The Westminster shareholdings and what they tell us about the British political system

Westminster shareholdings
"The revelations from the Westminster shareholdings report shines a light on the darker side of British politics where the rich and powerful make laws to protect their own greed", writes Samuel Sweek.

This week, the Guardian published the findings of its investigation into secretive shareholders stocks held by Members of Parliament in the UK.

The results are, depressingly, exactly what you would expect: the rich and powerful elite in government profiting from the desperation and misery of millions. At this time in British history, there has never been more people dependent on food banks and unscrupulous borrowing to put food on their table or pay their bills.

And yet, there are more than 50 MPs who have significant investments in publicly-listed companies, from banks to energy companies. This is, in itself a shocking indictment of the lawful corruption that has been allowed to manifest in Westminster's corridors of power, but it is the social and economic backdrop that puts these shocking revelations into the appropriate context.

The latest figures suggest that as many as 5 million people in the UK are in energy bills debt whilst companies, such as Centrica who own British Gas, posted record profits of £3.3 billion earlier this year - £750 million of which was ring-fenced for shareholders. This level of obscene profit shows us that the eye-watering rises in the cost of gas and electricity has been nothing short of opportunistic greed that has rewarded wealthy bosses and company shareholders - which includes MPs who have been vocal opponents of bringing these companies into public hands to bring down bills and provide crucial relief to debt-ridden consumers.

Along with energy bills, the cost of food and fresh produce in supermarkets has risen by around 20% this year and has squeezed the finances of millions of families in the UK. Items such as bread, milk and pasta have seen a significant price rise which has seen supermarkets such as Sainsbury's post pre-tax profits of £690 million. Many parliamentarians have argued against legislating price caps to help those hardest hit by inflation, however the value of shares held by MPs in Sainsbury's supermarket is valued at approximately £80,000.

Amongst the significant financial challenges faced by millions, we are in the midst of both the climate breakdown and housing crisis in the UK. Whilst our planet burns, corporations such as BP report £4 billion in quarterly profits and embark on massive green-washing campaigns around the world. MPs with interests in BP have spoken and voted in debates about a Windfall Tax on fossil fuel giants, with those contributing to the £120,000 value of MP-owned shares allowed to lobby on behalf of their own bank balances, with the Scottish Conservative David Duguid MP's wife owning over £50,000 in shares.

The revelations from the Westminster shareholdings report shines a light on the darker side of British politics where the rich and powerful make laws to protect their own greed, even if it comes at the cost of people and planet. But we must continue to ask: how can it be allowed that those who are elected to create laws are able to do so in their own self-interest?

This culture of parliamentary insider trading must change - but we cannot rely those at its heart to legislate for good. We must continually apply the pressure for total systemic change and hold those responsible for the tearing apart of our social fabric and its hypocrisies to unrelenting account. The basis of our elected Parliament must be a true democracy, untarnished by the hypocrisy and self-serving nature of corporate influence at the cost of social and economic justice for the many.

Through the anger and injustice of the Westminster shareholdings revelations, we must remember that real power is on our streets, our communities, trade unions, picket lines and the many people-powered movements across our labour, climate and activist movement.

Samuel Sweek is the Media Coordinator for Peace & Justice Project