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Blairites still don’t understand public ownership

railwaysSo the latest Blairite plan to derail the Jeremy Corbyn steamroller is to try to label him as rewriting Clause IV when it is perfectly clear that what he is really trying to do, rightly, is to re-start the debate about public ownership which is now so badly needed. Thatcher’s dominant ideology was ‘let the markets run the whole show and the State get out of the way’. That was the route to the efficient allocation of capital underpinning a strong economy, offering big rewards for innovators and entrepreneurs and a trickle-down of prosperity for all. Blair if anything took it even further with privatisation of public services and regulation-lite hands-off the City of London. So was it a phenomenal success? Unrestrained free-market capitalism led directly to the biggest financial crash for a century, the banks massively abused the power of de-regulation as we keep seeing day after day in the papers, and the privatisation of energy, water, rail and the Royal Mail have even Tories demanding the restoration of public ownership. And even that’s without the scandals of behemoths like G4S, Serco, A4E, Atos, and Capita.

With the dominance of corporate power has come unrestrained market greed and a collapse of accountability. Private markets have proved a bonanza for shareholder dividends and executive bonuses, but a millstone round the neck of (to use the uncomfortable cliche’) ‘hard-working families’. The housing market has reduced owner occupation by 12% over the last decade and has made home ownership a no-go area for millions of young couples. The energy cartel has exploited its pricing power ruthlessly till Ed Miliband threatened to impose a price freeze and to restructure the industry. The pensions market abounds in steep hidden charges which enrich the City of London and impoverish millions of public sector workers who are reduced in retirement to penury. The fragmentation of rail in the precipitate and ill-thought-through privatisation of 1996 has been seen as a costly mistake even by most Tories.  And part-privatisation of both health and education is rejected by a majority of the electorate.

Corbyn’s opponents bluster against public ownership as a ‘throwback to the past’. But in truth what they’re advocating is a throwback to the private market heyday economics of the 1920-30s – and where did that lead to? The real point has nothing to do with purity or ideological dogma: it’s about what works best, and the record of private markets in the last 30 years of the Thatcher-Blair imperium has not exactly excelled itself. Moreover the record does not, or at least should not, turn on money-making and profit, but rather on quality of output, service to the customer, and benefit to the wider community. We badly need a public debate on how public and private markets perform under those criteria as well as efficiency, and how sometimes co-operation serves the public better than mutually destructive competitiveness.

3 Comments

  1. Bazza says:

    Interesting – and what part of England etc. do the British people actually own?
    Perhaps a home and a garden at the back is their little piece of England etc.
    But I am always impressed with Foucault, and the idea that words are powerful.
    So when I hear ‘Nationalisation’ I think: top down, distant, same bosses in control, and workers and communities having no say.
    But yes I am for more democratic public ownership and the opposite- staff electing qualified boards, communities having a say, and organised regionally and as close to people as possible.
    But we don’t need to own everything, but we also need our brothers and sisters in democratic socialist parties in every country in the World to be campaigning for the same.
    I would definitely bring mail and rail back into democratic public ownership on these lines but these could be required to just break even.
    We should also have some banks in public ownership and make sure they offer investment loans regionally to small businesses and coops.
    We should also have the public utilities in democratic public ownership but could have a different model – they could pay a community dividend (like the old Coop Divi) which people could take as money or offset against bills (which could also help to address fuel poverty). People may then feel that they are theirs, and they may then be nailed down if Right Wing carpetbaggers tried to come for them.
    I would also like some airlines in democratic public ownership with less seats on board meaning more comfort fo passengers and creches in the sky!
    And the pharmaceutical industry – free or cheap drugs, saving the NHS billions, and to stop robbing people with serious conditions of a few extra years of life – because of the market.
    And free public transport run by democratic Local Authorities – and just why do we subsidise employers by paying to go to work? This could help the transport poor, attract people out of cars to help the environment, would be more efficient and mean quicker journeys – no faffing with tickets/passses, could mean safer & quieter roads plus a better quality of air, and this could also encourage more people to cycle. We could have couriers on board fo passenger safety and to help passengers (they could also sell services) and some flowers on board in small hanging baskets would be lovely.
    So we are talking about dynamic public ownership in key sectors.
    With imagination these publicly owned democratic and dynamic social enterprises could have a lot going for them to benefit all of us.
    Just food for thought.

    1. swatantra says:

      Bazza is right, Maybe State Nationialisation is not suitable in this day and age for some Industries. But for essential services like Rail Energy and Water it is necessary. For Food and Groceries it isn’t. But We need more mutualisation in services not privatisation with some community involvement like in care homes or wind farms and green industries.

      1. John P Reid says:

        co-op, they’ve just put Hazel Blears on the board, are you part of the greater London Swat, I know Thuurrock people be,

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