Beware the Tories’ new threat to our democracy
DURING the fallout from the Tories’ humbling in the recent byelections, a bullish Boris Johnson took part in an interview which was quite illuminating – but not because of what he had to say about the electoral kicking the Tories had taken.
One of the things Johnson uttered was that one of the things that he and his government would be focusing on is the ‘re-writing of our constitution.’
This point was of interest because I certainly don’t recall that being a commitment in their 2019 General Election manifesto, and so you have wonder what he means, what they have in mind and how they intend to do it.
In recent times, several senior Tories have taken an interest in emerging economic thinking in the US, and in particular the Charter Cities model.
The roots of the Charter Cities movement can be found in the 1997 book The Sovereign Individual, authored by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-mogg, right, father of Jacob.
The concept was expanded on in the late Noughties by tech entrepreneur and former chief economist of the World Bank Paul Romer, who described Charter Cities as ‘quasi-sovereign units located within existing states’ which would be maintained by a ‘foreign guarantor nation or nations’.
However, Romer’s concept went beyond economics; he also proposed the designated territory would ‘establish a legal and political system autonomous from the host state.’
The city states of Singapore and Hong
Kong have been cited as examples of what could be achieved by Charter Cities, while Romer believed the model could be used in the global south as the means to lift people out of poverty.
In a nut, Charter Cities are privatised places, independent of their host nation. Over the past few years, the Charter Cities model has begun to excite the global super-rich and neo-liberal extremists.
Elon Musk has made no secret of his desire to build a city on Mars, but first of all, he intends to build Starbase at Boca Chica in Texas, a new settlement built around his Spacex starport, while the likes of Charles Koch – a mega-rich industrialist – and hedge-fund boss Robert Mercer have expressed an interest in exploring the Charter City model over here.
In April, UK trade minister Penny Mordaunt visited Texas to examine plans for a 27,000-acre development which she believes will “offer lessons for the UK to help us achieve the best border in the world and maximise Freeports.” And so it all starts to make sense.
Freeports were a Tory commitment in the 2019 General Election and have been a pet project of chancellor Rishi Sunakm who has plenty of US links. The idea of building new settlements from scratch is anathema to most Tory supporters, and so it would always be more likely that the model would be applied to existing places – towns, cities, city regions – hence Freeports.
It may also explain the desire to simplify compulsory purchase procedures, while the Tories are running out of things to privatise.
The Levelling Up White Paper promised eight Freeports and a globally competitive city in every region. Well, the Freeports have been designated and the designations don’t just include a port; they also include the city region that surrounds it.
For example, the Liverpool City Region Freeport includes the Mersey corridor, and stretches as far inland as the western fringes of Salford, an area with a population of about three million people. In a continuing era of austerity, the offer would seem to be, ‘want to level up? Here’s a way.’
The Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has already waxed lyrical about the idea of ‘Singapore-on-tees’ and has secured Freeport status for the Tees Valley region, while it is something that may interest the growing London independence movement.
We’ve dipped our toes in the water gently in the past through things like the Liverpool One shopping mall as described by Anna Minton in Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the 21 st Century City; Charter Cities is the same philosophy but on steroids and takes it to a new and dangerous level.
Unsurprisingly, the concept appeals to Tory free-market fundamentalists who have found common ground with the American alt-right rich and their brand of corporate fascism and would perhaps explain their fondness for Brexit.
The Charter Cities model would solve some big political issues for the Tories, in particular their lack of clout in the bigger cities. However, it would lead to a oneparty state and the death of democracy as we know it.