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This transcript has been typed at speed, and therefore may contain mistakes. Newsnight accepts no responsibility for these. However, we will be happy to correct serious errors.

The real issues behind the May Day protests 1/5/01

JEREMY PAXMAN:
Here in the studio I'm joined by three Westminster politicians - Simon Hughes, Oliver Letwin and Tony Wright, and on my left, Chris Nineham of Globalise Resistance, the author Noreena Hertz of The Silent Takeover and Dr Mike Woodin of the Green Party. Oliver Letwin, why does your party confuse wealth with happiness?

OLIVER LETWIN MP:
SHADOW CHIEF SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY
We don't. Wealth doesn't lead to happiness, but if you go to very poor countries, I don't think it's the case that everyone is terribly happy either. Happiness is a spiritual commodity which you can't invent by Government, that's something people come on themselves. What you can do is to make us prosperous and free. That's a comfortable thing to be and it's a good start.

PAXMAN:
Tony Wright, do you share the analysis that, by and large, all three main Westminster parties have bought the same analysis?

TONY WRIGHT MP:
LABOUR
No I don't. If the proposition is, let's just have a go at the politicians here and contrast them with the idealistic demonstrator, that is a complete cul-de-sac. Politics is the only mechanism we have got for getting to grips with some of these issues. I'm a veteran of Grovesnor Square, I've been round this track many times.

PAXMAN:
That was a real demonstration.

WRIGHT:
I'm an old-fashioned ethical socialist. I'm in politics because I want to domesticate and tame capitalism. I want it to work in the public interest. The question now is, "what kind of capitalism do we want?". Do we want the Oliver kind, which is let the market rip kind, or do we want one that we domesticate and make work in the public interest? That's the real choice for us now.

PAXMAN:
And when you say domesticate, you mean introducing things like the minimum wage and maximum working week and so on?

WRIGHT:
I mean far more than that. I mean making sure that the institutions of global capitalism are made to work in the public interest too. We look through a period in the '80s and '90s where capitalism has said, "we want to just let rip", and we're still recovering from that now. I think the protest, in a large measure, is a response to that.

PAXMAN:
Sure, but you have failed to do it in the eyes of many of the people who share the views of the protesters, but just before we engage with that question, would you share the view that, essentially, you blokes are all in the same area, that is all about how much you moderate, or attenuate or domesticate capitalism?

SIMON HUGHES MP:
LIBERAL DEMOCRAT, HOME AFFAIRS
I think that all three major British political parties start from a similar premise that you have a free trade market economy, therefore a capitalist starting point. It is a question of the degree of intervention that the real issue, that's the issue of today, is how you break out of the nationalistic, local domestic view and deal with forces that are global forces, when we don't have the global political structures capable of countering them. That's the debate of where the power should move to. We don't have very much power in our domestic Parliament to deal with these matters at all.

PAXMAN:
Most of our polls seem to suggest most people share your view that national parliaments have less power than big organisations. Why is it ,Dr Noreena Hertz, that mainstream politicians seem unwilling to grasp this problem?

DR NOREENA HERTZ:
AUTHOR, "THE SILENT TAKEOVER"
Firstly, we have to realise that people really feel that you guys are not delivering.

PAXMAN:
When you say "people", you'd better be a bit more specific.

HERTZ:
Okay, I'll be a bit more explicit. A survey of 16 to 24-year-olds showed that 71% of them felt that whoever they voted for out of the three mainstream parties, it would make no difference to their lives. Only 44% of people aged between 18 and 24 voted at the last election. There's a crisis of confidence in politics. I think that's coming about, and having spoken to some of the protesters who I was observing at the protests today, people feel excluded from the system. They feel that governments have handed over power to big corporations in the market and that they have got no say, and that governments and politicians, who are supposed to be protecting their interests and taking and looking after their concerns, are not doing so.

PAXMAN:
You are getting cross about this?

WRIGHT:
I think we are going to be in trouble if we go down this route. We are all in this together. We live in this society and world together. It's a real cop-out to say, "it's those politicians who haven't got the hang of it".

PAXMAN:
Hang on. It is, because you're in the Government¿

WRIGHT:
The fact is, this it is politics and the political system that eventually will be the way out of these problems that we are talking about. Either we get our hands dirty and get involved in that or we don't. If we don't, the only people who are going to win are those forces you are against.

