Thursday, June 04, 2009
Which for Real Democracy?
This article of mine, on how we can best cast our votes for public ownership in today's Euro elections, appears in the Morning Star. It's also cross-posted on the Campaign for Public Ownership website.
If you're a U.K. voter and support public ownership, please spend a couple of minutes reading it before going out to vote!
"The people of Britain are what is called a democracy," said Moung Ka.
"A democracy?" questioned Moung Thwa. "What is that?"
"A democracy," broke in Moung Shoogalay eagerly, "is a community that governs itself according to its own wishes and interests by electing accredited representatives who enact its laws and supervise and control their administration.
"Its aim and object is government of the community in the interests of the community."
"Then," said Moung Thwa, turning to his neighbour, "if the people of Britain are a democracy-"
"I never said they were a democracy," interrupted Moung Ka placidly.
"Surely we both heard you!" exclaimed Moung Thwa.
"Not correctly," said Moung Ka, "I said they are what is called a democracy."
From The Comments Of Moung Ka in The Square Egg by Saki.
After the revelations of the last few weeks there can be few people in Britain who would take issue with the cynical view of British "democracy" expressed by the great Edwardian comic writer Saki.
But it's not just the MPs' expenses scandal which damns our present system of government. It's the way the leading parties ignore public opinion on the most important issues of the day.
Take public ownership. Despite opinion polls showing a clear majority in favour of renationalising the railways, not one of our leading parties even considers the measure.
The neoliberal, pro-privatisation model has never been so unpopular, yet here we have an election where the four leading parties, according to opinion polls, can only offer more of the same.
Labour offers little for supporters of public ownership - the Labour government, despite Britain's disastrous experience of privatised railways, has been pushing for other European countries to "liberalise" their excellent domestic rail services.
The prospect of Virgin Trains, First Great Western and Arriva being allowed to run services in countries like Belgium is too depressing for words, but if Labour has its way, it could be happening a few years down the line.
In their Euro manifesto, the staunchly neoliberal Conservatives boast of being "strong defenders of the single market" and say that their aim is "working to open up new markets."
At the top of the party's list in the South East region in the poll, is MEP Daniel Hannan, an enthusiastic privateer.
In a recent appearance on Fox News in the US, Hannan claimed the NHS was a 60-year "mistake," which made people "iller" and he urged US viewers not to support plans for socialised health care.
The Liberal Democrats are singing from the same pro-competition hymn sheet. While the party did call for the renationalisation of Britain's railways in its 2005 manifesto, it has embraced a more "free-market" approach since the elevation to leadership of the Blairite banker's son Nick Clegg.
The policy to renationalise the railways has been dropped. Instead, all the talk is about opening markets and increasing "competition."
In its European elections manifesto, the party promises that "Liberal Democrat MEPs will continue our campaign to extend the single market in the areas of energy, financial services and transport to so that British firms can provide services across the EU."
So if you do want to see Stagecoach buses on the streets of Belgium, the "progressive" Lib Dems will be trying to make it happen.
Then there's UKIP, which if opinion polls are correct, could do very well in the poll.
UKIP claims to be a "moderate democratic party." But there's nothing moderate about its economic policies.
UKIP says that although it will maintain the "free at point of care" principle, it will "radically reform the working of the NHS."
On rail, it says that it will "make customer satisfaction number one for rail firms," but there's no talk of returning the railway to public ownership.
Tim Worstall, fourth on the party's list in the London region, is a fellow of the extreme neoliberal Adam Smith Institute, whose model of railway privatisation was adopted by the Major government in the mid 1990s. Worstall considers rail privatisation to have been "rather a success actually."
It's clear that the four parties currently leading the opinion polls offer nothing for supporters of public ownership.
So what about the other parties?
The Greens, to their credit, promise to spend £2 billion on a railway system "brought back into public ownership" and to reduce Britain's sky-high rail fares to the "European average."
Leading Green candidates, such as my fellow Morning Star columnist Derek Wall who is third on the party's list in the South East region, are strong supporters of public ownership.
It's disappointing though that the party's European manifesto does not pledge to renationalise bus transport as well - or bring back energy and utility companies into public ownership.
On the threats to Europe's state-owned health-care systems, the Green manifesto says that the party will "support moves for a framework to limiting market penetration into public services."
Limiting "market penetration" is clearly better than allowing it to run wild, but why not work to stop all market penetration into public services?
The Christian Party/Christian Peoples Alliance pledges that "multinational companies will be compelled to act in a transparent and accountable manner," but there is no mention of nationalisation in its programme.
The BNP opposes the privatisation of the Post Office and other "public services" including the NHS. It also supports renationalisation of the railways and the public utilities. But the party's racialist stance in other areas precludes it from being a party that progressives could consider supporting.
There are though two non-racialist parties standing in the Euro elections which are strong supporters of public ownership and unequivocal opponents of privatisation.
In its election campaign, No2EU - Yes to Democracy has drawn attention to the recent extension of European internal market rules to cover health care, which are designed to pave the way for private companies to take over state health-care systems, such as the NHS. No2EU leader Bob Crow, whose RMT union has consistently campaigned for the renationalisation of Britain's transport network and which has fought alongside fellow unions in Europe to fight privatisation, says that anyone who believes in "the NHS and public services should be voting No2EU."
The Socialist Labour Party, which, like No2EU, is fighting every seat in the elections, is also fervently committed to public ownership. The party invited me, in my capacity as co-founder of the Campaign for Public Ownership, to speak at the launch of its Euro elections campaign at the Hay Festival.
The SLP, which favours Britain's complete withdrawal from the EU, calls for the renationalisation of all industries and services privatised in the last 30 years.
Supporters of public ownership should use their vote in the election wisely to make sure it goes to parties opposed to the neoliberal privatisation agenda in Britain and the rest of Europe.
The prospect of Britain sending more enthusiastic privateers to Brussels at a time when the neoliberal model has never been more discredited would make a mockery of the idea that Britain is a democracy. Saki would regard such an outcome with a wry smile - as proof that he was right all along.