WHO RULES THE WORLD?
The answer to this rather rhetorical question is… Nobody – at least no-body in a governmental or supra-national organisation.
Once upon a time there was a fantasy held by many Americans and their representatives that the United States ruled the world, because they had more money, more arms, and were morally superior to other nations. This conviction (or fantasy), was supported by the “victory” over “Communism” in the form of the Soviet Union and its allies, including Cuba??
Stung by the 9/11 tragedy and fired up with quasi-religious fervour, the US set forth to impose Democracy and the American Way on the Middle East, starting with Iraq. At first, all seemed to be going well. The US forces, supported by Tony Blair’s Britain, defeated Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army easily. As President George W Bush claimed, dressed as a navy pilot, “Mission Accomplished”. From then on, things haven’t gone too smoothly. The Iraqi state exploded into religious wars, followed by much of the Middle East. America was powerless to stop the slaughter. And, the economic power of the Chinese burgeoned, along with that country’s wealth. If we cut to December 2016, Donald Trump has won the presidential election in the US, beating Hillary Clinton, seen by too many as being an establishment candidate. Clinton in turn only just beat Bernie Sanders in the Democrat primaries candidate, Sanders took aim at an out-of touch Washington establishment, big business, big capital and the gross in-balance of wealth between the grossly rich and relatively poor in America.
Donald Trump surprised the media and particularly the Republican establishment, winning by blaming a rich and explosive mix of others for ordinary Americans’ problems– Washington politicians; foreigners, in particular Mexicans, Chinese and Muslims. His appeal to poor white Americans was particularly potent, but his messages resonated with the middle classes who felt themselves losing in the race for prosperity and influence.
The results of the presidential election and the EU Referendum in Britain do little to resolve the questions of where power really lies – they simply identify some convenient targets for popular rage. It remains to be seen whether president Trump can “Make America Great Again” on his campaign manifesto, or whether leaving the EU will solve Britain’s problems.
If there is an answer to the rhetorical question at the top of this chapter, it might take the form of “Follow the Money”. Once American power was based on huge wealth and the ability to use it in many ways to further American Interests. This is no longer the case. But the answer is not China or any other wealthy country, although China is using capital as a sort of proxy weapon through its investments in Africa, Britain and America. Paradoxically, there are sources of greater wealth which give their possessors enormous power, but they do not amount to the wherewithal to rule the world.
This chapter seeks to explore the enigmatic questions about where power does lie in the modern world. Of course, power is highly dispersed amongst individuals, governments, local institutions, industry bodies, criminal gangs, cliques and a host of others.
But there is another dimension, which may be about another kind of question. Who and what can make things happen or stop things happening in the modern world? And a clue to the answer to these questions may well be “FOLLOW the MONEY.”
So, who owns the Money?
- The Oxfam report An Economy for the 1%, shows that the wealth of the poorest half of the world’s population has fallen by a trillion dollars since 2010, a drop of 38 percent. This has occurred despite the global population increasing by around 400 million people during that period. Meanwhile, the wealth of the richest 62 people has increased by more than half a trillion dollars to $1.76tr. The report also shows how women are disproportionately affected by inequality – of the current ‘62’, 53 are men and just nine are women.
- Although world leaders have increasingly talked about the need to tackle inequality, and in September agreed a global goal to reduce it, the gap between the richest and the rest has widened dramatically in the past 12 months. Oxfam’s prediction, made ahead of last year’s Davos, that the 1% would soon own more than the rest of us, actually came true in 2015 - a year earlier than expected.
- Today, some of the most celebrated individuals and institutions are ensconced within the financial industry; in banks, hedge funds, and private equity firms. Which is odd because none of these firms or individuals actually make anything, which society might point to as additive to our living standards. Instead, these financial magicians harvest value from the rest of society that has to work hard to produce real things of real value.
- While the work they do is quite sophisticated and takes a lot of skill, very few of these firms direct capital to new efforts, new products, and new innovations. Instead they either trade in the secondary markets for equities, bonds, derivatives, and the like, which perform the ‘service’ of moving paper from one location to another while generating ‘profits.’ Or, in the case of banks, they create money out of thin air and lend it out – at interest of course.
