trump-torture-black-sites/">Trump’s enthusiasm for the most extreme forms of torture</a>. A number of his executive orders have directly contravened the principles of human rights, including his racist attack on particular categories of immigrants and his restrictions on a woman’s right to choose.</p> <p>Wednesday’s <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/26/trump-tax-cuts-proposal-deductions-brackets">decision to slash corporation tax</a> demonstrates clearly that there is one category of ‘persons’ to which Trump’s disdain for human rights does not apparently extend. His ‘<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-weissman/trumps-corporate-cabinet_b_14087282.html">corporate cabinet</a>’ is packed with individuals who have made their name proclaiming the rights of <em>corporations</em>. Top of the list is the Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who in a number of key cases has ruled against the claims of workers, to <a href="http://progressive.org/dispatches/gorsuch/">uphold the rights of their corporate employers</a><strong>.&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>The administration’s determination to uphold the rights of big business over the rights of the people has attracted condemnation from Human Rights Watch. The organisation has described the administration’s choice of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency as <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/06/epa-decision-could-put-children-risk">alarming</a> – with good reason. One of&nbsp;Pruitt’s earliest decisions was to allow continued use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, despite conclusions from US government scientists that it can cause learning deficits, impacts on brain development, reproductive health problems, and increased rates of cancer, particularly in children.</p> <p><span class="mag-quote-center">In the early 1970s, global north nations used the process of extending human rights protections to corporate activities to protect corporations themselves.</span></p><p><span></span>Over the past 100 days, Trump has demonstrated time and again that business trumps human rights. Just before taking office, he confirmed his support for the completion of the Dakota Pipeline; and shortly after his inauguration he signed an executive order jump-starting the project. The pipeline crosses through traditional lands of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. There has been no free, prior and informed consent for the project, which breaches both international recommendations from the <a href="http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/E_C_19_2009_14_en.pdf">UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues</a> and the Organisation of American States’&nbsp;<a href="http://goo.gl/9ptpEl">American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples</a>.</p> <p>The way that this contradiction between the rights of people and the rights of corporations is played out is by no means a new phenomenon. Indeed, this contradiction is an enduring theme in the development of policy in the UN for over four decades, as we note in <a href="https://www.routledge.com/Corporate-Human-Rights-Violations-Global-Prospects-for-Legal-Action/Khoury-Whyte/p/book/9781138659551">our new book on the subject</a>. &nbsp;In the early 1970s, amidst optimism for the development of a <a href="http://www.unhistory.org/briefing/17TNCs.pdf">UN Code of Conduct for Transnational Corporations</a>, 'global north' nations used the process of extending human rights protections to corporate activities to protect corporations themselves. Human rights agendas were perversely used to demand a “right to development” that was quickly translated into a right to protection against the loss of profits. Such protections became known as a “treatment standard” and it was conceived to give home-state transnational corporations (TNCs) the right to protection from ‘discriminatory’ or other potentially damaging treatment from host states (especially former colonies and developing nations).</p> <p>This is not an uncommon pattern: initiatives that start out to regulate misconduct have often turned to corporate advantage. As we noted in an article published recently on <em><a href="https://theconversation.com/how-human-rights-law-has-been-used-to-guarantee-corporations-a-right-to-profit-74593">The Conversation</a></em>, law very often privileges the rights of corporate persons above flesh and blood persons.</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Initiatives that start out to regulate misconduct have often turned to corporate advantage.</p> <p>This makes a <a href="http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/WGTransCorp/Pages/IGWGOnTNC.aspx">2014 initiative at the UN Human Rights Council</a> significant in its mandate to “elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises”. &nbsp;Under the Obama administration, the US, along with most of the countries that headquarter the biggest corporations, have been staunchly opposed to this initiative from the outset, and have sought to undermine or obstruct the UN Human Rights Council’s process. After losing the initial vote for the Resolution, the <a href="warned%2520they%2520would%2520not%2520cooperate%2520with%2520an%2520intergovernmental%2520working%2520group%2520(IGWG)%2520which%2520is%2520to%2520be%2520established%2520to%2520lay%2520down%2520ground%2520rules%2520for%2520negotiating%2520the%2520proposed%2520treaty.">US and the EU warned they would not cooperate</a> with the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group (OEIGWG), established to coordinate the negotiations for the proposed treaty. In the first session, the EU and a number of its Member States walked out.