The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast

New Labour's secret plan to sell Britain to global business
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The Independent Culture

The journalist Greg Palast is best known in this country for two major exposés that, in a world governed by democratic principles, ought to have brought down governments. The first was the 1998 "cash for access" scandal in Britain, which revealed that leading Blairites were peddling government contacts and information to businesses. The second was the Republicans' racial purge of the Florida voter rolls, which placed George W Bush in the White House.

In his new book, Palast revisits these scandals, enhancing his reportage with new material. "Jim Crow in Cyberspace" leaves little doubt that there was an organised effort to disenfranchise black and working-class voters in the US presidential election, involving a major contractor and Florida state officials.

In his chapter on "lobbygate", Palast shows the New Labour ideologues as self-regarding chancers working to create a US-style interpenetration of corporations and government. With Wal Mart, Monsanto, News Corp, Enron and the rest beating a path to No 10, democracy in Britain could wind up as hollow as it often is in the US.

In each scandal, the main culprits have got away with it. Bush was saved not so much by 11 September as the willingness of the Democrats to let him off the hook – just as Clinton had been saved by the Republicans' potential embarrassment over their own financing. A similar "mutual protection agreement" among mainstream parties ensured that the Blair government paid no significant price for "lobbygate".

Palast argues that the Blairite backroom boys who were shamed were never more than small fry. The real issue remains secretive business influence over policy-making. Palast is astonished that he was never called to give his evidence to a House of Commons committee, or by the Neill Committee on public standards. Our watchdogs have been blinded and muzzled.

Palast characterises "Blairismo" as "the UK subsidiary of an international community" of pay-any-price globalisers. His informative, passionate writings on the World Bank, IMF and WTO, and the sufferings of their victims, provide a powerful riposte to the "slap-happy view of globalisation" propounded by the New Labour theorist Anthony Giddens.

Because he is unimpressed by the worldliness commonplace in journalism, Palast's capacity for outrage is undiminished, and with it his tenacity in unearthing facts. With a foot on either side of the Atlantic, he is able to flush out some absurdities of US and British polities. While readers here may gape at the shenanigans in Florida, British complacency is undermined by a bracing attack on our official secrecy. Examining the D-Notice system and other self-censorship, he concludes: "in this class-poisoned society, elite reporters and editors are lured by the thrill of joining the inner circle of cognoscenti."

One Blairite confided to Palast, "If we have business and the media, the people will come along." A reassuring indication that it may take more than this stitch-up to sway the populace is the success of Palast's own book. An increasing number of people, it seems, seek the hard facts and deep background offered by him, and too few others.

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