- But just because they aren’t adding much value to society does not mean that these big banks are not extremely powerful. In fact, anyone that underestimates that power of these monolithic financial institutions is being quite foolish.
- A team of researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich studied the relationships between 37 million companies and investors worldwide, and what they found was absolutely stunning.
- What they discovered is that there is a “super-entity” of just 147 very tightly knit companies that controls 40 percent of the entire network…
- When the team further untangled the web of ownership, it found much of it tracked back to a “super-entity” of 50 even more tightly knit companies – all of their ownership was held by other members of the super-entity – that controlled 40 per cent of the total wealth in the network. “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 per cent of the entire network,” says Glattfelder. Most were financial institutions. The top 20 included Barclays Bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and The Goldman Sachs Group.
- So exactly who are the companies that are at the core of this “super-entity”? Well, almost all of them are banks or financial institutions.
- The following is a list of the 50 “most connected” companies from the study:
- Barclays plc
- Capital Group Companies Inc (Investment Management)
- FMR Corporation (Financial Services)
- AXA (Investments & Life Insurance)
- State Street Corporation (Investment Management)
- JP Morgan Chase & Co (Bank)
- Legal & General Group plc (Investments & Life Insurance)
- Vanguard Group Inc (Investment Management)
- UBS AG (Bank)
- Merrill Lynch & Co Inc (Bank)
- Wellington Management Co LLP (Investment Management)
- Deutsche Bank AG (Bank)
- Franklin Resources Inc (Investment Management)
- Credit Suisse Group (Bank)
- Walton Enterprises LLC
- Bank of New York Mellon Corp (Bank)
- Natixis (Investment Management)
- Goldman Sachs Group Inc (Bank)
- T Rowe Price Group Inc (Investment Management)
- Legg Mason Inc (Investment Management)
- Morgan Stanley (Bank)
- Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc (Bank)
- Northern Trust Corporation (Investment Management)
- Société Générale (Bank)
- Bank of America Corporation (Bank)
- Lloyds TSB Group plc (Bank)
- Invesco plc (Investment mgmt)
- Allianz SE
- TIAA (Investments & Insurance)
- Old Mutual Public Limited Company (Investments & Insurance)
- Aviva plc (Insurance)
- Schroders plc (Investment Management)
- Dodge & Cox (Investment Management)
- Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc* (Bank)
- Sun Life Financial Inc (Investments & Insurance)
- Standard Life plc (Investments & Insurance)
- Nomura Holdings Inc (Investments and Financial Services)
- The Depository Trust Company (Securities Depository)
- Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance
- ING Groep NV (Bank, Investments & Insurance)
- Brandes Investment Partners LP (Financial Services)
- Unicredito Italiano SPA (Bank)
- Deposit Insurance Corporation of Japan (Owns a lot of banks’ shares in Japan)
- Vereniging Aegon (Investments & Insurance)
- BNP Paribas (Bank)
- Affiliated Managers Group Inc (Owns stakes in 27 money management firms)
- Resona Holdings Inc (Banking Group in Japan)
- Capital Group International Inc (Investments and Financial Services)
- China Petrochemical Group Company
Are you starting to get the idea?
The global economy truly is completely dominated by banks and other financial institutions.
In the United States, the big banks are not just content to own other companies anymore. Now, some of our largest banks are actually starting to directly get into businesses such as “electric power production, oil refining and distribution, owning and operating of public assets such as ports and airports, and even uranium mining”. The following is an excerpt from a letter that several members of the U.S. Congress recently sent to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke…
“We write in regards to the expansion of large banks into what had traditionally been non-financial commercial spheres. Specifically, we are concerned about how large banks have recently expanded their businesses into such fields as electric power production, oil refining and distribution, owning and operating of public assets such as ports and airports, and even uranium mining.
Here are a few examples. Morgan Stanley imported 4 million barrels of oil and petroleum products into the United States in June, 2012. Goldman Sachs stores aluminum in vast warehouses in Detroit as well as serving as a commodities derivatives dealer. This “bank” is also expanding into the ownership and operation of airports, toll roads, and ports. JP Morgan markets electricity in California.