</p> <p>Having said this, Trump is perhaps the most hostile US President the UN has ever faced. Trump’s first 100 days have proven that far from being anti-establishment and anti-Wall Street, the 45th President of the US is doing everything he can to privilege the rights of corporations over people.</p> <p>If he follows through with his threat to remove the US from the UN Human Rights Council, one bonus for Trump is that the US would not have to even pretend to comply with any treaty aimed at making corporations accountable for human rights violations.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/robert-borosage/stunning-disappearance-of-candidate-trump">The stunning disappearance of candidate Trump</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/openjustice/sean-humber/why-human-rights-now-matter-more-than-ever">Why human rights now matter more than ever</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/openglobalrights/samuel-moyn/trump-and-limits-of-human-rights">Trump and the limits of human rights</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Understanding the rise of Trump David Whyte Stéfanie Khoury Fri, 28 Apr 2017 10:43:24 +0000 Stéfanie Khoury and David Whyte 110341 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Chilcot's blind spot: Iraq War report buries oil evidence, fails to address motive https://www.opendemocracy.net/david-whyte/chilcot-s-oil-blind-spot-in-iraq-war-report <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>When the UK invaded, Iraq had nearly a tenth of the world's oil reserves -- and government documents "explicitly state" oil was a consideration before the war. Why didn't Chilcot explore it further?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/560649/PA-1804197.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/560649/PA-1804197.jpg" alt=" British troops carry out an evening patrol targeting smugglers at an oil plant in southern Iraq in 2003. Credit: David Cheskin " title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'> British troops carry out an evening patrol targeting smugglers at an oil plant in southern Iraq in 2003. Credit: David Cheskin / PA Archive/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span><span>The long-awaited </span><a href="http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/the-report/">Chilcot Report</a><span> was finally released today, examining the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War and occupation. Unfortunately, on the most important question, the report’s conclusions are all but silent: why did the UK go to war?</span></span></p> <p>Chilcot takes at face value the Blair government’s claim that the motive was to address Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and limits its criticism to mistakes in the intelligence on WMD, and on insufficient administrative and military planning. He shows a remarkable lack of curiosity about the political factors behind the move to war, especially given the weakness (even at the time) of the WMD case.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Chilcot takes at face value the Blair government’s claim that the motive was to address Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.</p> <p>Most important of these is oil. Buried in deep in volume 9 of the 2.6 million-word report, Chilcot refers to government documents that explicitly state the oil objective, and outlining how Britain pursued that objective throughout the occupation. But he does not consider this evidence in his analysis or conclusions. Oil considerations do not even appear in the report’s 150-page summary. </p> <p>To many people around the world, it was obvious that oil was a central issue, as Iraq itself had nearly a <a href="http://www.griequity.com/resources/industryandissues/Energy/bp2002statisticalreview.pdf">tenth</a> of the world’s oil reserves, and together with its neighbouring countries nearly two thirds. There was a clear public interest in understanding how that affected UK decisions. Chilcot failed to explore it. </p> <p>Section 10.3 of the report, in volume 9, records that senior government officials met secretly with BP and Shell on at several occasions (<a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/2842315.stm">denied</a> at the time) to discuss their commercial interests in obtaining contracts. Chilcot did not release the minutes, but we had obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act: they are posted <a href="http://www.fuelonthefire.org/documents#1458">here</a>. In unusually expressive terms for a civil service write-up, one of the meeting’s minutes began, “<a href="http://www.fuelonthefire.org/uploads/files/0211_BP-FCO_meeting_notes.pdf">Iraq is <strong><em>the</em></strong> big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there</a><em>” (emphasis in original). </em></p> <p>Also in that section, Chilcot includes references to several pre-war documents identifying a British objective of using Iraqi oil to boost Britain’s own energy supplies. For example, a February 2002 Cabinet Office paper stated that the UK’s Iraq policy falls “within our objectives of preserving peace and stability in the Gulf and <a href="http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/211103/2002-03-08-paper-cabinet-office-iraq-options-paper.pdf">ensuring energy security</a>”. A Foreign Office strategy paper in May 2003, which Chilcot didn’t include, was even more explicit: "The future shape of the Iraqi oil industry will affect oil markets, and the functioning of OPEC, in both of which we have a <a href="http://www.fuelonthefire.org/uploads/files/0305_Iraqi_oil_British_interests.pdf">vital interest</a>".