Corporate power and democracy

The issue of unaccountable corporate and financial power in Britain’s democracy has been of increasing concern over the past decade or more. It has always been a feature of so-called ‘market democracies’ that business interests get privileged by governments. This is because economic activity is rarely under the direct control of government, but depends upon private business decisions for investment, production and the delivery of employment and services. This means that a government’s goals for the economy can only be met indirectly, through securing conditions favourable to business, and giving attention to its interests.

City_of_LondonHowever, key systemic changes in the international economy since the 1980s have significantly reduced the capacity of governments in relation to business, and greatly increased their level of dependency when negotiating with it. At the same time the range of instruments and powers available to the corporate sector to influence or determine government policy and public opinion has considerably expanded, while potential countervailing powers of a more democratic kind have been significantly reduced. The outcome is that the welfare of citizens is repeatedly compromised as government becomes in effect the promotional agent of corporate and financial interests. At no time has this been more evident than in the years leading up to and after the financial crash of 2007-8.

These developments, and their implications for our democracy, are analysed with detailed supporting evidence in a paper by David Beetham, Unelected Oligarchy: Corporate and Financial Dominance in Britain’s Democracy, published by Democratic Audit on 26 July 2011.

A subsequent update, the first of a regular series, Unelected Oligarchy: First Update, was published on 21 November 2011.

Further reading

David Beetham, News International and corporate power in Britain’s democracy: just the tip of the ‘unelected oligarchies’ iceberg, Democratic Audit Blog, 26 July 2011.

David Beetham, The News International scandal is just the tip of the iceberg of unelected oligarchies and corporate power in Britain’s democracy, British Politics and Policy at LSE, 29 July 2011.

David Beetham, How powerful corporate interests transferred the costs of the crash onto others, False Economy, 15 August 2011.

Trevor Smith, Unelected Oligarchy: corporate and financial power in Britain under the spotlight, OurKingdom, 23 August 2011.

David Beetham, The Werritty affair shows that now, more than ever, we need a statutory register for lobbyists, British Politics and Policy at LSE, 27 October 2011.