Skip to content

Can you reform a lump of congealed money?

The Tory fundraising scandal depresses more in the knowledge that it is systemic and endemic and will not be changed than in any sense of surprise

It is of course unfair to blame money for being the root of all evil (even though this is a misquote – it is the love of money which the Bible warns us is the real problem). But it really isn’t all that far off the mark. If we consider the lists of problems we face in modern life and we consider which of them have causes closely associated with money or where it is impossible to imagine the problem existing without the interference of money, heroic cash sums don’t seem so heroic.

Would there be a drug trade without a profit motive? Would we really have such an alcohol problem if it wasn’t so lucrative? Is it possible to conceive of modern warfare without seeing it as a giant commercial enterprise? The increased margins of intensive farming practices around the world are probably inseparable from some of the health panics of recent years. From poverty to war to pestilence, it is hard to see how these are not driven by love of money.

However, nowhere is the problem of money more obvious than in politics. All politics. I have always found it best to remove people from the picture altogether; I often find it more enlightening to consider people to be simply one more vessel for the transmission of money. If we think of money has having its own inexorable logic, always pursuing self-growth, lobbying looks different. Lobbying is just how money makes people do its bidding.

The problem is systemic in the most complete sense. Politics believes it is judged by money – how successfully money is created, how successfully (or otherwise) it is distributed. This could be a simple question of the prosperity of the masses, but it isn’t. Policies which redistribute money or cause it to be spread more evenly in the first place are of no interest to money. Money has made politicians believe that there is a magic number which alone is an indicator of all success in society. And so politics is about GDP growth, and a number of subsidiary issues.

And it costs money. Running campaigns in the modern world is expensive (which in turn means more profit to be made). This means that politicians are reliant on someone giving them money. And since the money motive in politics has largely split apart real power from real people there is little interest among the public for mass political parties. In any case, big money can easily match the capacity of little money – even if there was a viable socialist party in the UK with mass grass roots support being funded by its members the serious money (from lobbyists to media barons and much beyond that) would simply step up their game. Money will not allow anyone else to run the show.

The you get into power. Money buys the agenda – you can buy a newspaper, set up the Tax Payers’ Alliance (can I join? can I have a say?), you can hire madly-expensive PR agencies to push your stories. You can advertise whatever you want wherever you want. And then, when you find barriers to your total control of the physical and mental environment, you throw enough money at the barrier until it isn’t there anymore. It’s the Murdoch way.

The corrosive effect of money is pretty complete in the UK, but to see what the apocalypse looks like we need only take a glance at the US. A ruling generally known as Citizen’s United basically removed the last check and balance on money. It concluded that a corporation (which is to say money) has the same rights to influence democracy unhindered that a person does. Already the US ran elections on the basis of who can buy them; now that is the constitutional position. Freedom to buy elections is the number one constitutional freedom in the US.

And so to Cameron, the little progeny of money put in power by money and who has spent his time working only in the interests of money. The rich, corporations, ownership rules, industrial relations legislation – oh, the list is so predictable. It seems to me that a gang of millionaires got together, picked the least ugly among their number and decided he’d be Prime Minister on their behalf. The only wonder is that they didn’t seem to realise that disguising the fact might be wise after and not only during the election campaign. And before Tories point in mock horror at trade unions funding Labour, it is to be noticed that trade union money does not work like other money. Trade union money is in theory trying to work against real money. So, again, real money makes sure it can’t – Blair set the pattern and now it is real money that sets the Labour agenda as well.

There is nothing that can be done by messing around the edges. A little reform here, a little reform there, the likely outcome (if any) from the latest money-politics scandal is irrelevant. Money is a parasite which has its tendrils so entwined around the body politic that snipping off one or another will do nothing.

What is needed is proper reform – removing the money motive from electioneering, removing the power of lobbyists, balancing the ability of money to control the ‘free’ press. Which is where I shall stop writing because the idea that this can ever happen in London is so far fetched as to be silly. With the City, the billionaires, the arms dealers, the corporate press, London is not so much a city as a lump of congealed money. It will not be reformed in the near future and this should worry us deeply.

Robin McAlpine