In other words, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Morgan Stanley are no longer just banks – they have effectively become oil companies, port and airport operators, commodities dealers, and electric utilities as well. This is causing unforeseen problems for the industrial sector of the economy. For example, Coca Cola has filed a complaint with the London Metal Exchange that Goldman Sachs was hoarding aluminum. JP Morgan is currently being probed by regulators for manipulating power prices in California, where the “bank” was marketing electricity from power plants it controlled. We don’t know what other price manipulation could be occurring due to potential informational advantages accruing to derivatives dealers who also market and sell commodities. The long shadow of Enron could loom in these activities.”
Where is all the money?
Dodgy of Delaware
If you define a tax haven as a place that tries to attract non-resident funds by offering light regulation, low (or zero) taxation and secrecy, then the world has 50-60 such havens. These serve as domiciles for more than 2m companies and thousands of banks, funds and insurers. Nobody really knows how much money is stashed away: estimates vary from way below to way above $20 trillion.
Not all these havens are in sunny climes; indeed not all are technically offshore. Mr Obama likes to cite Ugland House, a building in the Cayman Islands that is officially home to 18,000 companies, as the epitome of a rigged system. But Ugland House is not a patch on Delaware (population 917,092), which is home to 945,000 companies, many of which are dodgy shells. Miami is a massive offshore banking centre, offering depositors from emerging markets the sort of protection from prying eyes that their home countries can no longer get away with. The City of London, which pioneered offshore currency trading in the 1950s, still specialises in helping non-residents get around the rules. British shell companies and limited-liability partnerships regularly crop up in criminal cases. London is no better than the Cayman Islands when it comes to controls against money laundering. Other European Union countries are global hubs for a different sort of tax avoidance: companies divert profits to brass-plate subsidiaries in low-tax Luxembourg, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Reform should thus focus on rich-world financial centres as well as Caribbean islands, and should distinguish between illegal activities (laundering and outright tax evasion) and legal ones (fancy accounting to avoid tax). The best weapon against illegal activities is transparency, which boils down to collecting more information and sharing it better. Thanks in large part to America’s FATCA, small offshore centres are handing over more data to their clients’ home countries—while America remains shamefully reluctant to share information with the Latin American countries whose citizens hold deposits in Miami. That must change. Everyone could do more to crack down on the use of nominee shareholders and directors to hide the provenance of money. And they should make sure that information about the true “beneficial” owners of companies is collected, kept up-to-date and made more readily available to investigators in cases of suspected wrongdoing. There are costs to openness, but they are outweighed by the benefits of shining light on the shady corners of finance.
A new report finds that around the world the extremely wealthy have accumulated at least $21 trillion in secretive offshore accounts. That’s a sum equal to the gross domestic products of the United States and Japan added together. The number may sound unbelievable, but the study was conducted by James Henry, former chief economist at the consultancy McKinsey, an expert on tax havens and offshoring. It was commissioned by Tax Justice Network, a British activist group.
The report’s analysis, based on data from many sources including the Bank of International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund, indicates that enough money has left some developing countries since the 1970s to pay off all their debts to the rest of the world. “The problem here is that the assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments,” the report says. Money has especially flowed out of oil producing states. Some $700 billion has left Russia since the 1990s: $305 billion has flowed out of Saudi Arabia since the 1970s, and about the same amount from Nigeria.
Who Fixes Things for the Wealthy?
According to an early report on the study in The Guardian, Henry’s research shows that at least £13tn [$21 trillion] – perhaps up to £20tn [$31 trillion] – has leaked out of scores of countries into secretive jurisdictions such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands with the help of private banks, which vie to attract the assets of so-called high net-worth individuals. Their wealth is, as Henry puts it, “protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy“. According to Henry’s research, the top 10 private banks, which include UBS and Credit Suisse in Switzerland, as well as the US investment bank Goldman Sachs, managed more than £4tn [$6.2 trillion] in 2010, a sharp rise from £1.5tn five years earlier.