</p><p class="mag-quote-center">During the direct occupation of 2003-4, the UK consistently pushed oil policy towards the longer-term issue of privatisation, rather than the immediate rebuilding of the war-damaged infrastructure.</p> <p>So there was the motive; but how did the UK act on it? That same section 10.3 refers to numerous documents revealing the UK’s evolving actions to shape the structure of the Iraqi oil industry, throughout the occupation until 2009. The government did so in close coordination with BP and Shell. This full story – <em>with its crucial context ­– </em>was told in <a href="http://www.fuelonthefire.org"><em>Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq</em></a><em>. </em></p> <p>As the UK’s strategy evolved with changing circumstances, two priority objectives remain consistently emphasised in the documents: to transfer Iraq’s oil industry from public ownership to the hands of multinational companies, and to make sure BP and Shell get a large piece of that. <em></em></p> <p>During the direct occupation of 2003-4, the UK consistently pushed oil policy towards the longer-term issue of privatisation, rather than the immediate rebuilding of the war-damaged infrastructure. The government installed Terry Adams, a former senior manager of BP, in Baghdad to begin that work.</p> <p>British officials knew their plans were not what Iraqis wanted. One document in 2004, seen but not released by Chilcot, noted that the oil issue was “politically sensitive, touching on issues of sovereignty”. Without recognising any conflict, it recommended that Britain “<a href="http://www.fuelonthefire.org/uploads/files/0409_UK_energy_strategy_for_Iraq.pdf">push the message</a> on [foreign direct investment] to the Iraqis in private, but it will require careful handling to avoid the impression that we are trying to push the Iraqis down one particular path”.</p> <p>British officials actively pressed the oil issue on the interim government in 2004-5, the provisional government in 2005-6, and the permanent government of from 2006. <a href="http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/media/195373/2005-07-12-minute-straw-to-prime-minister-iraq-oil-and-gas-strategy-attachments-and-manuscript-comments.pdf">Foreign Secretary Jack Straw</a> wrote to Tony Blair in July 2005 setting out the progress on those activities. He wrote that Iraqi oil “remains important for the UK commercially and in terms of energy security. Foreign investment is badly needed and we need to continue to support Iraq to create the right framework for investment, while also supporting UK companies to engage”.</p><p><span>During the December 2005 election, British Ambassador William Patey sought to pressure candidates to accept passage of an oil privatization law as a top priority for the new government. During 2006 and 2007 this law became the key focus of British and US political efforts in Iraq. Forcing passage of this law became a major focus of UK and US political efforts over the subsequent two years, and was closely tied to the “surge” in troops that President Bush announced in January 2007.</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Attempts by Britain and the US to force a law through that legalised oil privatisation failed</p> <p>Deep in volume 9, when Chilcot refers to these British efforts, he presents them under the veneer of normal diplomatic activity, neglecting the reality that the UK and USA still had 150,000 troops the country, and had directly appointed the interim government. The permanent government in 2006 was established through elections the UK and USA had designed, and contested by the politicians they had promoted. Terry Adams was even commissioned to draft the contracts that would be signed with the likes of his former company.</p> <p>In the end, attempts by Britain and the US to force a law through that legalised oil privatisation failed. The law was not passed, largely because of a <a href="http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/6590/the-unfinished-story-of-iraqs-oil-law_an-interview">popular Iraqi campaign</a> against it. It was then decided to sign long-term contracts even without any legal basis for doing so.&nbsp; Iraq´s oil industry is largely now run – illegally – by companies like BP, Shell and ExxonMobil.</p> <p>Chilcot has said he was not asked to <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/28/tony-blair-will-not-be-accused-of-breaking-laws-in-iraq-war-inqu/">judge</a> whether the war was legal.&nbsp; Yet in his failure to examine the real motive for war, he has side-lined crucial evidence that might tell us about the legality of the war and occupation, and the culpability of senior UK officials, including Tony Blair.