16 May 2009

Business As Usual In Parliament

When Caroline Aherne, in the guise of Mrs Merton, interviewed Debbie McGee, her opening question was: "So, what was it which first attracted you to the multimillionaire Paul Daniels?"

Tony Blair, once he saw that he was never going to make even an ersatz imitation of Mick Jagger for the circuit which included schools for children with learning difficulties and shelters for drug-addled derelicts, said that, instead, he 'wanted to serve his country'.

A letter in The Times or Telegraph a few days ago was written by someone who said that when he was leaving The London School of Economics after graduating, he asked a friend who had taken the same course, but had come from an African country in order to do so, what line of business he would be going into. His friend said: "Oh, I'm not going into business. I'm going into politics. That's where the real money is."

Of course, many people commented that Tony Blair's claim to want to serve his country was simply a way of saying he wanted to get behind the till; he wanted to have his fingers, not so much on the levers of power, as on the keys of the cash-register. If the two went hand in hand, so much the better.

We are used to the idea now that New Labour was all about leaving the ordinary people to their fate, while sidling up to and seducing big business. 

New Labour under Tony Blair was the grinning air-head slapper who would jump into bed with anyone who had the money. The stupid little slut who would turn tricks, tears and tantrums or empty grins or anything else, as long as someone was paying for the party.

Gordon Brown was the grumpy old pro. The old whore who had been around so long, people imagined she must have extra special talents, but it turned out to be just the same service, but for those who were more needy and desperate and less discerning.

So, now we know that politicians are simply hookers with the morals to match, what are we going to do about it?

If history is anything to go by, we will, of course, just let them get away with it. We will pretend to be outraged, but not quite enough to really act and they will pretend to be contrite, but not quite enough to kick the habit of a lifetime.

Perhaps it is the fact that politics has adopted the same morals as business which is to blame. There is no social or political process which has not become subordinated to and controlled by business principles, from the career managerialism of politicians themselves to the fact that people are commodities to be sold to whichever enterprise wants to turn a fast buck on them.

In his book The Corporation, Joel Bakan argues that although many people in business at a high level exhibit tendencies towards psychopathy or schizophrenia, the large corporations for which they work are themselves essentially psychopathic in their constitution and operation.

This is a long quote from the book, which tends to spell out exactly where British politics now stands, after the template on which it is based was broken in America years ago.


The corporation itself may not so easily escape the psychopath diagnosis, however. Unlike the human beings who inhabit it, the corporation is singularly self-interested and unable to feel genuine concern for others in any context. Not surprisingly, then, when we asked Dr. Hare to apply his diagnostic checklist of psychopathic traits (italicised below) to the corporation's institutional character, he found there was a close match. The corporation is irresponsible, Dr. Hare said, because "in an attempt to satisfy the corporate goal, everybody else is put at risk." Corporations try to "manipulate everything, including public opinion," and they are grandiose, always insisting that "we're number one, we're the best." A lack of empathy and asocial tendencies are also key charcteristics of the corporation, says Hare - "their behaviour indicates they don't really concern themselves with their victims"; and corporations often refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions and are unable to feel remorse: if [corporations] get caught [breaking the law] , they pay big fines and they...continue doing what they did before anyway. And in fact in many cases the fines and the penalties paid by the organization are trivial compared to the profits that they rake in."

Finally, according to Dr. Hare, corporations relate to others superficially - "their whole goal is to present themselves to the public in a way that is appealing to the public [but] in fact may not be representative of what th[e] organization is really like." Human psychopaths are notorious for their ability to use charm as a mask to hide their dangerously self-obsessed personalities. For corporations, social responsibility may play the same role. Through it they can present themselves as compassionate and concerned about others, when, in fact, they lack the ability to care about anyoine or anything but themselves.