Say a bit more about this money
It should be noted that everything these companies are doing is legal: it’s what we call tax avoidance or planning – not evasion. But the point I want to make is that tax havens are everywhere. It’s like The Matrix. I can’t stress strongly enough how everywhereish they are. And, until recently, who even noticed?
Tax havens’ defenders say they smooth the flow of capital around the world, removing roadblocks and red tape. But what are those roadblocks? Taxes, regulation and democratic laws. Havens are places where you can put your wealth in order to escape the rules at home. Those rules might be around tax, or criminal laws, or rules about transparency and disclosure, or financial regulations. (It’s not always about the tax.)
You don’t have to put your wealth itself in the tax haven. It is the legal structure that owns the wealth – the shell company, the trust, or whatever – that usually matters. The asset itself – the thing you own – can be anything, anywhere. It could be a painting or a Learjet or a Swiss bank account, or a luxury home in Mayfair that the owner – let’s say a Russian oligarch – is currently using for the benefit of his daughter. Instead of owning the house directly, the oligarch owns the house via an intermediate structure in a tax haven. The land registry records won’t list the oligarch’s name, but the name of some anonymous offshore shell company. And when you go to find out who owns that company, you’ll come up against a brick wall.
This can all take a bit of getting used to, even for people with wealth. When Hurricane Ivan headed towards the Cayman Islands in 2004, it sent a stream of light aircraft racing to Miami. They contained computer hard disks, relating to a large slice of the world’s Cayman-held wealth. (Banking assets in Cayman account for nearly a 15th of the world’s $30tn in banking assets.) When the storm passed, they flew them all back again.
There are many tricks used to shift money offshore, and a pinstriped army of accountants and lawyers to help people do it. The commonest technique is one called transfer pricing, employed by pretty much every multinational.
This is how it works. Let’s say a corporation picks and packs a container-load of bananas in Ecuador, and it costs the company $1,000. It sells them to a French supermarket for $3,000. Which country gets to tax the $2,000 profit – France, Ecuador? The answer is, “Where the multinational’s accountants decide.”
The multinational sets up three companies, all of which it owns: EcuadorCo, HavenCo (in a zero-tax haven) and FranceCo. EcuadorCo sells the container to HavenCo for $1,000, and HavenCo sells it on to FranceCo for $3,000. That’s basically it. (The bananas themselves don’t go anywhere near the tax haven: this is all just paper-shuffling in New York or London.)
If you blinked, you may have missed what happened here. It cost EcuadorCo $1,000 to pick and pack the container, and they sold it on for $1,000. So EcuadorCo records zero profits, meaning no taxes. Likewise, FranceCo buys it for $3,000 and sells it to the supermarket for $3,000. Again, no profits, and no taxes. HavenCo is the key to the puzzle. It bought the container for $1,000 and sold it for $3,000 – a $2,000 profit. But it is based in a haven, so it pays no tax. In short, all the profits have been stripped out of France and Ecuador, and shovelled into the haven. Hey presto!
In the real world, things are more complicated. Countries put in place defences against this kind of nonsense, but the lawyers find ways to get around them, in a constant game of cat and mouse. These games transfer wealth from taxpayers towards corporate shareholders. This isn’t about creating wealth, but about one group of people extracting wealth from another group. These transactions boost inequality, every time.
They also help multinationals outcompete their smaller and more local competitors. Tax havens aren’t the only reason your local bookstore has gone out of business – but they are a big part of it. (Note, too, that these are not “leftist” concerns. Tax havens are tilting the playing field for business: people across the political spectrum should oppose this. To be anti-tax haven is, in a very profound sense, to be pro-business.)
And let’s not forget all the criminality that tax haven secrecy facilitates. When multinationals use these platforms, they provide these places with immense political cover. Again, this should worry people on both the left and the right. It is, really, a fight between a globetrotting elite, in one corner, versus ordinary people in rich and poor countries – who all have a shared interest in tackling these problems. Nothing illegal has necessarily happened here; to focus only on who broke the law and who didn’t is to miss the big picture – which is, who got the cream and who didn’t.