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/peter-oborne/we-dont-need-to-wait-for-chilcot-we-were-lied-to-heres-evidence">We don&#039;t need to wait for Chilcot, Blair lied to us about Iraq. Here&#039;s the evidence.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/houman-barekat/war-of-aggression">A war of aggression</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/roger-hardy/suez-1956-iraq-2003">The similarities between Suez in 1956 and Iraq in 2003 are uncanny</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/paul-rogers/peter-obornes-not-chilcot-report-review">Peter Oborne&#039;s &quot;Not the Chilcot Report&quot;: a review </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/bulent-gokay-lily-hamourtziadou/will-chilcot-mention-real-reasons-of-iraq-war-and-hundreds-of-thousa">Will Chilcot mention the real reasons for the Iraq War and the hundreds of thousands who have died since March 2003?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk North-Africa West-Asia uk Conflict Greg Muttitt David Whyte Wed, 06 Jul 2016 17:11:12 +0000 David Whyte and Greg Muttitt 103651 at https://www.opendemocracy.net David Whyte https://www.opendemocracy.net/content/david-whyte <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> David Whyte </div> </div> </div> <p>David Whyte is Professor of Socio-legal studies at the University of Liverpool. He contributes regularly to openDemocracy and has written for The Guardian, The Herald, The Age and Red Pepper. &nbsp;His most recent book is The Violence of Austerity (Pluto, 2017, edited with Vickie Cooper).</p> David Whyte Thu, 12 May 2016 15:17:15 +0000 David Whyte 102029 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Where’s the corruption Mr Cameron? Look behind you! https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/david-whyte/where-s-corruption-mr-cameron-look-behind-you <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Bribing might be rare in Britain, but that doesn't mean corruption isn't rife.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/1920px-David_Cameron_and_Barack_Obama_at_the_G20_Summit_in_Toronto.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553846/1920px-David_Cameron_and_Barack_Obama_at_the_G20_Summit_in_Toronto.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>By Pete Souza - http://www.flickr.com/photos/whitehouse/4753653798/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10877247</span></span></span></strong></p><p><span>Cameron’s bizarre pantomime routine with the Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a couple of nervous court jesters having a go at the former colonies was the perfect platform for today’s anti-corruption celebration of British-ness. And he will not be worried about the fallout. He has the force of international (elite) opinion behind him.&nbsp; Despite the panama papers revelations that implicated huge numbers of British-owned shell companies in British Overseas Territories and British Crown Dependencies, he can still plausibly claim that corruption is not Britain’s problem, but the rest of the world’s.&nbsp; After all, he has the league tables to prove it.</span></p> <p>In January of this year it was reported that the UK was now the 10th least corrupt country in <em>Transparency International</em>’s benchmark <em>Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI)</em>.&nbsp; It was a remarkable rise up the charts from 2010, David Cameron’s first year of office, when Britain was in 20th place. Robert Barrington, the head of <em>Transparency International</em> <em>UK</em> qualified the result by pointing our there “good reasons why people are skeptical about whether Britain really merits a top 10 ranking”.&nbsp; </p> <p>There are indeed. The same day that the <em>CPI</em> was published the criminal case against 5 people accused of the LIBOR frauds collapsed. The fraud – probably the biggest in banking history – was organized at the heart of the most venerated and trusted institutions in the city of London. The following day two more stories about corruption in British institutions broke. The first reported the news that European Commission was investigating complaints that Google’s £130m settlement with the British government amounted to “special treatment” and the second reported that that the Prudential Regulation Authority will investigate the potentially criminal role of HBOS's senior management in the near-collapse of the bank, seven years after the event.</p> <p>If it seems like a lot of corruption of various forms was being reported over the same two days that the newspapers were reporting the UK’s miraculous climb up the anti-corruption charts, there was nothing unusual about this. In the UK over the past few years, reports of major corruption scandals of various kinds in the public and private sectors have become daily fodder. We are overwhelmed by the scale, frequency and variety of corruption cases in this country, from police manipulation of evidence, to over-charging in out-sourced public contracts, by way of election funding and cash-for-access scandals involving prominent politicians and price fixing, market manipulation and fraud in key sectors of the economy. And yet the UK is, according to its chart position, one of the top ten cleanest economies and rising.