CHRIS NINEHAM:
GLOBALISE RESISTANCE
The Labour Party is actually pushing the policies of big business. It's not the case of being neutral. The fact is, we are seeing privatisation of all sorts of social services, of housing estates, even hospitals being sold-off. While the majority of the population wants to see the re-nationalisation of the railways, you are pursuing the privatisation of the Tube. You are pursuing a big business programme.

WRIGHT:
While you were speaking, Oliver said to me "what are you against?".

LETWIN:
I said, what are these problems? I don't recognise these problems. It seems to me we are rich and, on the whole, peaceful and free.

WRIGHT:
Can I just tell him what the answer is?

PAXMAN:
Do you think we have problems?

WRIGHT:
Absolutely. I will tell him what they are.

PAXMAN:
I think I will hear it from these people who have lost faith in you. What are the essential problems?

HUGHES:
Just to comment Noreena, because I accept her premise that most young people feel disengaged. They think we are irrelevant and I think one of the jobs and the challenges we're doing less well is to re-enact that link. Two things that follow from that:
there's a dilemma because some young people are idealistic and expect Parliament to have a long-term, environmental, global vision. Some are consumerist, because of the society that we've been led to, and don't regard anything other than the immediate gratification as what they are interested in anyway. There are two different client-groups in young people. Both of them regard most of us as being irrelevant.

PAXMAN:
We do another politician here. The Green Party - it has an alternative philosophy. It actively is against all sorts of aspects of market capitalism, yet no-one votes for you?

DR MIKE WOODIN:
GREEN PARTY
That's not true. Of course, in recent elections...

PAXMAN:
You haven't got a single MP, have you?

WOODIN:
We haven't because of an unfair electoral system.

PAXMAN:
Don't start that argument¿

WOODIN:
Well, okay, but that's the reason we haven't got MPs, whereas our sister parties throughout the European Union are in parliaments¿

PAXMAN:
These three all got in under an unfair system.

WOODIN:
We've got councillors, MEPs and people in the GLA who were elected on large scale votes. What I'm concerned about is, Simon's telling us, it's very hard we don't have much power in this Parliament. That's because, systematically, over the last few decades, governments have been constructing international agreements, like the World Trade Organisation, which strip national Parliaments from those powers. What we should be doing is saying, "actually, no, we are not going to have the next round of talks at WTO until we have assessed what's gone on and seen that it's created more poverty in the world, that it's created mass levels of underemployment and unemployment, highest since the 1930s, and that it's causing suffering and unhappiness. It's time to stop and reverse those policies - they were made by people, they can be unmade.

LETWIN:
They certainly can be unmade, and they were unmade. There was an experiment in the world which consisted of the Soviet Union and the rest of that bloc and it was a ghastly tyranny. Capitalism and free markets have given us¿

WOODIN:
You're not going to have a debate worthy of this programme if it's going to polarise around the attitudes.

PAXMAN:
It's well worthy of the programme. It's a perfectly relevant example.

LETWIN:
Capitalism and free markets are what have given us freedom and the ability to look after our environment in a way that as never done under those tyrannies, and they have also given us prosperity. Those things are real gains.

PAXMAN:
Would you concede the point that international organisations like the World Trade Organisation, as our Green representative said there, are seen essentially as agents of international capitalism, as opposed to national Governments which may, though they be seen to be toothless, are seen to be acting in terms of a national interest?

LETWIN:
They are only seen that way by people who do not understand. I spent ten years working in less developed countries. When I was working in those countries I saw people who were genuinely poor, not in the sense of rich and poor people in this country, but genuinely poor. What did they want? They wanted not to be so poor so that their lives were not so ghastly. Free trade is what could give them that advantage.

NINEHAM:
In the last 25 years, the experience for people around the globe has been a catastrophe. I mean, when we talk about poverty in the world we are not talking about a few isolated areas. We are talking about whole continents - the continent of Africa that has been completely abandoned to its fate. This is a product of globalisation. This is a product of ....

LETWIN:
It's not. It's a lack of global investment that's doing it.

HERTZ:
Oliver, I want to come back to you on the WTO point. You say that this free trade system is wonderful. Free trade does deliver the best economic growth, but can we have a system which puts free trade before human rights, that puts free trade before the environment, that allows free trade interests to override everything else, so that national Governments can not protect the interests of their people, so that the EU was unable to ban the use of synthetic hormones in beef because American interests, Monsanto, the national dairymen, the cattlemen association, said this was a protectionist policy. Do we want to live in that kind of world?

