In the Hands of the Powerful and the Privileged

It’s not merely the paranoia of old age inflated into dogma – ‘things aren’t what they used to be’, but where power lies and how it is exercised underlines the truth that the ‘little people of the world’ (i.e. the vast majority of human beings) are in the hands of organisations, businesses, the monarchy, computer giants, many of them ultimately accountable only to themselves.

For some years we have banked with the Co-operative. We liked the idea of a bank owned by its members and run as a mutual society. We felt relieved that unlike the big British banks, the lowly Co-op had integrity and paid its executives sensible salaries and didn’t have to satisfy greedy shareholders. We weren’t too sure of whether it was wise to take over the Britannia bank with – as one commentator puts it ‘its heap of rotten assets’ – and it’s this that apparently has been the cause of its near collapse. (One of its executives who was involved in this transfer left the Co-op in 2009 with a pay-off of £1.

02m and long term bonuses of £162,000).

Then the Co-op was encouraged to take over the ailing Lloyds Bank. Their lack of success brought to national attention the dire fact that the Co-op with a £1.5b shortfall was in serious trouble. The financial pundits seem to consider that the terms of the subsequent bail out (or bail-in) is a realistic one : it doesn’t involve public money, and the bank will survive. But in the process it has lost its unique ethos and will have a strained relationship with the other branches of the Co-op family. And with its customers, to whom so far no explanation or apology has been made.

The Independent ran a story last Saturday on Prince Charles’ wealth. He has apparently spent £38m on an industrial depot in Milton Keynes as part of a £102m series of confidential property deals.

The purchase of the vast supermarket warehouse through his Duchy of Cornwall estate (founded in 1337) was completed 18 months ago but has been kept from being made public. Clarence House refuses to disclose any details because, the Prince’s officials say, of the Duchy’s ‘private’ status. It is so private that it pays no corporation tax and capital gains tax.

This is merely one example of the way in which the powerful play their games, generally hidden from public knowledge. However the whistleblower Edward Snowden has torn down such secrecy by his disclosure of the practices of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and of the U.K.’s spy agency, GCHQ, to access vast quantities of private information such as phone calls, e-mail messages, entries on Facebook, incorproating the use of websites under secret agreements with commercial companies described as ‘intercept partners’.

In covering the revelations today, the Guardian says that a system of total surveillance is being created which in the wrong hands could severely curtail protest and hard won freedoms.