</p> <p>There are two major reasons to conclude that Britain’s chart position is creating a false impression. The first is that the “corruption” that the <em>CPI</em> is concerned with is of a very particular kind. Economists sometimes distinguish between collusive corruption (where two parties collude for their common benefit) and extortive corruption (where one party is compelled to make a bribe payment to another). It is less common, for example, to have to bribe a public official in the UK than some other countries. Extortive corruption is not a major problem in this country, though it is probably more widespread than we tend to think it is. </p> <p>It is <em>extortive</em> corruption that surveys like the CPI are primarily concerned with. But the British style of corruption that we are increasingly exposed to is <em>collusive</em>. And collusive corruption is not done merely for personal gain, but is largely done for the benefit of the organization or the institution. Police rigging of evidence for example is typically done to avoid criticism of the police (as in the Hillsborough case). The rigging of LIBOR doubtless benefited the traders that colluded, but benefitted the banks and their shareholders much more.&nbsp; </p> <p>The second reason that we should be skeptical about Britain’s rise up the charts is that the received wisdom projected by surveys like the <em>CPI </em>is exactly that: received wisdom rather than concrete evidence. The <em>CPI </em>merely measures the impressions of a large group of observers and experts around the world that are selected for the survey. In the sense that it is based on “perceptions” of groups of people who are “perceived” to be experts, the <em>Index </em>can actually be said to be doubly subjective. But what would a different survey look like, that asked not a bunch of handpicked experts, but a representative sample of the population?&nbsp; </p> <p>In a <a href="http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/publications/redefining-corruption">poll</a> commissioned with YouGov, we asked a representative cross section of the British public about how they regarded a range of collusive relationships between the public and private sectors.</p> <p>The survey revealed a public sentiment strongly in favour of prohibiting some of the practices that are normal and routine in government – especially those that indicate a close – collusive - relationship between the public and the private sector. In this survey almost three quarters of the people we asked said that the practice of ministers or senior civil servants accepting corporate boardroom appointments on leaving office should be banned. Almost two thirds said that inviting private corporations into government to help shape the regulation of business should be banned and more than two thirds said that current PFI arrangements for public projects should be banned.</p> <p>In other words, the British public want rid of many of the practices that have become part and parcel of the British way of doing business and doing politics. To the extent that they know what is going on, they want it to stop. </p> <p>It is not difficult to see why. The revolving door, and the involvement of the private sector in public functions have proven to be both a symptom and a cause of institutional corruption in the neo-liberal period. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the UK’s brand of crony capitalism has enriched the few in a very harsh economic climate that has disproportionately punished the poor.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>In fact, this umbilical link, in which obscene levels of enrichment can only be accrued at a massive human cost, is rarely properly illuminated. So the Panama Papers did not show exactly who were forcibly removed from their homes to ensure the windfall profits of predatory housing capital flowing through Panama. Neither did the leaks reveal how much the NHS and the education system is paying for PFI deals that flow straight out of the public purse to tax havens like Panama.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>The UK government conveniently avoids its growing reputation as a crony capitalist state <em>par excellence</em>, preferring in its own <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/388894/UKantiCorruptionPlan.pdf">Anti-Corruption Plan</a> to more or less follow the <a href="http://www.worldbank.org/en/about/unit/integrity-vice-presidency/what-is-fraud-and-corruption">World Bank definition</a> of: “offering, giving, receiving or soliciting, directly or indirectly, of anything of value to influence improperly the actions of another party.” The same Anti-Corruption Plan makes it clear that it is government policy to remain fixated on extortion by criminal gangs, rather than collusion between powerful corporations and government departments.</p> <p>Yet, as the <a href="http://www.financialsecrecyindex.com/">Tax Justice Network’s Financial Secrecy Index</a> shows, if all of the British Overseas Territories were counted along with the United Kingdom, then the UK would be number one provider of financial secrecy. This level of potential corruption is not merely a problem that can be described as ‘extortion’, but is a routine practice that is used for maintaining and extending the power of corporations, governments and public institutions. The British brand of corruption arises from practices that have become normal in business and politics, and have victimized the most vulnerable, whether those are the populations of the Global South who see much of their resource wealth syphoned out of their countries via tax havens run by the Global North countries, or, in the UK, residents who are forcibly removed from their homes, taxpayers who are ripped off by artificially inflated&nbsp; costs of public hospitals, or the vast number of ordinary households that are routinely defrauded by financial products issued by high street banks.