Around a decade ago, I was writing a book about six countries along a stretch of west Africa’s oil-soaked coast, running from Angola up to Nigeria. Despite hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenues, their people didn’t seem to be better off. In the case of Angola, then just starting to recover from an oil- and diamond-fuelled war, it was surely worse off than if no natural resources had been discovered. I wrote an article about corruption in west Africa’s oil-producing states, and a few days later got a letter from David Spencer, a US attorney who had worked with a big global bank in Latin America. He invited me to visit him in New York. Several months later we met and, before we had finished our starters, Spencer was getting worked up about matters that were not at all on my agenda: accounting rules, US tax exemptions, transfer pricing – and some curious legal arrangements in Delaware, a small US state roughly halfway between New York and Washington.
What on earth did any of this have to do with Nigeria? Realisation began to dawn: Spencer was telling me that the US was itself a giant tax haven, and that this was intensely relevant for west Africa. He explained why. During the Vietnam war, the US was spending more money overseas than it was earning there, and dollars were flowing out. To finance its growing deficit, the US wanted to lure foreign dollars back home. It did this by turning itself into a haven: creating tax benefits for foreigners. The idea was to start hoovering up capital flight and dirty money from around the world; looted West African oil money would do nicely.
So the US has been fighting hard against foreign tax havens, to crack down on its own tax cheats. At the same time the US is a big part of the world’s problem, with Wall Street banks profiting from American willingness to help foreign tax cheats. Britain’s own array of satellite havens – the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Jersey, all of which sport the Queen on their banknotes – are part of the same problem.
What is done with all this money?
1. Lobbying and non-democratic influence
Public policy in the United States is shaped by a wide variety of forces, from polls and election results to interest groups and institutions, both formal and informal. In addition to political parties, the influence of diverse and sometimes antagonistic political forces has been widely acknowledged by policymakers and evidenced by scholars, and journalists. In recent years concerns have been growing that deep-pocketed donors now play an unprecedented role in American politics — concerns supported by 2013 research from Harvard and the University of Sydney that found that for election integrity, the U.S. ranked 26th out of 66 countries analyzed. The question of who shapes public policies and under what conditions is a critical one, particularly in the context of declining voter turnout. From both a theoretical and practical point of view, it is important to understand if voters still have the possibility of providing meaningful input into public policies, or if the government bypasses citizens in favor of economic elites and interest groups with strong fundraising and organizational capacity. A 2014 study published in Perspectives on Politics, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” analyzes the relative influence of political actors on policymaking. The researchers sought to better understand the impact of elites, interest groups and voters on the passing of public policies. The authors, Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern, based their research on a database of voters’ and interest groups’ positions on 1,779 issues between 1981 and 2002, and how those positions were or weren’t reflected in policy decisions. The scholars use the data to examine four theoretical conceptions of how American politics works and the degree of influence that parties have on the decision-making process: (1) majoritarian electoral democracy, in which average citizens lead the decision-making process; (2) economic-elite domination; (3) majoritarian pluralism, in which mass-based interest groups provide the driving force; and (4) biased pluralism, where the opinions of everybody's doing it, including lobbyists for fracking and nuclear power, public sector reform and bank regulation. It doesn't matter if the new frame relies on fabrication. The referendum on an alternative voting system was not, as anticipated, so much a conversation about the merits of first past the post. No2AV was "very quick off the mark" to make it about cost to the public purse, explains Dylan Sharpe, of the No camp's TaxPayers' Alliance. They led with the claim that switching to AV would deny troops badly needed equipment and sick babies' incubators. The Yes camp lost the vote two to one.
2. Spin the media
The trick is in knowing when to use the press and when to avoid it. The more noise there is, the less control lobbyists have. As a way of talking to government, though, the media is crucial. Messages are carefully crafted. Even if the corporate goal is pure, self-interested profit-making, it will be dressed up to appear synonymous with the wider, national interest. At the moment, that means economic growth and jobs.
