Saturday, 18 September 2010

Souls, And Other Things, Sold

Neil Clark writes:

As a big fan of the classic 1970s TV drama Upstairs, Downstairs, I was delighted to read that three brand new episodes of the programme are to be broadcast this autumn, with plans for a new series to be shown next year. Upstairs, Downstairs told the story of the inhabitants of 165 Eaton Place in Belgravia, London, focusing on both the toffs "upstairs" and the lives of the servants "downstairs." The original programme, which was screened from 1971-5, covered the years 1903-30. It was a period of enormous social change during which those "downstairs" made important social advances and the old class system, so rigid in the Victorian era, began to weaken. Master of the house Richard Bellamy, played by David Langton, was a paternalistic Tory MP who had much sympathy with the reforming Liberal government which swept to power in 1905. It was that same Liberal government of Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill which laid the foundations of the modern welfare state.

How ironic, then, that exactly 100 years on, it's the Liberals who, together with their Tory coalition allies, are working to destroy the welfare state their predecessors helped to establish. The progressive "new" Liberals of the early 20th century believed the state should play a key role in helping the least fortunate in society and create a better, fairer Britain. By contrast, the Orange Book Lib Dems of the early 21st century hate the state and think that private provision and "market forces" are superior to public provision. In supporting swingeing cuts to public spending at a time when the economy is in delicate health, today's Lib Dems are also rejecting the teachings of the great Liberal economist John Maynard Keynes. And in backing a budget which favours the rich at the expense of those on average or below average incomes the Liberals are betraying the legacy of David Lloyd George who, in 1909, introduced his famous People's Budget which did exactly the opposite.

The fact is that today's leading Liberal politicians have far more in common with the uber-Thatcherite Free Democratic Party of Germany who favour privatisation, tax cuts for big business and massive cuts in welfare spending than they do with some of the greatest names of their party's history. And if Clegg, Cable and co are allowed to implement their reactionary policies they'll make Britain an even more unfair society than it was in the earlier days of Upstairs, Downstairs.

Last year in the Morning Star I compiled a list of 10 nominally left-wing political leaders who had shamefully sold out to capital. It's time to add another name to the left-wing rogues gallery - that of the Greek "Socialist" Prime Minister George Papandreou. Papandreou was elected in October 2009 after the Greek people rejected the unpopular right-wing government of Konstantinos Karamanlis, which had been in power since 2004. Greeks voted for Papandreou and Pasok, believing that the party would put the interests of ordinary people first. But he didn't follow a genuinely socialist policy that would have seen Greece pulled out of the euro straitjacket, taxes increased on the very wealthy and international speculators told to take a running jump. Instead Papandreou introduced a massive austerity programme which has involved draconian cuts in salaries and pensions and announced a major programme of privatisation, including the part-sell off of the country's railways and the opening up of the Greek energy sector.

While Greeks take to the streets in their thousands to protest over Papandreou's treachery, the Greek leader still has one big fan. Last week the International Monetary Fund praised Papandreou's government for the harsh austerity measures it has taken. Papandreou will go down in history as the man who sold his country to the international money men. Yet another nominally left-wing leader who did the dirty on the people he was supposed to represent.

On Sunday TUC general secretary Brendan Barber called for the building of a broad alliance to fight against the Con-Dem government's cuts agenda. It's a call that's been echoed by other trade union leaders. Fighting against any further privatisation of publicly owned assets will be a crucial part of the battle. The NHS, the Royal Mail, state education and public libraries are under serious threat. But none of the privatisation measures announced by the new government has majority public support. All can be defeated. I look forward to working with trade unions and all other progressive forces to keep the Royal Mail and the NHS in full public ownership and to defend local authority services, as well as to lead the fight for the return to full public ownership of those assets, such as our railways, our airports and our energy sector, which have been privatised over the past 30 years.

It didn't take long for neoliberals to try to make political capital out of the Inland Revenue's miscalculation of six million tax bills. Parliamentary all-party taxation group chairman Ian Liddell-Grainger says that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs "needs to shed all but its core responsibilities. "The traditional obsession with keeping everything in-house is out of date and wildly inefficient," the Tory MP claims. Instead, Liddell-Grainger wants Britain to follow the US route and allow tax collection to be done by private companies. They do it better and they do it cheaper too," he says. "They are quite capable of doing it here."

Ah yes, those efficient private companies which can do the work of government departments so much better than the state. I wonder if Liddell-Grainger has in mind companies such as ETS Europe, a subsidiary of US firm ETS Global BV, which was responsible for the Sats marking fiasco in 2008. Or PA Consulting, a subcontractor to the Home Office, which in 2008 lost a computer memory stick containing the highly confidential data of 84,000 prisoners. Or the US firm Pearson Driving Assessments, a subcontractor to the Driving Standards Agency, which lost a hard drive containing the details of three million candidates for the driving theory test from what it had described as a "secure facility" in Iowa.

And, of course, Britain's privatised rail companies have delivered a far "better" and "cheaper" rail service than the state-owned British Rail, haven't they?


  1. What ever happened to those social conscience conservatives? It seems like they used to be more prevalent, not just in the United Kingdom but in many other countries as well.

  2. Electoral reform should do a power of good.