This article of mine appears in today's Morning Star
First, a question. Who said:
"Look at the various parts of the national infrastructure that have been privatised, and practically all of them have gone downhill: buses, trains, water, power".
(a) Arthur Scargill
(b) Tony Benn
(c) Sir Terence Conran, the businessman and designer.
The answer is c. (though I’m sure (a) and (b) would agree too)
The attack by a wealthy businessman like Sir Terence Conran on privatisation shows just how unpopular the process which began in Britain almost thirty years ago has become.
Even previous cheerleaders for New Labour are reconsidering their positions on privatisation and public ownership in light of recent events. Here’s Will Hutton, writing in the Observer.
“Even 12 months ago nationalisation seemed a quaint notion from yesteryear - as remote from today's concerns as big band music, ration coupons and nylons. Nobody who wanted to be taken seriously by mainstream opinion could ever champion the self-evidently economically wasteful and amoral act of nationalisation. But a credit crisis that has forced the reluctant nationalisation of one bank in Britain, Northern Rock, and the socialisation of some £15bn of loans of another in America, Bear Stearns, is forcing mainstream opinion to think the unthinkable."
Well, Will, some of us have never dropped our belief in nationalisation, however 'unfashionable' holding such a belief became in the Thatcherite/New Labour "privately owned good, publicly owned, bad" era. As the disastrous consequences of privatisation become more and more apparent- be it our rip-off utility bills, our incredibly expensive and unreliable privately-owned public transport system or the fiasco at Terminal 5, it is however good to see 'mainstream' commentators like Hutton now calling for public ownership to be put back on the agenda. And it is to put public ownership back on the agenda that I have co-founded a new pressure group, The Campaign For Public Ownership.
The CPO is a cross-party organisation which aims to harness the enormous public dissatisfaction with privatisation and will campaign for a reversal of the disastrous policies of the last thirty years. The Campaign will expose the cost to the public of privatisation, and highlight the inefficiencies and profiteering of the privatised companies. We will also be urging that the British government does not give a penny of taxpayers money to a privately owned company without the public receiving equity in that company.
The Campaign will seek to counter the negative propaganda about public ownership put about by those with a vested financial interest in privatisation such as the many ‘free-market’- thinks tanks which are bankrolled by big business.
Although the main focus of our activities will be the halting and reversal of privatisation in Britain, we hope to work with like-minded groups in other countries, who are fighting against privatisation. We will also challenge the pro-privatisation policies being imposed by unelected, undemocratic bodies such as the European Commission, the World Bank and the IMF.
Such a pro-public ownership campaign, is I believe, urgently required. Although public dissatisfaction with privatisation is at an all time high (even a majority of Tory supporters favour re-nationalisation of the railways), Britain’s leading political parties still hold to the ludicrous fiction that privatisation has been a "success".
For instance, despite the overwhelming public support for renationalising the railways, none of Britain’s leading three parties currently advocates such a measure. Even the Liberal Democrats, who fought the last election on a promise to renationalise the railways, have since dropped that commitment, with their new Blairite leader calling for the role of the state to be rolled back still further.
The British government, wedded to neoliberal dogma, may have been forced to
nationalise Northern Rock, but still plans to privatise the successful state-owned bookmaker The Tote, established by that rabid left-winger, Winston Churchill in the 1920s. Moreover, our New Labour government is pressuring other European countries to follow Britain‘s disastrous pro-privatisation path. In 2007 Britain supported a European Commission proposal for EU member states to ‘open up’ their domestic railway systems to allow foreign firms to enter the market. It beggars belief that Britain, which has the most expensive and most user-unfriendly railway system in the continent, is trying to get other European countries, which still have excellent publicly owned, integrated public transport systems, to follow our example.
It’s time to end this madness and to make our elected representatives put the needs of the long-suffering British public- and not the banks and wealthy shareholders, first.
The Campaign for Public Ownership aims to do just that.