Following my theme of not reviewing new books, I couldn’t resist a few comments about The Establishment, by Owen Jones (Penguin Books). Cause for reflection, I thought.
I did not find the book the easiest of reads, and there were a few annoying errors but not such as to diminish the arguments being made. I would say this was an attempt by someone who is obviously immersed in this subject to explain what is apparent to anyone who delves under the surface of day-to-day events, which is that all is not as it seems. To bring all this together as a narrative must have been quite a challenge.
The book suggests that today’s ‘Establishment’ comprises a class of highly influential people who use their power, influence and money substantially to enhance further their power, influence and money, irrespective of the consequences. This is no conspiracy theory and it would be quite wrong to characterize it as any particular group of people conspiring in some way to operate some supra-national form of secret government; indeed the Establishment comprises many people who would not know each other and would firmly deny being any part of such a thing (and mean it). It is more a tendency for people who are very happy with their own way of life to behave in an inappropriately similar way in order to maintain the status quo, or, at least, their status quo.
Naturally the theme suggests that such influence, if detected by the people at large, would cause an outcry, so it has to be exerted in subtle ways that discourages detection or any personal connection with the consequences. Obviously, this means finding evidence for the malign hand of the Establishment is not straightforward.
The evidence which the author has chosen to use to illustrate the points include the way the Press goes well beyond the news to lobby for or (more usually) against change that would inconvenience the lifestyle of its owners (we’ve seen a bit of that over the last few weeks), or to criticize each other. We have politicians who promote or resist policies that would inconvenience their funders. We have the vast corporations (some larger than nation states) who do things to support their own ends. We have the various dysfunctional parts of the government machine that would prefer to demonize individuals or small companies of very limited resources whilst allowing large corporations to do as they please (and tax is but one of several examples here). We have an Establishment ‘view’ that private sector is best and that so far as possible all services should be privately run – but the risk and other bad bits must still be funded by taxpayers (recent Royal Mail sale leaving taxpayers with the deficient pension fund is but one example). It is more than mere capitalism (some of which, at any rate, is obviously useful): it is a much wider and more corrosive realm than that.
The above examples drawn from the book (there are many more) are not intended to represent any particular political opinion, for the thrust of the book is that the Establishment is causing these things to happen under our noses whichever party might be in power. Nor (I think) is it intended to say that everything the Establishment does will necessarily be wrong or bad (though I suspect the author is not predisposed to support any of it under any circumstancs). The issue, I think, is that it is entirely self-serving, not transparent, not democratic and is disguised and explained by actions that are attributed to other specious explanations, or even just ‘we know best’. It particularly exposes the hypocrisy, amongst other things, of those who believe they are chosen to rule us.
There will doubtless be those who suggest the examples in the book are capable of a different explanation. Perhaps what has been chosen to represent the Establishment is no more than human nature or typical of global business or a handy collective name for the Left Wing to focus on. Well perhaps. I think what is being attempted is to show that the scale of self serving and greed, and the way it is (so it would seem) so freely tolerated means it is a little more solid than mere fancy.
So, whilst I may not agree with everything that is said in this book, (Owen Jones is described as a left wing columnist and I dislike ‘wings’, –ists and –isms of most kinds) I do think he has done us a service and believe readers ought to be perfectly able to counteract any political bias they may feel is present for themselves; if the author has succeeded in exposing the things that are being done for us and to us (and sometimes in our name) then we need to know! I commend you to read it and form your own opinions—it is certainly worth a read.
On the whole I think there is now, and has always been, an ‘Establishment’ that has operated in a counter-democratic way to maintain its own standards and discourage anything that will change them, though whether that is a good thing or not depends on where one sits I suppose. What is beyond doubt is that the Establishment has changed dramatically since the 1970s and 80s. I think my terror is suspecting that someone thinks I’m part of it, and if I am, how would I know?
I’m not trying to depress my readers, but if you have also read The Blunders of Our Governments then you would be forgiven for feeling a bit jaundiced about the way we are run and perhaps minded to think there ought to be a better way of going about all this. The individual banging on your door and asking for your vote may be pulled by more strings than you thought.