Get the messaging wrong and you get fiascos such as High Speed 2 (HS2). In early 2011, lobbyist James Bethell of Westbourne Communications was parachuted in to rescue the £43bn project, which had initially been sold by ministers on the marginal benefits to a few commuters. Westbourne reframed the debate to make it about jobs and economic growth. The new messaging focused on a narrative that pitted wealthy people in the Chilterns worried about their hunting rights against the economic benefits to the north. The strategy was "posh people standing in the way of working-class people getting jobs," said Bethell. "Their lawns or our jobs," shouted the ad campaign.
Private healthcare also regrouped after the wrong messages went public. As Andrew Lansley embarked on his radical reforms of the NHS, private hospitals and outsourcing firms were talking to investors about the "clear opportunities" to profit from the changes. After comments by Mark Britnell, the head of health at accountancy giants KPMG giants and a former adviser of David Cameron, hit the headlines in May 2011 – Britnell told an investors' conference that "the NHS will be shown no mercy and the best time to take advantage of this will be in the next couple of years" – the industry got a grip. Lobby group The NHS Partners Network moved quickly to get everyone back on-message and singing from "common hymn sheets", as its chief lobbyist David Worskett explained. The reforms were about the survival of the NHS in straitened times. Just nobody mention the bumper profits.
3. Engineer a following
It doesn't help if a corporation is the only one making the case to government. That looks like special pleading. What is needed is a critical mass of voices singing to its tune. This can be engineered.
The forte of lobbying firm Westbourne is in mobilising voices behind its clients. Thirty economists, for example, signed a letter to the FT in 2011 in support of HS2; 100 businesses endorsed another published in the Daily Telegraph.
Westbourne was also hired in 2011 to lobby against the top rate of tax, although who was behind its "50p tax campaign" remains a mystery. Ahead of the chancellor's annual Budget announcement in early 2012, letters appeared in the press demanding he scrap it. The FT's was signed by 20 economists. The Telegraph's by the bosses of 573 SMEs, described as the "bedrock" of British industry. A quick glance, though, revealed it included five managers from the Switzerland-based banking giant Credit Suisse. The paper's commentary noted the alarm this new call from "ordinary British business" would cause inside government.
4. Buy in credibility
Corporations are one of the least credible sources of information for the public. What they need, therefore, are authentic, seemingly independent people to carry their message for them.
One nuclear lobbyist admitted it spread messages "via third-party opinion because the public would be suspicious if we started ramming pro-nuclear messages down their throats". That's it in a nutshell.
The tobacco companies are pioneers of this technique. Their recent campaign against plain packaging has seen them fund newsagents to push the economic case against the policy and encourage trading standards officers to lobby their MPs. British American Tobacco also currently funds the Common Sense Alliance, which is fronted by two ex-policemen and campaigns against "irrational" regulation. Philip Morris is similarly paying an ex-Met police officer, Will O'Reilly, to front a media campaign linking plain packaging to tobacco smuggling. It is worth noting that a decade ago the tobacco giant coughed up $1.25bn to the European Commission to settle a long-running dispute over its own complicity in the illicit trade.
5. Sponsor a thinktank
"The thinktank route is a very good one," said ex-minister Patricia Hewitt to undercover reporters seeking lobbying advice. Some thinktanks will provide companies with a lobbying package: a media-friendly report, a Westminster event, ear-time with politicians. "The exact same services that a lobbying agency would provide," says one lobbyist. "They're just more expensive."
In the mid-noughties, a lobbyist for Standard Life Healthcare, now part of PruHealth, worried about how they could get more people to buy private cover without being seen to undermine the NHS. The solution: "Get some of the thinktanks to say it, so it's not just us calling for reform, it's outside commentators ... it does need others to help us take the debate forward." The insurers did turn to thinktanks, including free-market advocates Reform. This has lobbied for more "insurance-based private funding" in the health service. Prudential, the insurance giant behind PruHealth, was Reform's most generous sponsor in 2012, investing £67,500 in the thinktank.
The BBC has also come under repeated recent criticism for inviting commentators from the leading neo-liberal thinktank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), to talk about its opposition to the plain packaging of cigarettes, without disclosing the Institute's tobacco funding. Although the IEA does not disclose who funds it, BAT concedes it has recently paid the IEA £30,000, with more to come this year. Leaked documents from Philip Morris also reveal the thinktank is one of its "media messengers" in its anti- plain-packaging campaign.
