NEIL CLARK assesses the insurgent parties’ policies on nationalisation – and offers a voting strategy to strike fear into every MP
IN the Morning Star last month I looked at what the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour and Ukip had to offer us in relation to public ownership. Or to be more accurate, what they didn’t have to offer us.
Another five years of the present coalition — or a Conservative majority government — will mean the end of the NHS and see the sell-off of the remaining assets in public ownership, including Britain’s main trunk roads.
So, if you do want to see Richard Branson or some other billionaire capitalist in charge of the M1, as well as rail routes, hospital services and the Met Office), our publicly owned woodlands flogged off to the highest bidder and our libraries either closed or run by US multinationals, then simply vote Conservative or Lib Dem.
Labour has edged away from the neoliberal policies of Tony Blair but while its support for a publicly owned rail operator is a step in the right direction, the party is still a long way away from the progressive stance it took on public ownership before Blair became leader in 1994.
Ukip, while stating that it would oppose the pro-privatisation TTIP, has made no pledges to renationalise anything — a stance which is surely at odds with their claim to be the “People’s Army.”
Well, that was the “Big Four” — but what of the others?
Here, there’s a lot more to get enthusiastic about. The Greens are doing well in the polls at the moment — and who’s to say its not at least partly connected with their stance on renationalising the railways, which chimes with the views of over 70 per cent of the electorate. The party pledges to “bring the railways back into public ownership and build new local lines and trams.”
On buses, the party policy is to “restore local government control over buses to improve provision and give them preferential road space.” On the NHS, the party is unequivocally opposed to privatisation.
So far so good, but on energy, while the Greens say “we need an energy generating democracy that brings the power back into the hands of communities, not boardrooms,” there is, as yet, no firm commitment to renationalise.
Last December energy spokesperson Archie Thomas appeared to reject the idea that renationalisation of energy was important.
“The real future for energy is not private or nationalised energy companies but low-carbon energy owned and managed by local communities. People need power over their own heat and power and not to be at the mercy of energy company cartels,” he said.
We can all agree on that, but is it realistic to believe that companies “managed by local communities” will be able to fulfil all our energy needs?
They may have a role, but surely large state-owned energy companies — benefiting from economies of scale and run for the public good and not private profit — are the best way we can reduce household bills?
Let’s hope the Greens have a rethink on this as their other policies on public ownership are excellent.
Now to Scotland. During the referendum debate, the SNP pledged that it would begin the process of renationalising Royal Mail if Scotland did vote for independence.
That would have been a positive move, but on the railways the SNP remains attached to the flawed neoliberal model.
In October, the SNP-led Scottish government awarded the 10-year £6 billion ScotRail franchise to Abellio, a subsidiary of the Dutch state-owned operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen.
Just how “nationalist,” or indeed how sensible, is that? As Peter Lazenby put it in this newspaper: “Nationalists who campaigned for an independent Scotland have decided that the country’s railway system should be state-owned and run, by another country.”
The move was attacked by two pro-independence parties which did support public ownership — the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party. Public ownership campaigners north of the border, take note.
In Wales, Plaid Cymru supports renationalisation of the railways. The party states: “We reiterate our call for the railway system to be brought back into public ownership. While we will pursue this objective, we will also pursue other socially useful options such as not-for-dividend or co-operative rail services, and greater devolution of rail infrastructure powers and responsibilities to Wales.”
Plaid Cymru has also come out in favour of a publicly owned Post Cymru postal service for Wales.
In 2013 it called for the “‘establishing of a publicly owned, not-for-dividend, arm’s length energy company where profits would be reinvested instead of going to private shareholders.” However in a discussion paper An Energy Policy for Wales, the party appeared to rule out wholesale nationalisation of the energy sector.
While citing with approval the example of Glas Cymru, the not-for-profit company which owns, runs and manages Dwr Cymru (Welsh Water), the document states: “It is clear that it would be impractical, even if it were desirable, to ‘nationalise’ existing assets.”
Britain’s socialist parties all have a strong commitment to public ownership, as you’d expect. Last November, George Galloway, the leader of Respect and MP for Bradford West, put down a parliamentary motion calling for the immediate freezing of energy prices and a programme to bring energy supply into public ownership.
Galloway has also called for re-nationalisation of the railways. The Communist Party, Left Unity, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition/Socialist Party and the Scottish Socialist Party are all in favour of high levels of public ownership.
We also must mention the National Health Action Party (NHA) set up by Dr Clive Peedell and which will be fielding candidates in several targeted seats in the 2015 election.
The party pledges to end the privatisation of NHS services, to scrap PFI and fight the TTIP trade deal “which makes NHS privatisation irreversible.”
The big question now is how do we use our votes in next May’s election to try to make sure that the new Parliament will deliver, at the very least, the renationalisation of our railways, energy — and in the case of England, water too — and that will halt the privatisation of the NHS and other public services?
Some would say that it’s an impossible dream given that the leading parties are not committed to any of these policies and the power that capital wields over our political system.
But the very fact that politics in Britain is so uncertain at present — and the result of next year’s election so hard to predict — provides us with a great opportunity.
The first thing to do is to find out who your parliamentary candidates are. Then email or write to them making it clear that the answers given to four key questions will determine whether or not you will vote for them. The questions are:
Do you support the renationalisation of Britain’s railways?
Do you support the renationalisation of our bus services?
Do you support renationalisation of the energy sector, and in the case of England, water too?
Do you support a publicly owned NHS and oppose all privatisation of health services and other public services?
Anyone who answers No to all four of these questions is a neoliberal who is not worthy of support. The ideal candidate is the one who answers Yes to all four.
Simply vote for the candidate with the highest number of Yes answers — if there’s more than one candidate who passes the public ownership test then check with their party’s manifesto to make sure that these commitments are official policy.
Opinion polls show large majorities in favour of renationalisation but, in order to make our vastly superior numbers count, we need to convince those standing for election that we’re going to cast our votes on the basis of this issue.
The best-case scenario next May would be for a hung Parliament, where smaller, pro-public ownership parties hold the balance of power, and notorious “progressive” supporters of privatisation, like Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg, lose their seats.
Our leading parties may want to talk about anything but public ownership but it’s our job between now and May to make sure that we quiz them and their representatives on it at every opportunity.
They know from opinion polls that we want public ownership, but what they also need to know before May is that we won’t vote for anyone who doesn’t support it.
n Neil Clark is director of the Campaign for Public Ownership @PublicOwnership.
n www.campaign4publicownership.blogspot.co.uk/ Twitter @NeilClark66