The NHS — the crowning achievement of the 1945-51 Labour government — is facing destruction as a result of the coalition’s reforms.
Public libraries are being closed — in July it was reported that 150 had been closed or handed over to “volunteers” in the last 12 months and that a further 225 were threatened.
State secondary education — and the pay and working conditions of teachers — are being undermined by the rapid spread of “free” schools and academies.
The Royal Mail is being fattened up ready for privatisation, with record rises in stamp prices. This will hit the poor and the elderly hardest, since they are less likely to use email.
And we all know how French transnational Atos has been commissioned to decide which disabled people qualify for benefits, causing, according to campaigner Roger Lewis, “huge damage and distress.”
For the neoliberals austerity is being used as an excuse to destroy the last vestiges of the progressive and humane post-war settlement.
Last week’s reshuffle was a clear signal from PM David Cameron that he intends to “finish the job” that Margaret Thatcher started in 1979.
New Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt — the man on texting terms with James Murdoch — co-authored a 2005 pamphlet saying: “Our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain.”
New Planning Minister Nick Boles — a former director of pro-privatisation think tank Policy Exchange — once declared that he wanted to scrap local government planning rules and unleash “chaotic” effects on local communities.
He has also called for pensioners to be means-tested on benefits such as free bus travel and prescriptions.
And new Minister for Children and Families David Laws is a former investment banker and co-editor of the pro-privatisation Liberal Democrat Orange Book.
Laws wrote this year: “The state’s direct role in the economy should continue to decline, with the transfer of such assets such as Royal Mail to the private sector and with further action to restrain public expenditure.”
With such men entrenched in power, how can we derail the neoliberal drive to destroy public services?
For one thing, we need to contrast the things the government is prepared to spend money on with things that it isn’t. It’s a good way to expose its true agenda.
A government that preaches austerity at home did find the money to bomb Libya last year, and still does to maintain our army’s presence in Afghanistan.
It recently pledged extra millions for the anti-government forces in Syria. And if the US president got on the phone and asked us to help attack Iran, does anyone doubt that the money would mysteriously be found?
But while there’s always money for killing people in countries where the government doesn’t do the West’s bidding the NHS, which saves lives, is facing £20 billion in cuts.
It’s also worth exposing the hypocrisy of the individuals in the elite, who call for a “smaller state” and cuts in services for ordinary people but are happy to scrounge off the state when it suits them, despite their wealth and high
salaries. The three ministers mentioned above are good examples.
Boles has claimed £678.80 from the taxpayer for private Hebrew lessons to help him communicate better with his Israeli partner.
When challenged about getting the public to pay for something for his own private benefit, Boles said: “It’s something I’m entitled to do. I’ve done it and that’s that.”
He may have been trying to emulate Hunt, who has claimed over £3,000 to learn Mandarin after marrying a Chinese woman.
As for Laws — I can do no better than to quote John Pilger’s verdict.
“Imagine someone on state benefits caught claiming £40,000 of taxpayers’ money in a second-home scam.
“A prison sentence would almost certainly follow. David Laws, [then] chief secretary to the Treasury, does the same and is described by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as follows: ‘I have always admired his intelligence, his sense of public duty and his personal integrity’.”
Laws doesn’t get put on trial because he has a “brilliant mind” and is one of the ruling elite. He went to Cambridge, worked in the City and supports privatisation.
So despite taking £40,000 from the public purse and being condemned by the parliamentary standards and privilege committee for “a series of serious breaches of the rules over a considerable time,” this extremely wealthy man is back in government as if nothing has happened.
So exposing double standards is of crucial importance. But, as Francis Prideaux has argued in this newspaper, we must also push for renationalisation at both the TUC Congress and the Labour Party conference.
There can be no long-term economic recovery, no repair of our damaged social fabric and no narrowing of the gap between rich and poor without public ownership.
Increased public spending without public ownership might give the economy a short-term boost but it would do nothing to solve its underlying structural problems — or the fact that since 1979 it has been geared to the needs of the 1 per cent alone.
A renationalised railway network could lead to a new golden age of the train. Public money would go on reopening stations closed since the Beeching axe, providing new trains and carriages and creating thousands of jobs, instead of going as at present to the wealthy shareholders and the owners of the privateer train operators.
A renationalised bus industry and a nationwide reduction of fares to the European average would reverse the dramatic fall in bus use since privatisation in the 1980s and help ease congestion on the roads.
Renationalisation of energy and gas would mean lower bills for consumers and small businesses, making a big difference to the budgets of households and firms.
A renationalised water industry in England would lead to lower bills — and would also enable the construction of a much-needed national water grid to transport water from wetter to drier areas.
There are so many exciting, positive things which could be achieved with public ownership. It’s heartbreaking to think of the waste of resources we currently have to put up with.
The first big challenge is to get Labour to sign up to the renationalisation programme.
Renationalising the railways is already conference policy but up to now the leadership have ignored it.
The party seemed to edge in the right direction earlier this summer when it said nothing would be ruled out in its policy review — but the pro-privatisation Blairites are still strong — shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle appeared to rule out any return to British Rail in a recent interview with Progress.
If the Labour hierarchy doesn’t change tack and listen to its own conference, the Labour Representation Committee and the majority of the British public we will end by having to vote for parties that do support renationalisation.
For all the fancy talk of a “new politics” or “a capitalism that works for the people” a Labour government with no commitment to public ownership would only continue Britain’s neoliberal nightmare.
Neil Clark is co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership. Find out more at www.campaign4publicownership.blogspot.com or follow him on Twitter@NeilClark66.
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