Take the large and well-known energy company that once was a paragon of social responsibility and corporate philanthropy. Each year the company produced a Corporate Responsibility Annual Report; the most recent one, unfortunately its last, vowed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and support multilateral agreements to help stop climate change. The company pledged further to put human rights, the environment, health and safety issues, biodiversity, indigenous rights, and transparency at the core of its business operations, and it created a well-staffed corporate social responsibility task force to monitor and implement its social responsibility programs. The company boasted of its development of alternative energy sources and the fact that it had helped start the Business Council for Sustainable Energy. It apologised for a 29,000-barrel oil spill in South America, promised it would never happen again, and reported that it had formed partnerships with environmental NGOs to help monitor its operations. It described the generous support it had provided communities in the cities where it operated, funding arts organizations, museums, educational institutions, environmental groups, and various causes throughout the world. The company, which was consistenetly ranked as one of the best places to work in America, strongly promoted diversity in the workplace. "We believe", said the report "that corporate leadership should set the example for community service."

Unfortunately, this paragon of corporate and social responsibility, Enron, was unable to continue its good works after it collapsed under the weight of its executives' greed, hubris and criminality. Enron's story shows just how wide a gap can exist between a company's cleverly crafterd do-gooder image and its actual operations and suggests, at a minimum, that skepticism about corporate social responsibility is well warranted.

There is, however, a larger lesson to be drawn from Enron's demise than the importance of being skeptical about corporate social responsibility. Though the company is now notorious for its arrogance and ethically challenged executives, the underlying reasons for its collapse can be traced to characterisitics common to all corporations: obsessions with profits and share prices, greed, lack of concern for others, and a penchant for breaking the legal rules. These traits are, in turn, rooted in an institutional culture, the corporation's, that valorizes self-interest and invalidates moral concern. No doubt Enron took such characteristics to their limits - indeed, to the point of self-destruction - and the company is now notorious for that. It was not, however, unusual for the fact it had those characteristics in the first place. Rather, Enron's collapse is best understood as showing what can happen when the characterisitics we normally accept and take for granted in a corpoartion are pushed to the extreme. It was not, in other words, a "very isolated incident," as Pfizer's Hank McKinnel described it and as many commentators seem to believe, but rather a symptom of the corporation's flawed institutional character.


We now know what it looks like when a government, a Parliament, models itself on the boardroom of a shyster company.

We know Gordon Brown loves all things American; that he holidayed there when he did not have to pretend that he preferred some bed and breakfast in Skegness for PR reasons; that he almost snogged Obama on camera when he met him.

For Tony Blair, of course, America is just another revenue stream for him and his family.

So, now we know that Parliament - or the mother of all parliaments, as we are told to say when feeling patriotic (which now amounts to about never) - is really just another shabby business at best and a cash-machine or ATM for politicians at worst, we really need to work out whether we should continue to prop it up with our patronage, our custom.

Perhaps what we need to do is insist that all MPs are now de-selected by their constituency parties and new candidates found.

It could be that there are some politicians who are hardworking and honest, but we will never know who they are. For now, those not up to their elbows in filched cash and sleaze could simply be the incompetent or lazy ones.

If we are not going to have the opportunity to line them all up and shoot them, we should at least ensure that they are all cleared out to spend more time on their gardens or their home DIY projects or simply counting their money and their lucky stars for being allowed out with their lives and liberty.

Campaign locally hard enough and this could happen.

What is the point of our outrage if all we do is bottle it up and huff and puff and they just get away scot free and laugh over their shoulders at our stupid impotence?


  1. I havent read ths yet but good work on writing and posting it, we need more articles. Look forward to reading it.

    Tsar Bomba?

  2. Thanks Jay

    Tsar Bomba was the name the Russians gave to the biggest nuclear bomb ever made and detonated.

    A tenuous link, perhaps, like when I used Felix Hoenikker - which MonkeyFish maybe appreciates.

  3. Me too -

    Good to see another article from you - not time to read it yet though but will

    Can't remember the red Clyde leading stewards name now ..Jimmy Jimmy ????? Anyway his mum had a great one about the fishes heads in the diet of the 1930's clydeside if you aint heard it?

    - I have the punchline in my head and will try to get the structure of the story to share with you later


  4. Some good points here, tsar bombas. But polemic is a literary form that goes back to the politics of the 17th century, and the better polemics were more concerned with education of the readers and a challenge to action than verbal fireworks and tired re-hashes of common knowledge. You might wish to consider whether you are writing for yourself or others. It's always a valid question. I have no doubt your heart is is the right place, but is it really committed to others?