6. Consult your critics
Companies faced with a development that has drawn the ire of a local community will often engage lobbyists to run a public consultation exercise. Again, not as benign as it sounds. "Businesses have to be able to predict risk and gain intelligence on potential problems," says ex-Tesco lobbyist Bernard Hughes. "The army used to call it reconnaissance; we call it consultation."
For some in the business, community consultation – anything from running focus groups, exhibitions, planning exercises and public meetings – is a means of flushing out opposition and providing a managed channel through which would-be opponents can voice concerns. Opportunities to influence the outcome, whether it is preventing an out-of-town supermarket or protecting local health services, are almost always nil.
Residents in Barne Barton in Plymouth were asked in 2011 what they thought about a 95-metre, PFI-financed incinerator being sited in their neighbourhood, just 62 metres from the nearest house. Although more than 5,000 people objected, the waste company's planning application was waved through. That's community consultation.
7. Neutralise the opposition
Lobbyists see their battles with opposition activists as "guerilla warfare". They want government to listen to their message, but ignore counter arguments coming from campaigners, such as environmentalists, who have long been the bane of commercial lobbyists. So, they need to deal with the "antis".
Lobbyists have developed a sliding scale of tactics to neutralise such a threat. Monitoring of opposition groups is common: one lobbyist from agency Edelman talks of the need for "360-degree monitoring" of the internet, complete with online "listening posts ... so they can pick up the first warning signals" of activist activity. "The person making a lot of noise is probably not the influential one, you've got to find the influential one," he says. Rebuttal campaigns are frequently employed: "exhausting, but crucial," says Westbourne.
Lobbyists have also long employed divide-and-rule tactics. One Shell strategy proposed to "differentiate interest groups into friends and foes", building relationships with the former, while making it "more difficult for hardcore campaigners to sustain their campaigns". Philip Morris's covert 10-year strategy, codenamed Project Sunrise, intended to "drive a wedge between various anti groups" and "position antis as extremists".
Then there are the more serious activities used primarily when big-money commercial interests are threatened, such as the infiltration of opposition groups, otherwise known as spying. Household names such as Shell, BAE Systems and Nestlé have all been exposed for spying on their critics. Wikileaks' Global Intelligence Files revealed that groups such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International and animal rights organisation Peta were all monitored by global intelligence company Stratfor, once described as a "shadow CIA".
8. Control the web
Today's world is a digital democracy, say lobbyists. Gone are the old certainties of how decisions were made "by having lunch with an MP, or taking a journalist out," laments one. It presents a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.
One key way to control information online is to flood the web with positive information, which is not as benign as it sounds. Lobbying agencies create phoney blogs for clients and press releases that no journalist will read – all positive content that fools search engines into pushing the dummy content above the negative, driving the output of critics down Google rankings. Relying on the fact that few of us regularly click beyond the first page of search results, lobbyists make negative content "disappear".
Another means of restricting access to information is the doctoring of Wikipedia, "a ridiculous organisation," in veteran lobbyist Tim Bell's words. Accounts associated with his firm, Bell Pottinger, have been caught scrubbing Wikipedia profiles of arms manufacturers, financial firms, a Russian oligarch and the founder of libel specialists Carter-Ruck. "It's important for Wikipedia to recognise we are a valuable source for accurate information," says Bell, a master at killing stories. Other edits by lobbyists range from a computer in the offices of payday lender Wonga deleting references to "usury" from its entry, to a computer registered to the American multinational Dow Chemical repeatedly attempting to remove a large section from the company's profile detailing "controversies".
9. Open the door
Without doubt, lobbyists need access to politicians. This doesn't always equate to influence, but deals can only be cooked up once in the kitchen. And access to politicians can be bought. It is not a cash deal, rather an investment is made in the relationship. Lobbyists build trust, offer help and accept favour.
