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July 9, 2019 - 05:39 -- Admin

As I’ve found to my
cost, the billionaire press seeks to kill change before it happens.

By George Monbiot,
published in the Guardian 3rd 
July 2019

All
billionaires want the same thing – a world that works for them. For most, this
means a world in which they are scarcely taxed and scarcely regulated, where
labour is cheap and the planet can be used as a dustbin, where they can flit
between tax havens and secrecy regimes, using the earth’s surface as a
speculative gaming board, extracting profits and dumping costs. The world that
works for them works against us.

So how, in
nominal democracies, do they get it? They fund political parties and lobby
groups, set up astroturf (fake grassroots) campaigns and finance social media
ads. But above all, they buy newspapers and television stations. The widespread
hope and expectation, a few years ago, was that news controlled by billionaires
would be replaced by news controlled by the people: social media would break their
grip. But social media is instead dominated by stories the billionaire press
generates. As their crucial role in promoting Nigel Farage, Brexit and Boris
Johnson suggests, the newspapers are as powerful as ever.

They use
this power not only to promote the billionaires’ favoured people and ideas, but
also to shut down change before it happens. They deploy their attack dogs to
take down anyone who challenges the programme.

It is one
thing to know this. It is another to experience it. A month ago, seven of us published
a report to the Labour Party called Land for
the Many
. It
proposed a set of policies that would be of immense benefit to the great
majority of Britain’s people: ensuring that everyone has a good, affordable
home, improving public amenities, shifting tax from ordinary people towards the
immensely rich, protecting the living world and enhancing public control over
the decisions that affect our lives. We showed how the billionaires and other
oligarchs could be put back in their boxes. The result has been four extraordinary weeks of attacks in the Mail, Express, Sun, Times
and Telegraph. Our contention that oligarchic power is rooted in the ownership
and control of land has been amply vindicated by the response of oligarchic
power.

Some of
these reports peddle flat-out falsehoods. A week ago, the Mail on Sunday claimed that our report recommends a capital gains
tax on people’s main homes. This “spiteful raid that will horrify millions” ensures
“we will soon be joining the likes of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in becoming
one of the world’s few Marxist-Leninist states.” This claim was picked up, and
often embellished, by all the other right-wing papers. The policy proved, the Telegraph explained, that “keeping a
hard-Left
Labour Party out of office is not an academic ideological
ambition but a deadly serious matter for millions of voters.” Boris Johnson,
Phillip Hammond and several other senior Tories weighed in, attacking our “mad”
proposal.

But we
made no such recommendation. We considered the idea, listed its possible
advantages and drawbacks, then specifically rejected it. As they say in these
papers, you couldn’t make it up. But they have.

There were
dozens of other falsehoods: apparently we have proposed a “garden tax”; we
intend to add “an extra £374 a year on top of what the
typical household pays in council tax
” (no such figure is mentioned in our report); and inspectors will
be sent to people’s homes to investigate their bedrooms. Dozens of reports
claim that our proposals are “plans” hatched by Jeremy Corbyn: “Jeremy Corbyn’s
garden tax bombshell”; “Jeremy Corbyn is planning a huge tax raid”; “Corbyn’s
war on homeowners”. Though Corbyn is aware of our report, he has played no role
in it. What it contains are not his plans but our independent policy
suggestions, none of which has yet been adopted by Labour. The press response
gives me an inkling of what it must be to walk in his shoes, as I see my name (and
his) attached to lurid schemes I’ve never heard of, and linked to Mugabe,
Maduro and the Soviet Union. Not one of the many journalists who wrote these
articles has contacted any of the authors of the report. Yet they harvested
lengthy quotes denouncing us from senior Conservatives.

The common
factor in all these articles is their conflation of the interests of the
ultra-rich with the interests of the middle classes. While our proposals take
aim at the oligarchs, and would improve the prospects of the great majority, they
are presented as an attack on ordinary people. Progressive taxation, the
protection of public space and good homes for all should strike terror into
your heart.

We’ve a lodged
a complaint to the press regulator, IPSO, about one of the worst examples, and
we might make others. But to pursue them all would be a full-time job (we wrote
the report unpaid, in our own time). The simple truth is that we are being
outgunned by the brute power of billionaires. And the same can be said for
democracy.

It is easy
to see why political parties have become so cautious and why, as a result, the
UK is stuck with outmoded institutions and policies, and succumbs to ever more
extreme and regressive forms of taxation and control. Labour has so far held
its nerve – and this makes its current leadership remarkable. It has not
allowed itself to be bullied by the billionaire press.

The old
threat has not abated – it has intensified. If a newspaper is owned by a
billionaire, be suspicious of every word you read in it. Check its sources,
question its claims. Withhold your support from any party that allows itself to
be bullied or – worse – guided by their agenda. Stand in solidarity with those
who resist it.