The Conservative Party in the UK hit a new low this week The Party leader and Prime Minister, David Cameron, clearly felt that the last week before Parliament’s summer holidays was a good week to try and bury some bad news. I think he failed. I also think that posterity will reveal that he was very unwise to think he would succeed. Having done something very unusual in politics – come up with some sensible policy initiatives that played well with the public – the Conservative Party has now very publicly decided that it will not bring forward legislation to force cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging and to enforce a minimum price per for alcohol. Even if Lynton Crosby has not officially lobbied the government on behalf of the tobacco industry, he is on record as having told them to “scrape the barnacles off the boat”. This advice was intended – indeed it was understood – to convey the need to ditch unimportant or peripheral policies in the run up to the next General Election in 2015. And so it is that – in order to avoid people concluding that it has caved in to pressure from the tobacco industry and put commercial interests above those of long-term public health – the Conservative Party in the UK has admitted that it considers long-term public health to be unimportant. It has taken some doing but, I must now admit, I am almost ashamed to say I vote Conservative. In an attempt to avoid appearing not to be acting in the public interest, the Conservative Party has now inadvertently admitted that it really is not acting in the public interest. How mad is that? Cynics (and socialists) will of course question, “When has it ever acted in the public interest?” To an extent, this criticism may be justified. Indeed, for me, the Conservative Party has generally been the least-worst option. The Conservative Party may still be the least-worst option The Labour Party has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to manage the public finances. However, if it can extricate itself from the problem of being controlled by its very own special interest group – namely the Trade Union movement – there may yet be some hope for it. Meanwhile, of course, the problem with the Liberal Democrats is that I think they are, err, well, too Liberal (funnily enough). They are the go-to party of anyone with an alternative lifestyle but Altmaning the environmental focus to back the Green Party. As for the Green Party, well, unless or until we change our electoral system in the UK, voting for them will remain a wasted vote (unless you happen to live in Brighton). If UKIP could actually breakthrough the glass ceiling created by our undemocratic FPTP voting system – and actually look likely to come first in any parliamentary constituency – I would certainly find myself drawn to its core message. However, in reality, I will never vote for UKIP until it stops trying to out-do the Tea Party movement in the USA in some kind of global competition to see who can be the most consistently anti-science. Indeed, I am surprised that UKIP has not included in its manifesto a commitment to have Creationism taught in schools. Of course, the real problem with politics in the UK is that, as in the USA, it has been completely corrupted by money. The only solution that could possibly put real power back in the hands of ordinary people (apart from changing the voting system of course) would be the public funding of all political parties and the prohibition of large donations of any kind to any party. Here again, the Conservative Party has refused to allow this to happen (even though Labour was willing to discuss it). So what is to be done? I don’t know really. However, what I do know is that the events of this week have further undermined public confidence in the extent to which the UK can be described as a representative democracy. It is certainly a very long way from being ruled by a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Indeed, the UK would appear to be ruled by a government of the people, by the puppets, for the plutocrats. Sadly, there is no reason on Earth why anyone should be surprised about any of this. There is no excuse for being blissfully ignorant It is now at least 20 years since it became widely known that big business was controlling politics in Western countries. Whether it be big pharma, big tobacco, big agriculture or big oil… Big business has been playing the role of master political puppeteer for decades. Ever since environmental concerns first drove the US government to implement sensible regulation in the 1970s (which many other countries then copied), big business has been quietly and relentlessly working behind the scenes to get as much of it as possible repealed; and to prevent any new stuff from being enacted. In fact, it is amazing that things like the 1979 Convention to deal with Acid Rain (etc), the 1989 Montreal Protocol to ban CFCs, or the 1991 Madrid Protocol to protect the Antarctic were ever implemented. However, the thing I find most amazing of all is that so many people are still fooled by the propaganda and lies that big business feeds them. It is almost as if they are all patients in a psychiatric hospital being kept calm and compliant by a daily cocktail of drugs. Just as the tobacco industry did, since 1989 at least, the fossil fuel industry has spent hundreds of millions of US dollars convincing people that the relevant science is uncertain and that environmentalists are out to stall Western development and/or curtail their freedom. It is almost as if everyone is content to stay in The Matrix and remain blissfully unaware of the nature of reality. However, I remain hopeful that the silent majority will soon wake up to what is going on. A first step in this process would be for people to learn to differentiate genuine grassroots organisations like Avaaz and 350.org from industry-funded astroturf organisations like Americans for Prosperity… or any number of similar highly co-ordinated and internationally linked conservative think tanks (CTTs). In the UK this week, we have been given a rare glimpse behind the curtain; and it is not a pretty sight. What most people need to do now is indulge in a spot of lateral thinking and wake up to the fact that big businesses do not generally operate in the public interest; they mainly operate to serve the interests of those who are already extremely wealthy (i.e. the 1%); and their primary weapon of choice to get their way is the CTTs. Recognising environmental scepticism as a violation of the public interest According to research done by a team headed by Peter Jacques, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Central Florida, an analysis of books published between 1972 and 2005 identified 141 expressing scepticism regarding the reality, necessity, or urgency of addressing environmental problems. Of these 141 books, 92% were authored and/or published by someone with direct links to CTTs (Jacques et al. 2008: 349). Furthermore, in ‘The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism’, they concluded that:
Since environmentalism is unique among social movements in its heavy reliance on scientific evidence to support its claims… it is not surprising that CTTs would launch a direct assault on environmental science by promoting environmental scepticism in their efforts to oppose the environmental movement… Environmental scepticism is an elite-driven reaction to global environmentalism, organised by core actors within the conservative movement. Promoting scepticism is a key tactic of the anti-environmental counter-movement co-ordinated by CTTs… (ibid: 353, 364)
The following year, Jacques summarised the conclusion of all the above research, in his book Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life, by saying:
…environmental scepticism… is not just a set of independent rebel scientists… the sceptical counter-movement is organised… to defend [the status quo] against the environmental movement… to stave off changes to globalism. (Jacques 2009: 37)
Jacques has also highlighted the central aim of CTTs as being to cause confusion and doubt amongst the general public, in order to prevent the creation of a popular mandate for change (i.e. achieved, as noted previously, by countering supposedly ‘junk science’ with their ‘sound science’), which he refers to as the “science trap” (ibid: 148). However, the ultimate conclusion Jacques draws from all of this research is that environmental scepticism is a social counter-movement that uses CTTs to provide “political insulation for industry and ideology from public scrutiny”; and that this deliberate obfuscation stems from a realisation that “anti-environmentalism is an attitude that most citizens would consider a violation of the public interest” (ibid: 169).Voting Conservative may seriously damage your health (and that of the planet) This week, the Conservative Party in the UK has validated this research by demonstrating that it is willing to ignore the advice of health professionals and instead do what will keep the tobacco and alcohol producers happy. The public should therefore be in do doubt that this is also what it is doing for the fossil fuel industry. Addendum (1100 hrs, 20 July 2013) Despite being told that fracking would probably be profitable as it is, the government is going to give the industry massive tax breaks to accelerate development. Now we know burning fossil fuels is the problem we should not be finding evermore ingenious ways to burn them.