The closed loop of neoliberal political lobbying

The Telegraph today published a proposal from a “leaked” government document, that businesses should not have to use due process to fire an employee. The protection given to employees of making it possible to challenge dismissal as unfair is a regulation – the term usually deployed is “red tape” – which is creating unemployment, because it makes entrepreneurs insecure about taking on employees.

The BBC (the corporation paid for by Uk license payers which has just acceded to implement budget cuts) saw this story as important enough to be published on its News website.

The proposal itself is unsurprising and unoriginal: it derives from the neoliberal logic that all regulation of business interferes with the “natural order” of the markets and is evil and must be stopped. The logic of the proposal itself is unsurprising: the removal of employee security is duplicitously presented as a means to reduce unemployment (a benefit to the unemployed, not the prospective employer). The laying of blame on the shiftless worker for all the trouble is typical of neoliberal attacks on any group they can create as an “other”, prompting the anger of the righteous non-offender..

What the history of this particular proposal demonstrates are the deficit in democratic accountability in the UK, and the difficulty of controlling lobbying in a neoliberal state.

It is easy to imagine the nasty lobbyist squirming and squeezing his way into he position of influence from which he can corrupt a politician from the path of goodness, and this is how it is often portrayed. However, in this case as so often in the neoliberal project, there is no lobbying to be done.

Recently, Chancellor George Osborne announced the Coalition would reduce the number of unfair dismissal claims. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, asked for a report on employment laws from a Conservative party donor and “venture capitalist” (think hedge funds) called Adrian Beecroft.  The report, which has not been made public, was then “leaked” to a newspaper which has historically supported the Conservatives, which chose to highlight this proposal.

The Prime Minister has effectively been lobbying himself. By asking for the report to be prepared privately by a party donor and “venture capitalist”, David Cameron could be assured that the report would suggest only those actions which his Coalition government was minded to take. He was also assured that no contrary views would be included, and that no criticism of the reports contents could be made until it was leaked. Experienced civil servants and professional academics (and the public) were excluded from the making of the report (and still officially excluded from its findings). It is about as different from evidence-based policy making as it could be.

This process has been repeated continuously since the creation and proliferation of “free-market”, “liberal”, and “right-wing” think tanks from the 1970s onwards. Neoliberal politicians continuously lobby themselves on behalf of the super-rich 1% and large corporations by sitting on “think tanks” and in office. Only neoliberal ideas will be produced by these “think tanks” and taken up by these politicians, because they ensure that any other ideas are excluded. Ironically, this practise  has put David Cameron at odds with his party members over leaving the European Community, particularly with those fanatically Eurosceptic MPs who are either working in thinktanks and lobby groups or who have been trained by them. Many of the new intake of Conservative MPs have no knowledge or ideas other than those they contributed to as “researchers” in those thinktanks and lobby groups, and are consequently rabidly anti-Europe.

This is how the neoliberal project has created such a huge deficit in imagination and knowledge: Margaret Thatcher’s TINA, as Paul H Rosenberg has helpfully explained in his essays on the “13 Deficits” via All-Jazera English, is a self-imposed limitation on scientific and creative thought.  Once again, the picture of neoliberalism as a closed system (or even religion) emerges.

It will be difficult to control politicians who want to be lobbied or who effectively lobby themselves by asking for the policies which they know they will receive. A register of lobbyists will provide limited benefits: the challenge is to break out of TINA and apply knowledge and creativity.

As for the policy proposal itself: at a time of increasing unemployment, when individuals are already facing uncertainty and saving rather than investing or purchasing, you might just question whether increasing fear of unemployment is the right direction.

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