&nbsp; </p> <p>In the midst of all of this, one might be entitled to ask why the British government still feels empowered to lead on international anti-corruption initiatives? This may not last forever, but the naked hubris with which Cameron showed off to his Queen on Tuesday is the sign of a weakened prime minister who knows very well that the British self-taught myth of the mother of all democracies now means very little to the rest of the world.&nbsp;&nbsp; Today, for all of the hubris and bluster, his ‘initiatives’ (an OECD-led regulator and a pledge of more openness) will all add up to little more than keep calm and carry on.</p> <p>When our political leaders start preaching to the rest of the world about how they need to clean up their act, we are rightly suspicious. When a major event like this one comes to our doorstep, we need to bring the debate about corruption back home. We have been evangelizing about the neo-liberal model and forcing predatory capitalism upon economies across the world. It is this model of capitalism that sows fertile seeds for a very wide range of collusive relationships and practices that sometimes avoid the law and sometimes don’t need to, but always redistribute wealth upwards. And it is this model of capitalism that is now being revealed as the primary source of corruption.</p> <p><em>David Whyte is the editor of ‘How Corrupt is Britain?’ available to oD readers </em><a href="http://bit.ly/howcorrupt"><em>here</em></a><em> for a special offer of £10 until the 15th May. He is also editor of the latest issue of </em><a href="http://www.taxjustice.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/TJF_2015_11-1.pdf"><em>Tax Justice Focus</em></a><em> on British corruption, published this week. <br /></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/david-whyte/missing-link-in-uk-general-election-corruption">The missing link in the UK general election - corruption</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/clare-short/why-did-david-cameron-reject-this-essay-from-anti-corruption-book">Why did David Cameron reject this essay from his anti-corruption book?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk David Whyte Thu, 12 May 2016 11:48:19 +0000 David Whyte 102025 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The missing link in the UK general election - corruption https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/david-whyte/missing-link-in-uk-general-election-corruption <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>However much we like to pretend that corruption is something that happens in other, lesser countries, the reality is that corruption is now rife in Britain. Why is no one talking about it?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/535628/cameron_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/535628/cameron_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="314" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Flickr/World Economic Forum. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The idea that British institutions are fair and democratic is one of the foundation stones of our self-written national mythology. Historically, we have constructed corruption as something that is exclusively a problem in developing or economically ‘primitive’ societies, rather than our own. Yet the almost daily reporting of all manner of corruption cases in our most prominent and powerful institutions is beginning to unravel the idea that the British establishment is predicated on civilized values of ‘fairness’, ‘openness’ and ‘transparency’. A seemingly endless conveyor belt of cases has shown no signs of slowing down.&nbsp; Indeed, if anything, it has accelerated.</p> <p>In the corporate sector, Tesco’s investigation by the Groceries Code Adjudicator comes on top of current investigations by the Serious Fraud Office and the Financial Reporting Council.&nbsp; The Mirror group is now being investigated by Scotland Yard after allegations about bribery and phone hacking that may yet exceed the depth of the News International scandal. HSBC are embroiled in yet another financial scandal, this time involving a tax avoidance scheme.&nbsp; Even the Bank of England is under investigation.</p> <p>In the police, the announcement last week of a fresh IPCC corruption investigation of the Met for its role in a child abuse cover-up comes on the back of a very long line of cases of evidence manipulation and cover-up (Plebgate; falsification of police evidence following the Hillsborough disaster; a corruption in the original investigation of the Stephen Lawrence case; and even evidence of corruption in the Met’s own anti-corruption unit).</p> <p>In politics, there have been more major exposés of ‘cash for access’ allegations involving prominent members of the three main political parties.</p> <p>Given that the public has been consistently force-fed a diet of corruption cases involving key British institutions across the public and private sectors, it is remarkable that the subject has barely registered as an issue in election debates.