Saturday, 11 January 2014
Can we call it corruption? When Russell Brand recently said on Newsnight to interviewer Jeremy Paxman that he didn't vote and he encouraged others not to either, his sentiments were taken to be an endorsement for the widespread political apathy that seems to exist in Britain today. Far from Brand being apathetic however, he is one of our more engaged political citizens. Often he articulates himself through humour and irreverence, but his key point, that politics has been hijacked by corporate power, is becoming more and more evident. Last year some 40,000 people died of alcoholism, this figure is a conservative estimate and does not include the suicides, accidents, murders, manslaughters and deaths through neglect that alcoholism causes. A million people were assaulted by those who were intoxicated with alcohol and the taxpayer forked out £12 billion to pay for the policemen, social workers, paramedics, street cleaners and doctors that treat the nationwide alcoholism epidemic that we are currently enduring. Overall the cost to our society is devastating, not simply in terms of lives lost and resources sacrificed, but in the damaging, alienating and estranging quality of mass public addiction. The sense that high streets and city centres are shared space that everyone can use has sadly diminished, and with it, many of the intangible bonds that draw us together. The government's response to this crisis revealed this week a great deal about the state of government in Britain. The British Medical Journal is the latest body to blow the whistle on this national scandal. Continuing moral cowardice on the subject of alcohol pricing has allowed ministers and top civil servants to be directly lobbied by spokesmen for the alcohol business no fewer than 130 times during deliberations on minimum alcohol pricing. Proposed legislation, backed by every major charity dealing with alcohol addiction, homelessness and mental health and professional health care body in the country, was inexplicably torpedoed by this government at the last minute. Why? Everyone knew at the time exactly why, it was not what Conan Doyle would have described in the Casebook of Sherlock Holmes as being 'a three pipe problem.' The reason why is that the interests of corporate power hold more sway in the corridors of power than evidence, logic and philanthropy. 40,000 deaths and £12 billion of waste every year cannot compete for a minister’s attention in the same way that 130 hours of professional lobbying can. Lest you think this is just a party political issue, consider where the last administration chose to hold the 2005 G8 summit in the UK. In this context it makes perfect sense for Brand and countless others not to vote, his argument that he is legitimating a system based on pure greed that supports alien and inhuman ways of thinking and being against the interests of the multitude seems entirely valid. Can we call it corruption? If not, then only because the unfettered access of divisive business interests to the highest levels of decision making has been legitimated long ago. The fact that no law has been broken here is in fact somehow worse, however; it means that our system of government and it's obeisance to corporate power is corrupted and morally bankrupt.