Reckless Opportunists

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Ever had the feeling that a shifting, hidden force is stealing your lifeforce in order to make millions (while you work ever harder just to make ends meet)? Aeron Davis confirms not only that this is true but shows how much worse things are under the surface. Drawing on decades of interviews with prominent politicians and businessmen, he reveals the sardonic grin behind “the elites’” robbery of money and power and how this has spread to include a new bunch of opportunists with even sharper teeth.

Davis thinks that we are living through the end-time of the establishment. He attributes this partly to a shift from public to private elite power in the wake of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher — which in turn engendered a new “monied caste” after the 2007-8 financial crisis. Further clues to the mystery lie in the City of London — arguably the heart of establishment power and interest — where we are told that: “a third to a half of FTSE companies are led by non-British chief executives. The majority of shares are no longer owned by UK individuals or their pension funds but are traded by large, unattached international investors.”

Curiously David Bailey (an interviewee and company chairman in the City of London for over 35 years) notes that now: “Nobody is an owner. Everybody is a bloody employee. They’ve all got an incentive to pay each other more”. Thus neoliberalism is just as much of a threat to the establishment as it is to the rest of society, sanctioning super rich (and corporate) tax evasion, deskilling employees and shrinking the state.

This book also provides a terrifying overview of the systematic destruction of some of the most important aspects of our society, courtesy of the new elites.

Davis introduces these threats with some new words. For example, “churnalism” — the replacement of journalism with “spin”. Colin Brown of The Independent is quoted as saying, “We don’t do serious investigations. If you’ve got a long-term investigation into, say, the Trident Weapon Programme, or you’ve got a minister getting his leg over with his secretary, you’ll make a lot of money out of the second and you’ll hardly get anyone to publish the first.” This depressing trend, developing over many decades, is attributed to media owners cutting costs and bowing to demands of elites and their post-truths.

We are also introduced to the term “herding”, referring at one point to members of New Labour acquiescing in the decision to join the US attack on Iraq for so-called “weapons of mass destruction”. Dissent is shown to be anathema within all of the political parties and, to this end, junior members sit on the front bench writing misdeeds of MPs into “the dirt book” (another disincentive for any misbehaviour).

Perhaps the most disgusting term in the book is something called “kicking the can”. This describes a businessman or woman “deliberately mortgaging the future to achieve a quick win now”. This is matched by the repulsive way in which all tasks and occupations have been reduced to quantitative instead of qualitative measurement. As the author says, “Without anyone quite noticing, the target-driven tails started wagging the dogs”.

Worryingly, the new brand of elites possess a slippery capacity for short-termism and “liquidity”. These new opportunists are shown to be unscrupulous, acquisitive and everywhere. It is interesting that the author nevertheless points out that it is a lack of community-mindedness and cohesion that has allowed a generation of selfish, incompetent and insular leaders to run amok. We must take back control; reading this book could constitute a first step.