&nbsp; True, some politicians <em>have</em> pounced upon a few select companies or individuals to use as election ammunition. Yet, as a soapbox issue, the corruption of British public life is barely on the radar of the main political parties. Precious few politicians dare to make links across the various forms of corruption that permeate business, the police and the way politics currently works in this country.</p> <p>The remarkable omission of a serious debate about corruption from the hustings appears even more remarkable when we consider that the two most recent changes of party in UK government took place against a backdrop of parliamentary corruption. Labour’s election victory in 1997 took place following a major ‘cash for questions’ scandal in parliament; and an expenses fraud involving MPs from all of the major political parties provided the backdrop to the 2010 general election.&nbsp; </p> <p>One reason is simply that we lost sense of what constitutes the ‘public interest’ in the UK. One thing that many corruption cases have in common is the reduction of the aims of ‘public policy’ and ‘public interest’ to the pursuit of the interests of private profit making corporations. Perhaps the most visible example of the way that the public interest is being coupled to the interests of business is found in the so-called revolving door of senior appointments between business and government. It is this dynamic – a more open attempt to subsume the public interest to the interest of private corporations - that has brought the rationales, practices, and even the morals and values, of the private sector into the public sector, and at the same time is further undermining the independence of policy-making and regulatory processes.</p> <p>Part of this re-orientation of the relationship between the public and the private interest is that politicians treat their paid consultancies with business and their memberships of corporate boards as a matter of pride, not a reason to question their ability to represent the general public interest.&nbsp;&nbsp; Being a politician with complex vested interests is, in Britain, apparently a badge of honour rather than a matter of shame.&nbsp; </p> <p>In December 2013, David Cameron flew 131 business leaders to China on a UK government trade mission. The delegation to China included representatives of companies that have been involved in bribery and fraud allegations connected to Chinese officials. Among them were Andrew Witty, chief executive of pharmaceuticals giant GSK, and Patrick Horgan, representing Rolls-Royce. The former company has now been convicted of large-scale bribery, and the latter still facing investigation. In fact, the GSK case was ongoing during the mission, and a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the Rolls-Royce allegations was launched just three weeks after Cameron returned from China. Also represented in the prime minister’s delegation to China was ICAP, the broker that was fined $87 million a couple of months before the trip for its role in the LIBOR rate-fixing scandal.</p> <p>There is no accusation being made here that the current government welcomes those corporations as trade envoys out of a cynical desire to support or devalue the seriousness of the charges that face them.&nbsp; The reason they remain part of government trade delegations is actually much more mundane: if governments were to vet companies for their criminal records, or their involvement in corruption, then those trade delegations would be significantly diminished in size.&nbsp; The prime minister would most likely be sitting on a half empty plane.</p> <p>In Britain we are not readily prepared to admit that bribery is part of our way of life. Perhaps it is even fair to argue that the bribery of individuals is not common in British police forces, public services or in government. We do know, however, that it does exist: money does change hands at <em>some</em> times for <em>some</em> purposes.&nbsp;&nbsp; Last year, the BBC reported Metropolitan Police insiders admitting that a wealth of detail about police bribery was lost when a major 4 year investigation into Met corruption ended in the shredding of a “lorry-load” of evidence.&nbsp; And there is more than enough evidence from parliamentary inquiries into the role of News International and other media groups into “phone-hacking” to show that private investigators and journalist have, in a very wide range of circumstances, made payments for information to former and serving police officers, and to other public officials. The phone-hacking scandal is essentially a bribery scandal. The pursuit of individual interest in the form of bribing of public officials is the corruption that the most prominent experts and watchdog organisations like <em>Transparency International </em>tend to focus upon, but it is probably a relatively peripheral part of a much larger problem of institutional corruption in Britain. &nbsp;</p> <p>It is the pursuit of <em>institutional</em> interest that characterizes British corruption.&nbsp;&nbsp; Moreover, it seems reasonable to argue that corruption is not merely an <em>effect</em> of power, but is often the <em>means</em> by which institutions maintain and concentrate power. And this means that any politician that wishes to remove the structure of impunity that still exists for prominent people in British public life has a major job on their hands. For, to tackle corruption comprehensively would certainly mean major changes to key public and private institutions. </p><p><br /><em><strong>David Whyte is the editor of the new book, <a href="http://www.plutobooks.com/display.asp?K=9780745335308">How Corrupt is Britain?