  5. harder to hear what your saying when you shout really loud,, and i kinda twitched every time i read 'we' or 'us'

    i feel more confident of understanding people who say 'I'

    i cant help thinking that the macro history of the last few hundred years is somewhat relevant the understanding of today,,especially with regard the corporation,, and you do seem to be almost 100% about todays headlines,,

    ""So, now we know that politicians are simply hookers with the morals to match"""

    well actually its been remarked upon previously in depth,,over say the last two hundred years
    during which time its gotten progressively worse
    for reasons much deeper than everyday actions of individuals,,in fact individuals are largely irrelevant,,its all (the greed/deceit) driven by the collective humanity which is a seperate and distinct animal from the individual,, this may or may not be in agreement with your overall thesis,,i cant tell,,

    please keep contributing

    ps perhaps you could include some kind of "in a nutshell" line in your next piece for the less
    erudite/sophisticated such as myself,, ta muchly

  6. MrPotatoHead17 May, 2009 07:27

    i would add that i think all the other side of the equation,,humility/honesty is the polar opposite and is never served by the collective but is exclusively the option of the individual

  7. Nice post Atomboy.

    The Corporation is a fine read and you make a valid point about the corporate nature of the modern political class. However, the message that I got from the book was that corporations' psychopathic tendencies resulted as much from their legal status and structure and the requirement that their shareholders' interests were paramount. This of course explains, excuses and institutionalises their rapacity and self-interest.

    There is, of course, no reason that MPs should have adopted this corporate ethos and agenda. That surely came about through their faith in the miracle-working capacity of the free market. The establishment of internal markets,competition, targets and reliance on private consultants were adopted, not out of any necessity but for philosophical reasons. There's no reason they can't be abandoned.

    Unfortunately, despite reason events, the ardour of the political classes for free markets and rampant capitalism shows no sign of cooling and with the Tories on the way, there's no reason to expect any change.

    Naturally, I feel the answer is to convince sufficient numbers of people of the internal contradictions of capitalism. Now where have I heard that line before? Not a straightforward prospect at all if past experience is anything to go by but an essential goal none the less.

    Anyway...keep posting. Enjoy your stuff.

  8. Points taken about polemicism and invective and audiences and the purpose of writing.

    I wanted to see what type of place this is intending to be what the people here see as the purpose of the site and their roles in contributing to it.

    I would not pretend that I put a lot of thought or effort into either of yesterday's pieces, but wanted to see what reaction there was.

    We seem to be at a stage where the fundamental operation of politics in this country is on the brink of potentially massive and sudden change, in which the wishes of the people en masse might be taken into account, but we seem to think that it is a spectator sport in which all we can do is watch the players and listen to the commentary provided.

    Nick Clegg in The Guardian has this:

    Eighteen months ago, I approached Gordon Brown and David Cameron to suggest a constitutional convention to rewrite the rules of our democracy. They didn't take up the offer. From their point of view, this was a logical response: they have a vested interest in the status quo because eventually the electoral merry-go-round will deliver them power. Why break open a cosy arrangement which has served the establishment parties so well over the years?

    But we can no longer tolerate such a dysfunctional set-up. We must finally haul our politics from the 19th century into the 21st. After more than a week of scandal, one thing is clearer than ever: the game is up for the old way of doing things. The question now is – do we have the will to start anew?


    As far as the last sentence goes, I would have to say: "Nah, you're all right, mate. Just carry on."

  9. Good article!

    There are no short cuts though we just have to convince enough people to cause a change (like the pile of sand)

    Where bourgeois democracy exists capitalism has to create a positive image for itself and increasingly elected legislatures have ben doing the same.

    Underneath it is the same as it ever was - look at this quote from Engels' 'The part played by labour in the transition from ape to man'"As individual capitalists are engaged in production and exchange for the sake of immediate profit, only the nearest, most immediate results must first be taken into account…

    What cared the Spanish planters in Cuba, who burned down the forests on the slopes of the mountains and obtained from the ashes sufficient fertiliser for one generation of highly profitable coffee trees – what cared they that heavy tropical rainfall afterwards washed away the unprotected upper stratum of soil, leaving behind only bare rock!