LETWIN:
Yes, I do. You are able to answer these questions because all of us here are privileged. If you were living in Brazzaville or Kinshasa¿

PAXMAN:
But in the mean time she's having to ingest a lot of hormone-injected beef.

LETWIN:
If you were living in Brazzaville or Kinshasa you would be in terrible difficulties. I have seen people rolling around the streets with half a leg.

PAXMAN:
But that's not the point.

LETWIN:
It is, Jeremy.

PAXMAN:
How many legs they have got is not the point. Her argument is about the World Trade Organisation and how it operated in that particular case.

LETWIN:
The World Trade Organisation, if we could get liberalisation in Africa, might give the Africans the chance to export their produce without tariffs so they could actually make money and look after themselves.

WOODIN:
If we liberalised Africa, what would happen is their markets would be swamped by cheap imports from the multinationals companies who are powerful enough to compete. They would go in, dismantle, effectively, the local industry by taking the market away by these cheap imports, and when there is financial collapse you would have the big multinationals coming in, buying up the public infrastructure. The answer is to build self-reliance¿

WRIGHT:
What Oliver says reveals the reason for the problem that we are in, because at least old Tories used to understand that you had to control the market to save society. That was a very is shrewd insight that old Tories, like Harold Macmillan, had. The new lot that came along in the 1980s and 90s, and here and in the United States and elsewhere, they really did believe that if you let the market go, then freedom would follow. The fact is, it did not. What happened was great constellations of power arrived, which had enormous power over people's lives, over which they feel they have no control - it is that above all else. They now sit around the world with the same coloured mobile phones, eating the same hamburgers and they know that someone has taken power away from them, and they want it back.

PAXMAN:
But that is a fair point. You guys organising this protest today, talking to each other on your mobile phones, on services provided by BT, do you not see something curious about protesting the way you were protesting?

NINEHAM:
Not at all, because it's not just a question of there being poverty in the Third World, it's not just a question of the devastation of the environment. Actually, the reality is that the market hasn't delivered for people here as well. I think it's the case that Labour has gone down the road of abandoning any commitment to redistribution, rebuilding social services etc¿ What the result has been is that an increase in poverty in this country¿ The statistics were produced by the Office for National Statistics this week, saying that poverty, the inequality in society is higher now than at any time under the Tories. The kind of services that people took for granted, like the NHS and a raft of other things, have been taken away from us because Labour has sold its soul to big business.

WRIGHT:
I think the real issue is that there's a huge ambivalence about this. On the one hand, I expect we like our consumer stuff, we like the individualism that comes from it - we cherish that. What we don't like is the other side:
we don't like a market economy that wants to become a market society. We don't like the fact that capitalism has no social purpose, only politics can give that to it.

NINEHAM:
You talk about consumer society - it's a consumer society for the rich and sections of the middle class. Even in this country for the vast majority of people, we are carved out.

PAXMAN:
Simon Hughes?

HUGHES:
Having accepted the premise, Noreena and Mike are wrong in their conclusion. The reality is that we have had 50 years in which the private sector, the corporate state, has been able to run things on a global basis. I will give you an example:
when I was selected, the factory round the corner from my house was closed down, not because somebody in Bermondsey or London or someone in Germany thought it should be closed, but somebody in America thought it should be closed. We have had 50 years trying to catch up in terms of the government equivalent of the private sector global market. It's no good saying "let's re-nationalise all our power". That's not where the private sector is. The private sector's gone global a long time ago. They move people around and have people working in India, supplying services here. Therefore, you need the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank to be democratically accountable with a proper end of functions, you need European Government that functions¿

PAXMAN:
Noreena Hertz, does anything strike you as odd, noticeable that there are three men in well-cut suits, different political persuasions but all, essentially, pushing a similar line here and you three on this side just don't get it, do you?

DR NOREENA HERTZ:
We just don't buy it. It's not that we don't get it. We don't buy it. We have issues like poverty and issues like environmental issues. We have also a fundamental issue which is that we don't believe that democracy, our elected representatives, really are in control any more, and that is frightening. When new Labour tried to introduce an ethical foreign policy, whatever happened to that? When it realised that British arms industry...so, I mean, what's happening now after Motorola saying they are going to close their factory? What can Blair do? Nothing.

