Nige or Nick – who has the bigger dick? That seems to be the question of the day. Last night, the leaders of UKIP and the Lib Dems took part in an EU debate that was broadcast live on LBC Radio and Sky News. They talked about immigration, then crime, then what various millionaires think, then immigration, then, just for fun, immigration again. What they didn't talk about is, well, most of what the EU actually does.
Of all of the stuff they didn't mention, the most important is a thing called the EU/US Trade deal. It's utterly terrifying. It's the biggest trade agreement in the history of the world and it's currently being hatched in secret somewhere in Brussels. Like lots of things that matter almost more than I can imagine, they've given it a boring name in the hope you won't notice: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, also known by the oh so catchy acronym “TTIP”.
What we do know about the deal? Trade unions know enough about it to say it'll allow our bosses to walk all over us at work. Health campaigners know enough about it to say it might make it impossible to de-privatise the NHS. Environmentalists are calling it a “polluters' pact” and anti-poverty experts say it's a “charter for corporate rights”.
Perhaps most of all, it terrifies those who care about democracy. The deal says any corporation can sue a government if a new law will impact on their anticipated profits. So, if a company is stomping over your rights at work, or has a factory spewing poisonous chemicals into your river, or is running a privatised hospital into the ground, and then you elect a government to change the rules to stop it, then that government can be sued. As George Monbiot has pointed out, similar deals around the world have stopped elected politicians introducing price caps (are you listening, Mr Miliband?) and labelling tobacco.
I say "sued" – that's not quite right. Because that implies that it will be a judge looking at the case. No. In the Wild West of the international market, it's more likely that the Sheriff will be an arbitor from an accountancy firm. You know, the same firms who make their money selling their services to the same big companies.
You might think that there would be an outcry from politicians at this attack on democracy. Nope. With the exception of the Green Party, they have done absolutely bugger all. Largely, they support it. In the case of the Tories, this shouldn't surprise us. They love big corporations. And with Labour, it shouldn't be a shock – they're as spineless as a jellyfish reading a Kindle. But there are two parties whose attitudes to this whole thing might come as more of a surprise. And they were the two whose leaders were strutting their stuff on stage last night.
It's true that the Liberals spent the 19th century battling for free trade. But since then, they've added the word "Democrats" to their name, so you would think they'd give a damn about democracy. Apparently not: supporting TTIP is a centrepiece of their European election campaign. They plan to hammer the Green Party for its opposition and recycle claims about jobs that Manchester University's finest have called “vastly overblown and deeply flawed”.
This should shock no one. A decade ago, in his brief break between being an MEP and an MP, Nick Clegg was a partner of a firm helping the powerful buy access to the EU so they can do just this kind of thing.
But what about UKIP? After all, this is Europe taking vast powers away from the British Parliament. And that, surely, is just not cricket? Don't be silly. Nigel's the old City boy who got the job, funded by bankers and millionaires, acting as a happy clown to distract us while they nick our money. “Don't take power away from British people,” his mantra goes, “unless you're giving it to global corporations, bankers and billionaires. Then it's fine.”
Noam Chomsky wrote about how the powerful get their way by setting up arguments over the little questions to stop us asking the big ones. Last night, two privately educated former Tory Party members with big business backgrounds and millionaire backers waved their willies for the camera and expertly distracted us from everything we should be talking about. Whose is bigger? Who gives a damn.
Adam Ramsay is co-editor of OurKingdom, the UK section of openDemocracy.net. You can follow him at @adamramsay.
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