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Web of Deceit — Mark Curtis

May 3, 2014

The followuing are some quotes from Mark Curtis’ Web of Deceit that I found especially good.

“The role of national governments is no longer seen by the transnational elite as formulating national policies, it is simply to prepare citizens to take advantage of ‘opportunities’ presented by globalisation and to administer policies favored by the transnational elite. These policies – or rules – usually emanate from the mutinational institutions (such as the WTO and the World Bank) that the elite controls. As noted in chapter 9, this, of course, is a massive, conscious undermining of democratic decision-making.

The new transnational elite ultimately wields political power but the underlying power lies with the demands of the global market economy. Political leaders are deploying their influence to deepen the economic power of the transnational elite, and in so doing are in effect disenfranchising themselves politically. There is little that is ‘inevitable’ about globalisation, just like there is little ‘natural’ about ‘free trade’. ‘Free trade’ rules and globalisation itself have been brought about by massive government intervention. Elected governments, working together, can choose to regulate globalisation, to a very large extent, if they want. But political leaders like Tony Blair are choosing to abandon the ultimate political control they have.

The transnational elite has both an economic and a political project. The economic project is global ‘liberalisation’, which seeks total mobility of capital and completely ‘liberalised’ markets everywhere for trade, investment,, services and much else. It eliminates most state intervention in the economy and most means to regulate business to promote national development goals and ethical standards. Its political project is to promote governance systems that will deepen such global liberalisation. In this, governments can be straightforwardly repressive, but they are tending to be elitist forms of democracy, that have been called ‘polyarchy’.

Polyarchy is generally what British leaders mean when they speak of promoting ‘democracy’ abroad. This is a system in which a small group actually rules and mass participation is confined to choosing leaders in elections managed by competing elites. Those who win in elections then become largely insulated from the public so that they can ‘effectively govern’. Between elections, groups are subject to the hegemony of the elite.

In contrast to polyarchy stands ‘popular democracy’, where public participation is much greater and civil society groups are able to use the state to promote their interests. Here, mobilisation within civil society would be the principal way in which political power is exercised.” [pg. 246-247 Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit]


“The main means by which elected MPs scrutinise government policy is the select committee system, consistening of all-party groups of MPs who conduct inquiries into selected government policies by questioning ministers and producing reports. But the committees related to foreign policy — foreign affairs, international development, trade and industry and defence — all suffer from the same defects: whole policies can go completely unscrutinised, while in those that are scrutinised critical lines of inquiry are regularly ignored, and questions usually fail to put ministers on the spot.

Select committee scrutiny of the government’s policies towards the global economy and WTO, for example, is frankly laughable, with generally uncritical enforsement of policy and the barest of accountability required of government ministers. British government positions on many global economic policies are often not even discussed in parlaiment before the government promotes them at EU and other international meetings.

Under globalisation, ‘national’ policies can quickly have ‘global’ impact, and vice versa. Yet the public’s ability to hold political leaders to account by scrutinising their policies in this new interdependence has not increased — rather, powers have become more centralised and accountability reduced. British leaders can be promoting an enormously negative global ‘liberalisation’ project, but no new formal democratic means have been established to even detect it, let alone stop it.

Select committees are more part of the patronage system, either acting as a parking place for loyal backbench MPs or as a launch pad for promotion for the up-and-coming. Perhaps most importantly of all, the government is only obliged to provide a written response to the committees’ reports, there is no obligation to accept recommendations or change policy in any way. Thus committee reports operate within the elite consensus, but when they do make some awkward recommendations for government, they can simply be ignored, and invariably are.

So it is with parliament more generally, where backbenchers have no formal powers, and few informal ones, to press for changes in government policy… Indeed, parliamentary government – a virtual absolutism of landowners – preceded parliamentary democracy by 250 years. In many ways it is this absolutism, not the democracy, that remains the dominant influence in British Politics.

…When the group Charter 88 was set up in 1988 to campaign for transforming British democracy, it noted the ‘parliamentary oligarchy’ that had been created from the shift away from absolute monarchy in 1688. It said that the ‘inbuilt powers of the 1688 settlement have enabled the government to discipline British society to its ends’, to impose its values on the civil service, to menace the independence of broadcasting, to threaten freedom in universities and schools and to tolerate abuses committed in the name of national security. These showed ‘how vulnerable Britain has always been to elective dictatorship’ and ‘authoritarian rule’.

Indeed, power has in many ways become more centralised over recent decades… Policy decisions, Crossman stated forty years ago, are nearly always taken by one person after consulting ‘with a handful of advisers he has picked for the occassion’.” [pg 288-291 Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit]


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