Wednesday 27 March 2013

Destroyed By Political Extremists

Over on Comment is Free, the justly ubiquitous Neil Clark writes:

You really couldn't make it up. As the RAF search and rescue service does heroic work helping people caught out or marooned in heavy snow in north Wales, the government announces that the very same service is to be privatised – with a 10-year contract worth £1.6bn being awarded to an American company whose headquarters are in Texas.

"Our search and rescue helicopter service plays a crucial role, saving lives and providing assistance to people in distress on both land and on sea," said transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin on Tuesday. But why, when the SAR service is so excellent, and does such a fantastic job, is the government handing over all the work to a private company? We're told that the RAF's rescue helicopters are "ageing"; but can we really not afford to buy them 22 new ones?

It's not the only privatisation to be announced this week. The east coast mainline, which has been in public ownership since the previous franchise holder National Express quit in 2009, is to be reprivatised – despite the railway under public ownership being a resounding success.

Also, on 1 April, the Health and Social Care Act comes into force, which, in the words of the National Health Action party, "effectively abolishes the NHS in England after 65 years of existence". "We're not going to have a big bang privatisation for the NHS. We're going to have a very quiet one," says Dr Lucy Reynolds, in a recent interview for the BMJ.

These aren't the only privatisations – loud or quiet – we've got to look forward to in coalition Britain. The Royal Mail, in state hands since its inception in the 16th century, is lined up for sale in 2013-14. The government has also talked of privatising our road network. "Why is it that other infrastructure – for example water – is funded by private sector capital through privately owned, independently regulated utilities, but roads in Britain call on the public finances for funding?" asked David Cameron last March.

Why is the coalition so obsessed with privatisation? It's not as if the sell-off of our railways, our utilities and our infrastructure has been such a great success. We have by far and away the highest rail fares in Europe and spiralling gas, electricity and water charges. It's not as if privatisation is popular and a vote-winner either. The public, whether Tory, Labour or Lib Dem voters, have had enough of it. Polls show big majorities in favour of renationalisation of water and the railways.

Supporters of privatisation say it's a way of saving taxpayers money – but it is actually a drain on the public purse. Our privatised railways receive substantially more in subsidies than British Rail did. Then there's the massive costs involved in privatising a publicly owned enterprise: one study has calculated the cost of rail privatisation as "at least £5bn", and £39.5m alone was paid out in fees to banks.

The government also likes to claim that privatisation means better service, but again, our experience with privatised utilities and privatised trains shows that it simply isn't true. And are they seriously suggesting that a privately owned US company will provide a better search and rescue service than the one mainly carried out by the RAF and Royal Navy for the past 70 years?

By continuing with privatisation the government is showing us that it's more committed to putting the interests of capital – and its backers in the City of London – before the interests of the majority of the electorate. The sad truth is that in the coalition Britain of 2013, it's capital that calls all the shots – and so we get policies that capital wants, regardless of public opinion. That means a privatised Royal Mail, plans for a privatised road network, an NHS opened up to private companies, and a US company taking over search and rescue.

People who may have supported the privatisation of British Telecom 30-odd years ago, or even the sale of British Steel, would surely not have envisaged that privatisation would one day extend to our probation service, our police, our prisons and vital emergency services. In fact anyone predicting that the programme launched by Mrs Thatcher in 1979 would lead to us having a privately owned American company operating search and rescue would have been denounced as a far-left scaremonger.

The free-market thinktanks that urged the Conservatives to adopt radical privatisation policies in the 1970s will be delighted with the way things have turned out, but the rest of us can only reflect with great sadness on how the humane mixed economy model which worked so well for the vast majority of Britons from 1945 to 1979 has been destroyed by political extremists.


  1. ""the humane mixed economy model which worked so well for the vast majority of Britons from 1945 to 1979 has been destroyed by political extremists.""

    Has he ever heard of the Winter of Discontent?

    That "mixed-economy model" of corrupt fascist trade union bosses subverting democracy both within their own trade unions (who ere denied ballots) and within Parliament, which has held to ransom by these thugs?

    Even Maurice Glasman accepts the 1945 economic model was a disaster that disenfranchised people, and enfranchised the state.

    Give us all a break, will you.

  2. Yes, you really are that young.

    No serious person still believes in "the Winter of Discontent".

  3. Privatizing emergency services is a very bad idea. In the U.S., some private and quasi-private fire departments have allowed homes to burn as the owners did not pay their subscription fees, as if fire protection were a service like cable television. It is best to keep these sorts of services in State hands.

    Additionally, were the 1970s in Great Britain all that bad? From what I have read, the highest unemployment ever got in the 1970s was 5.7% in 1977. On the other hand, from 1981 to 1988 the unemployment rate was over 10%, with 1986 being the worst year at 14.8%. Unemployment was also generally higher in the 1990s than in the 1970s. The whole “Sick Man of Europe” story seems to be a myth.

  4. It didn't fool anyone at the time. The Conservatives only just scraped into office in 1979, and if there had been an even swing throughout the country, then Labour would have won.

  5. John.

    Things were so bad that the IMF had to be called in to run our economy, after Labour had finished with it.

    Even grave-diggers and bin-collectors joined the national lunacy of mass strikes.

    Who do you think you are kidding with your historical revisionism?

  6. It's not "revisionism" in the pejorative sense that you declare your abject ignorance by obviously intending. It's the accepted version of events among properly informed people.

    As soon as you make that claim about gravediggers, then you declare that you are hopelessly out of your depth, and have no idea what you are talking about.

    The IMF story is a great deal more complicated than you clearly imagine, too.

    If you do not already know these things, then you are not worth talking to on these matters.