Friday, 3 July 2009

On July 4, declare independence from corporate rule

Every year, on July 4th, the US celebrates its independence from Britain. And every year, campaigners try to 'take ownership' of the holiday to make a call for a different kind of independence.

Peace campaigners, for example, have long known July 4th as the day that the UK should 'declare independence' from the US, by getting rid of their military bases littering the British countryside.

But this year, I think the best July 4th call comes from the inspirational Canadian media campaign group the Adbusters Foundation: 'On July 4th, Declare Independence from Corporate Rule'

As we contemplate the bizarre fact that the multi-national coffee chain Starbucks has won its appeal against Brighton and Hove City Council and been allowed to give local democracy - and people - a slap in the face in the pursuit of profits, this campaign could hardly be more timely here in Kemp Town.

A corporation is not a person. It’s an organisational structure that has no morality and feels no remorse.

Yet the modern corporation enjoys the same rights as you or I: free speech, the ability to own property, the right to lobby government officials and protection against self-incrimination.

Decades of deregulation and laissez-faire capitalist ideology have allowed corporations to steer the world's political, economic, environmental and cultural agendas.

Are you happy about that? I'm not - I think we deserve better. Rights - tempered by responsibilities - should be ascribed only to living beings, and I think it's the duty of every elected politician to make this argument at every opportunity.

And if local democracy is to mean anything, then, when it comes to setting planning rules, the wishes of a properly-elected council should always prevail over the wishes of big business. That it didn't in St James's Street just shows how far we have to go to ensure local people make the decisions that affect them here.

Democratic deficit isn't just the preserve of Iran, Zimbabwe or other 'usual suspect' countries in the developing world.


  1. Contrary to the spin of recent argus article, the decision of the Planning Inspector gives me great confidence that parochial mildly irrational decisions made by local officers can be reviewed objectively to achieve consistency.
    Note that the planning committee itself never made the main decision appealed against by StarBucks -- it had been delegated to an officer. No doubt , the committee itself may have made the same refusal, but at least it would have been more open, transparent and informed.
    The Planning Inspector’s report is balanced, with the right level of levity and criticism: for example, when noticing the partiality of the Council tolerating 4 other cafes which do not have planning permission .

  2. Roy

    You may not have agreed with the original decision - but the only 'parochial' thing about it seemed to be that it was informed by locally-determined planning guidance, and that it reflected the overwhelming wishes of local residents' and businesses.

    Personally, I am rarely amazed by the lack of rationality that seems to lie beneath the increasingly bizarre decisions of Brighton and Hove City Council: though for me this was an exception.

    I guess we'll have to agree to differ on this one!