Monday 18 November 2019

Business, As Usual

"Business can and must be a force for good", said Jo Swinson in her cringe-making, arse-licking speech at the CBI this afternoon. "We owe you so much for what you do, you create wealth in our country, build world-leading industries, and enable investment in our public services." The effusive praise the LibDem leader heaped on the assembled would have been too unseemly even for Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair. In reality, despite Swinson's warm, ego-stroking words there is little world beating about British business and the class it props up. Despite guzzling up entire menus of tax cuts over the last decade, productivity is stagnant, investment is falling and research and design spending lags well behind that of UK competitor states. As a rule the British bourgeoisie are risk averse, pathetically timid, and recoil in horror at any utterance that dares venture criticism of their decadent, idle, entitled existence.

What then did Swinson have to share with the assembled CBI junket junkies, apart from the usual bad faith? She promised a £50bn "remain bonus" to be invested in education should she get the opportunity to revoke Article 50. There was a half-inching of putting workers on boards, reforming fiduciary duty so firms are not beholden to share holder value only, and what the thinks is the real slam dunk: the so-called "skills wallet". This exercise in neoliberal folderol gifts everyone £10k to spend on education, training and retraining. If we indulge the fantasy of the LibDems forming the next government, how will this be used in practice? It just about covers the cost of one year's tuition at an institution of higher learning, so in this instance it's a means of depressing student tuition debt. Or the other most likely use is as payment to big employers for providing training on the many joke apprenticeship schemes they run. But in most cases it will lie around unused, as per very similar schemes in the past. Still, according to the Graun Swinson got the best reception. Egregious flattery will earn faintly mocking applause.

As for Boris Johnson's turn on the stage, this was easily his worst performance behind a podium ... since his last one. Bumbling, winging it as usual, at one point the CBI's host had to quietly intervene to help him with an answer. And yet this most brazen of bullshitters largely enjoys the privilege of a free pass. I say largely, because C4 News have pulled him up on one of his claims. After mealy mouthed platitudes about prioritising the NHS, he announced - to an audible gasp - that he was scrapping the planned Corporation Tax cuts, saving the exchequer £6bn. Which is funny because the Tories have long maintained lower taxes bring in more revenue, but whatever. Johnson accused Labour of planning the highest tax rate in Europe which, Channel 4 have helpfully noted, is not the case. John McDonnell's "Marxist" plan would still leave Britain with a lower rate than Soviet France and Socialist Germany, and even Bolshevist Portugal. It doesn't need to be true, though. Johnson can put out the most egregious lies because the base want to believe.

What promises did he make to business then? There was the pledge to get Brexit done which, under his plan, will mean no such thing. Johnson also promised a review of business rates and a cut to employers' National Insurance contributions. We'll see if the Tories provide the costings for that. As for the audience, they seemed very happy. Never underestimate British business's appetite for short-term ephemeral gains over fixing things for the long-term, and to hell with the consequences.

Which means this was always going to be a tough crowd for Jeremy Corbyn. And his speech contained few surprises. Setting out his mixed economy stall, his speech can be summed up thus:
if a Labour government is elected on 12th December you’re going to see more investment than you ever dreamt of. You’re going to have the best educated workforce you’ve ever hoped for. You’re going to get the world-leading infrastructure, including full-fibre broadband you’ve long demanded.
Corbyn then comes not to overthrow their system, but to save it. Alongside more taxes on higher earners, we saw such policies as tackling late payments, a bugbear for many a small business. A tackling of rip-off energy bills, reforming business rates, and setting up a Sustainable Investment Board to help power the green industrial revolution. These are all positions, I'm sure you'd agree, right up there with the liquidation of the kulaks and shipping industry off to the Urals. In truth, Corbynomics are about stepping in where the state has failed and business has refused to fill the gap. Full-fibre broadband, why is coverage so patchy and crap? Because it's been left to the market. Trains, why do we see record overcrowding and carriages leakier than the cabinet when Johnson was foreign secretary? Because it's been left to the market. And why is the NHS struggling to cope when record monies are pouring in? Again, it's thanks to the market. What Labour is doing is collectivising the risk by building infrastructure business can't and won't build without the state shouldering the cost. And who benefits the most from this? The members of the CBI.

Why then are they not beating a path to Labour's door? Because British business is highly class conscious. They fear even modest nationalisations might whet the appetite for more nationalisations, and an erosion of property rights. Though it is funny how this concern doesn't trouble them when the government are taking out compulsory purchase orders for HS2, and the putative expansion of Heathrow. No, what matters more is keeping workers in their place, keeping them atomised, glued to their phones, and uninterested in raising their eyes to the horizon. It would not be on if they started thinking unwelcome thoughts about how the system works, how it rips them off, and what the alternative might be. They fear Corbynism at the instinctive level because Labour is the thin end of a wedge that could challenge their supremacy in economics, and show them up for spivs and bone idle portfolio ponces. Here's why they prefer Johnson, even if his Brexit plan cuts Britain off at the knees and compounds the country's long-term slide in the global economic rankings.

Business as usual is business, as usual, letting their sectionalism and immediate class interests fog up the long view as they always have. But they should pause to think. Business might recoil from Labour now, but the time is going to come when someone tougher, more radical, and with greater levels of popular support will address them. This leader won't be there to flatter them like a LibDem lick-spittle, but lay down the law. And at that moment, the time the much nicer Jeremy Corbyn paid a visit and asked them, politely, to save themselves is sure to become a memory tinged with bitter regret.

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theOnlySanePersonOnPlanetEarth said...

"Which is funny because the Tories have long maintained lower taxes bring in more revenue,"

No, they have long maintained that lower taxes on the rich bring in more revenue and higher taxes on the rich bring in less revenue.

Believe me when a council increases council taxes for residents they do not plan in the budget that they will get less revenue and if they lower taxes they don't increase the budget!

But if you are rich and you get higher taxes they get in less money, which just shows how rigged the system is.

If us mere mortals are taxed more they get more money and we get less. Well not exactly because then we have less to spend on the useless shit the private sector has to offer (yellow plastic ducks anyone?), but that is another story!

Mark H said...

“ Despite guzzling up entire menus of tax cuts over the last decade, productivity is stagnant, investment is falling and research and design spending lags well behind that of UK competitor states”

Is there a typo there?