</a></strong></em></p> uk uk David Whyte Thu, 02 Apr 2015 12:31:14 +0000 David Whyte 91728 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Overburdened (once every forty years) https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/steve-tombs-david-whyte/overburdened-once-every-forty-years <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Yesterday's Queen's speech foregrounded a commitment to 'freeing up' Britain's businesses from health and safety legislation. But with Britain rapidly heading to the bottom of the OECD's national rankings for workplace safety, the effects of deregulation could be far from liberating.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Tacked on at the end of the very first paragraph of yesterday&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2012/may/09/queens-speech-politics-live-blog">Queen&rsquo;s Speech</a>&nbsp;was a government promise to "limit state inspection of businesses.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>Innocuous as it sounds, this phrase contains a promise that profoundly <img class="image-right" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/queen.jpg" alt="" width="200" />threatens the health and wellbeing of all of us. And yet it passed by virtually unreported, under the radar of all of the major news bulletins. &nbsp;&#8232;&nbsp;&#8232;</p> <p>We have come to expect &ndash; and take for granted - the guarantee that our workplaces, our environment and safety of our food comply to a minimum standard of protection. &nbsp;And yet, this is not how business representatives or the government see it. &nbsp;Since the election of the Coalition, we have been subjected to a constant barrage of mythology about those protections being a &ldquo;burden&rdquo; on business. Recall that Cameron&rsquo;s New Years priorities for 2012 were the Olympics, the Queen&rsquo;s Jubilee, and to &ldquo;kill off the health and safety culture for good&rdquo; - to <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-i-will-kill-off-safety-culture-6285238.html">rid British business of an &ldquo;albatross&rdquo;</a> that was &ldquo;costing them billions of pounds a year&rdquo;. &nbsp; </p><p>Yesterday&rsquo;s promise to limit inspections is the latest stage in the Coalition&rsquo;s promised major shake up of business inspection, following Nick Clegg&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/oct/25/small-business-regulation-nick-clegg">longstanding promise</a> to question if regulators are still necessary. &nbsp;All of the apocryphal stories of &lsquo;elf and safety goan mad&rsquo; (many of them originating in a mixture of government and <em>Daily Mail</em> populism rather than fact) have had the drip drip effect of creating an illusion that we are &ldquo;over-regulated&rdquo;.</p> <p>Yet when it comes to the most fundamental protections of our health and our lives, the figures simply don&rsquo;t stack up. Indeed, the figures are so stark that they make us question both the integrity and the sanity of the Coalition. &nbsp;&#8232;&nbsp;</p> <p>Take the main sources of regulatory protection from business activities: workplace health and safety, environmental protection and food safety. &nbsp;In the past ten years, inspections by the Environment Agency have fallen by 60%. In the Health and Safety Executive annual inspections of businesses by its biggest section have declined by more than 2/3rds. &nbsp;The average business can now expect a visit less than once every forty years. &nbsp;</p> <p>In the same period, food safety inspections by local authorities have fallen by 31%.&#8232;&nbsp;&#8232;he effect on the way that the worst offending businesses are punished for risking our lives has been equally dramatic. &nbsp;Prosecutions in the Environment Agency have fallen 27% since their peak in 2005; in the past decade years, prosecutions for health and safety offences have halved and prosecutions for food safety and food standards violations have fallen by 33%.&#8232;&nbsp;</p> <p>I&#8232;n comparison to other OECD countries, our workplace safety record continues to race to the bottom. &nbsp;When the Coalition took power, Britain was 20th out of 30 OECD countries rated for safe workplaces, and we are continuing to slip down this league table.&#8232;&nbsp;&#8232;</p> <p>This is hardly a picture of an over-regulated business sector. &nbsp;It is yet another measure of the Coalition&rsquo;s ability to look like a rabbit caught in the headlights of this recession. &nbsp;As part of a craven to business, knee-jerk, attempt to deregulate us out of recession, this proposal threatens irreversible damage to a quickly deteriorating safety net of social protection.</p> <p><em>Steve Tombs is Professor of Sociology, Liverpool John Moores University; David Whyte is Reader in Sociology, University of Liverpool.&nbsp; They are authors of Regulatory Surrender (<a href="http://www.ier.org.uk/node/491">Institute of Employment Rights</a></em><em> , 2010)&nbsp;</em></p><div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> uk uk Civil society Democracy and government Steve Tombs David Whyte Thu, 10 May 2012 12:46:33 +0000 Steve Tombs and David Whyte 65797 at https://www.opendemocracy.net