    In relation to nature, as to society, the present mode of production is predominantly concerned only about the immediate, most tangible result, and then surprise is expressed that the more remote effects of actions directed to this end turn out to be quite different, are mostly quite opposite in character"
    This first published in 1876! There has not been a noticeable improvement in capitalism's care for the environment even now when we know disaster strikes.

    What is happening is a rush to make as much profit as possible. perhaps they plan to build an environment on the moon, or attempt to 'terraform Mars. The they can do as Hawkin suggested bugger off and leave us in the shit!

    Only the workers of the world can save the world!

  10. Read it now, some good points Atomboy, enjoyed this. The primary issue here, for me, is whether this will go the way it usually does - all footstamping no action, or whether, for once, the public actually do something.

  11. not the same anon as above22 May, 2009 07:58

    @ room101

    Think the name you were looking for was Jimmy Reid? If thats the one and the yarn's the one I think it is it's a good one.

    @ anon (16th May 21:02)

    Your observations on the role of polemics is a valuable contribution here. All who participate here might think about the wider implications of the point you make. If people "learn" from a writer a special bond is established and the influence of the pen grows.

    Your point about deciding if the "perfomance" is for oneself or others is astute -the knobs in this room want to stop the pretence of an "exclusive club" signalled in the drama of a "members" special phonebox.

    There are interesting people with intersting things to say who are here and call by here. They could engage, inform and influence others - if they stopped bitching about the non members.

    That dear Montana and others need to get thier heads out of their arses or all the messages that get left around this place will inreasingly get lost and thus remain unread.

    @ atomboy

    The piece of writing was worth doing - and well worth reading. Thanks for the effort.

  12. Another anon22 May, 2009 09:21

    Yeah atoms et al - If you do want to produce public art think carefully about if you want it displayed in a public or more restricted members only gallery.

    Well intentioned managers of art facilities and artists themselves are all too often lead astray - not by bad motives but all too often by busy lives. Sometimes it’s because they have good cause to be distracted. But if they engage in questionable conduct often enough or long enough they are considered as “precious” in the sense of not wanting to be associated with.

    Artists in these schools are often colloquially known, in my part of the world as folly artists or to put another way self seeking self publicists or attention seekers. What these dancers and romancers with words have to say is rarely heard or read because attention is focussed in their deviant or questionable behaviour instead. It often manifests itself in “school” members gathering in dark places and calling other struggling artists attention seekers

    Whilst being pissed in charge of a pencil is quite acceptable in here, taking a rubber to another's efforts is not. Are they called erasure devices in the US I'm not sure.

    There really is no point in writing if those who claim to read, leave their glasses at home. And for anyone who learns from the cut and thrust of daily life it plain folly to gag or dismiss the actors on the stage

    Those who write but who do not seek to cause others to think are pissing in the wind! If you are not prepared to read others you are not likely to write well. Ignoring your audience is plainly unwise as too is ignoring what is going in the auditorium around and in front of you.

    Follyists ought to put down their pens and think about music as a medium of communication they could start by practising whistling in the dark.

    Difficult times ahead really need those who will cooperate with each other not alienate each the other. Pissing off those who hold out a hand of friendship is fucking nuts.

    Ignoring the writing efforts of others is just as rude as going to the pub and refusing a drink when one is offered. I hope the next time I call here I will have seen comments from many others who I would have expected to see commenting here.

    Montana bad management decisions never go away they keep resurfacing every time the workers go for a piss. Sometimes they talk about them in the que at others they just look down, breath in, and take aim.

    That in the main they will be supportive of author, critical of content but appreciative of effort would be a good thing and that is what I expect to see. I am appreciative of atomboys effort and would have liked it to have got to a wider audience.

    @ tsar bomba (love it as a nom de plume)

    I would have liked to have told others about your interesting work but I couldn't get in the phonebox the door was locked.

  13. man with no name22 May, 2009 09:34

    @ room101

    If it is Jimmy Reid and its his mums fishes heads yarn it's a fucking cracker.

  14. man with no name's dog22 May, 2009 09:36

    @ anneten42

    "There are no short cuts though we just have to convince enough people to cause a change (like the pile of sand"

    Wise words.