The best way to shortcut the process of relationship-building is to hire politicians' friends, in the form of ex-employees or colleagues. Bill Morgan is a good example. In recent years, he's been backwards and forwards twice between Andrew Lansley's office and health-lobbying specialists MHP. Its clients had "obviously benefited" from Morgan's inside knowledge of Conservative health policy, MHP wrote. They could "look forward to continuing to be at the heart of the major policy debates".
Lobbyists are Westminster and Whitehall insiders, among them many former ministers. "You may remember me from my time as Minister of State for Transport," wrote Stephen Ladyman as he lobbied a potential government client in his new role as a paid adviser to a transport company. "I do indeed and am delighted to hear from you," replied the official. "We would be interested to hear your proposals."He had just opened the door.
10. And finally ...
There is the perception, at least, that decisions taken in government could be influenced by the reward of future employment. It's a concern that has been expressed for the best part of a century. Today, however, the number of people moving through the revolving door is off the scale.
The top rung of the Department of Health has in recent years experienced huge traffic towards the private sector. The department that sees more movement than any other, though, is still the Ministry of Defence. Since 1996, officials and military officers have taken up more than 3,500 jobs in arms and defence related companies. Two hundred and thirty-one jobs were secured in 2011/12 alone.
Government is the arms industry's biggest customer and the Ministry of Defence's closeness to its suppliers is widely known. It is also gaining a reputation for its disastrously expensive contracts that deliver poor value for taxpayers and often poor performance for the military. More than one commentator has asked whether the two are connected.
The British financial services industry spent £92m last year lobbying ¬politicians and regulators in an "economic war of attrition" that has secured a string of policy victories.
As the industry prepares to fight off renewed calls for root-and-branch reform in response to the Barclays rate-fixing scandal, an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has revealed the firepower of the City's lobbying machine, prompting concern that its scale and influence puts the interests of the wider economy in the shade.
Documents show how finance lobbyists won a host of important policy changes in Whitehall and Westminster. These include:
- The slashing of UK corporation tax and taxes on banks' overseas subsidiaries after a lobbying barrage by the City of London corporation, the British Bankers' Association (BBA) and the Association of British Insurers. The reform will save the finance industry billions.
- The neutering of a national not-for-profit pension scheme launching in October that was supposed to benefit millions of low-paid and temporary workers.
- The killing of government plans for a new corporate super-watchdog to police quoted companies.
An extensive trawl of registries, consultations and hundreds of interviews has identified 129 organisations engaging in some form of lobbying for the finance -sector, with 800 people employed directly. Lobbyists include in-house bank staff, public affairs consultancies, industry body representatives, law firms, and management consultants.
An estimated US$3 billion is spent on corporate lobbying of British lawmakers every year, much of which is being done secretively, with as much as US$5.2 million being paid to members of parliament for external advisory roles, Sputnik has been told.
Research by Transparency International found that fewer than 4 percent of lobbyists are covered by the government's new lobbying register, which means that the vast majority are unaccountable. Eight out of ten of the most frequent lobbyists are from FTSE 100 companies, which shows that lobbying is dominated by the corporate world.
It found that US$5.2 million was paid to 73 MPs last year for external advisory roles — a significant risk of conflicts of interest. The House of Commons register of lobbyists shows only 96 professional lobbying companies, but Transparency International identified no fewer than 2,736 meeting between lobbyists and MPs in one quarter alone.
Nick Maxwell, Head of Research and Advocacy at Transparency International UK told Sputnik:
"There is not the level of transparency over lobbying that we need to hold lobbying to account. We found particular problems with the lobbyist register that was introduced after a major lobbying scandal."
The lobbying scandal broke out in 2009, when it was alleged that some lawmakers were being paid to ask particular questions in the House of Commons.
"Less than four percent of lobbyists are covered by the lobby register that are only lobbying ministers and permanent secretaries — so it doesn't even count lobbyists who are engaging with members of parliament who aren't ministers and public officials," Maxwell told Sputnik.
The average citizen stands no chance of influencing public policy. Until… Sufficient people get angry enough to overturn established politicians, their Parties and powerful backers. Here lies some hope for the future.