New participatory democracy
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630 17 February2003
Corporate turmoil continues
Corporate chaos and corruption is
difficult to see. That
is part of the political problem. For me - as a company lawyer
with X-ray eyes - the business news contains a constant flow of reports
which betray the chaos of our underlying company law, arguing for radical
reform. The need is for root-and-branch institutional reform, which I call
for at Tame the Corporations.
Consider a few examples...
- Donald Regan,
a businessman, is charged with stealing property from a subsidiary company
of his own holding company. On 30 January, the Jury could not agree
on a verdict of theft, and he is to be put on trial again on 14 July, at
Snaresbrook Crown Court. In the world of company law, that
subsidiary company - as a separate artificial
person - legally "owned" the money in question and the prosecution alleged
that Donald Regan, the natural
person who owned the majority of the holding-company shares, stole
it from the artificial person. Regan claims that it was
effectively "his" money and he could not therefore "steal" it. The
Jury could not agree, and he must stand trial again. Law enforcement
in the company sector is commonly stymied by difficult technicalities of
- The Higgs Report,
now published, recommends that every major company should have stronger
"non-Executive Directors", empowered to double-guess the management.
But this approach is fundamentally at variance with the formalities of
company law, and is bound to fail. Legally, there is no distinction
to be drawn between "executive" and "non-executive" Directors - the real
problem is that "the management" have seized power in all
major companies, and are free to plunder the company's assets for their
own personal gain. This imbalance of power is not addressed by the
underlying systems of company law - and Higgs will have no impact upon the
fundamental flaws of the company-law system.
- The Treasury
has recently been bamboozled into selling all its properties to a shadowy
artificial person, "Mapeley", a foreign artificial person designed to
avoid UK taxes, apparently because the civil servants considered
themselves constrained by European law to do so. Over 5,000
companies (new artificial persons) are created in the UK
every week, for a wide range of
legitimate, criminal and tax evasion purposes. The resulting system
is so complex, and so dominated by secrecy, that it can deceive even the
first-class minds of the Treasury. Company formation must be far
more tightly controlled, and all major companies must thrown open their
records to the public and the Press.
A radical new company
law regime is desperately needed. And it is vital that
laymen - and lay politicians - learn to read more easily the signs of abuse.
have any examples of the abuse of corporate power? Drop me a line
Or contribute to the new
JoinWarrenEvans Discussion Group.
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17 February 2003
How can we
harness this political energy?
As an inveterate political activist, that was
the first question that came into my mind on the London March, as the two
great columns, one from
the North and one from the South, joined forces at Piccadilly Circus, and flowed down towards
Hyde Park. How can the progressive forces of the left engage the
enthusiasm those who have turned out to march, from every corner of the
country? The revolutionary Left, with all its bitterness and
destructiveness, clearly offers no rallying-point.
The best rallying cry,
I believe, is the old one -
Power to the People. It now
carries a modern gloss, namely that more and more people should be empowered
to play an active and responsible part in the governance of their society -
at community, city, province, national and international levels. The wrongs
of this world flow principally from the abuse of power - military power,
political power, property power, corporate power, even family power, even
religious authority. Some of that abuse is manifestly "criminal", and
is captured by national and international laws; other abuses are legal, and
flourish unchallenged, throughout the societies of the world. And as
the population of the world rises towards 9,000,000,000 - from a figure of
only 2bn or so, at the beginning of the last century, it is imperative that
we learn the right organisational lessons about social institutions the
world over. We must get the structures and systems of our societies
right, so as to minimise the risk of the abuse of power. That is the
key linking theme.
Power to be dispersed,
shared. The central focus should be upon the avoidance
of high concentrations of power, in particular power that may be exercised
in secret. In politics, powers like the British Prime Minister's "Royal
Prerogative" to wage war must be removed. In business, company
law must be reformed to make it impossible for a Robert Maxwell, or a Rupert
Murdoch, to possess such a panoply of unscrutinised power. Police
powers must be opened up to greater democratic scrutiny. In the corporate
sector, powers must be shared more widely with workers, with unions.
In provincial and local government, the fabric of governance should be
redesigned to assign partial power to elected community councils, as well as
specialist functional agencies, massively widening the participation of
ordinary citizens in their own local public affairs. The systematic
dispersal of power, within a consensual framework of collective values -
that is now what is meant by Power to the
People. It is not enough to redistribute wealth: we
must redistribute power, and collective responsibilities.
Open up the corridors of
power. Far greater public access, and publicity, must
be accorded to all the processes of power, both State and corporate, even
military and religious. The oxygen of publicity must be allowed to
ventilate every corner where the abuse of power may flourish. All systems of
power, however necessary and however desirable for certain purposes, contain
within themselves the seeds of abuse, and society must always plan to
counter such abuse. The best counter-measure is openness,
transparency, the knowledge that prying eyes may be looking over the
shoulder, checking the files.
In every phase of our lives together, the principle of
individual equality, individual dignity and respect - regardless of gender,
ethnicity, religion, culture or language - should reign supreme, and should
be embodied unambiguously within the law. The greatest abuse of power
is the denial of human dignity, which should be enjoyed equally by all, by
virtue of their common humanity. Being tough in the enforcement of
equality is one of the best guarantees against the abuse of power.
Human Rights enforced
All our legal systems must be designed to assure to every individual the
enjoyment of those personal and individual rights which are the building
blocks of a full life as a human being. The language of human rights,
generated so powerfully since WW2, offers the world a lingua franca
of political freedom, a common platform for the construction of the good
That's my manifesto!
That's what I mean by Power to the People.
I mean the adoption of social and political systems which put individual
dignity first, and which strain every nerve to counter the inevitable
propensities for abuse, which disfigure daily life. It is a
constant struggle, a constant battle.
What do you think? Would you join my
team? Drop me a line
Or contribute to the new
JoinWarrenEvans Discussion Group.
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