TONY WRIGHT MP:
There's an arrogance involved in this. At home in the morning I get endless things from the financial services industry in my post wanting to sell to me product after product. The fact is, my school needs teachers, I can't service people who want to use the health service, the trains don't run on time, my kids can't play in the street. That's the contrast between the apotheosis of consumerism and this whole¿

DR NOREENA HERTZ:
We've been sold this "free lunch" school of politics¿

TONY WRIGHT MP:
..this sickness at the centre of our society. Now, that's the issue, and the idea that politicians don't understand that is absolute arrogance.

CHRIS NINEHAM:
If you understand it, why aren't your government doing anything about it?

DR MIKE WOODIN:
More to the point, why is your government promoting the general agreement on trades and services which would privatise all those services you mentioned. It would be enforced privatisation, irreversibly, by the WTO. Why isn't the Labour Government of this country saying - no way, we will not sign up to that - just like Bush does about Kyoto?

OLIVER LETWIN MP:
If I can just defend Tony for a moment¿

SIMON HUGHES:
It's a common alliance nowadays!

OLIVER LETWIN MP:
The general agreement on trade and services does not do that. It exempts all public services¿

PAXMAN:
Well, we don't know that. We won't have the report until¿

OLIVER LETWIN MP:
Well, the draft does not do that. It specifically exempts public services. I think it is very important in this argument to stick to the facts.

PAXMAN:
I thought it didn't exempt public services where there was already private provision?

OLIVER LETWIN MP:
Section 1.13 does, as long as they are not done on a competitive basis, in the UK, for example, and for most other countries they would be exempted.

DR NOREENA HERTZ:
I think it is worth having a discussion around the issue of how politicians have sold us this free-lunch politics, whereby you can have better public services and less taxes. How are we going to have¿?

SIMON HUGHES:
Some of us do not sell that... You have to appeal sometimes to people's better nature. We say you have to argue for redistribution of wealth, you have to argue for a more equal society. And I take your point and I agree with you, if we keep on saying to people you can get better services and pay less and less and be richer - down that road is ruin for most people. And the failure of aspiration.

TONY WRIGHT MP:
If you mean do they dodge difficult issues - of course they do. But the one good thing that can come out of things like today and all things associated with today is a focus on some of these big underlying issues which get lost in day-to-day politics.

DR NOREENA HERTZ:
Absolutely!

TONY WRIGHT MP:
That is one thing we can focus on and we have to do that. We all live in this society and this world and have a vested interest in making it work.

CHRIS NINEHAM:
Why then are you in this country constantly pushing privatisation? Why is it that poverty is on the increase? Why is it that the poorest people in society are being taxed more, the bottom fifth of society are now taxed more by this government than the top fifth? Why isn't there is a commitment? I see no commitment whatsoever from this government towards any kind of redistributive politics, and that is completely insane.

DR MIKE WOODIN:
It's because they're all pandering to the same swing voters in the 50 marginal constituencies in this country because of the quirks of our election system.

OLIVER LETWIN MP:
Actually it's because Gordon Brown got his tax policy wrong.

PAXMAN:
All right. Well, that's enough of that point scoring. Just from each of you, quickly, give us one suggestion how you could reconnect, in your judgement , ordinary people with Westminster politics, relatively quickly.

DR MIKE WOODIN:
I think proportional representation so people know their votes will count.

DR NOREENA HERTZ:
I think we should address this issue of the corporate takeover.

CHRIS NINEHAM:
I think take on privatisation and at the same time forget this stuff that we cannot have redistribution, that we cannot have taxes for the rich that fund the basic services that ordinary people want. Until you do that, people will be taking to the streets to force you to do it.

TONY WRIGHT MP:
We'd tell people that wealth and well being are not the same and start talking about what a good life is.

OLIVER LETWIN MP:
We restrict ourselves to trying to do what politicians can do, which is to provide a free society under the rule of law and as much prosperity as we can, and allow people to live their own lives and be as happy as human beings know how to be.

SIMON HUGHES:
Not only pander to consumerist short-term gain, but make sure the international institutions have the power to control and regulate international trade and capitalism.

PAXMAN:
Thank you all very much.

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