What would be on your list of things in Britain that have not been a "success"?
Privatised utilities? Privatised railways? Mark Hughes's time as manager of Queen's Park Rangers?
I'm sure that if you gave 100 people 100 seconds to come up with the answers, not one of them would nominate "Britain's nationalised roads" as unsuccessful.
But that's the astonishing claim made by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). The right-wing think tank is of the opinion that our publicly owned roads are "poor" and that the remedy is - yes, you've guessed it - to privatise them.
These neoliberal zealots are calling for the sell-off not just of Britain's motorways and A-roads but our entire road network, including the streets where we live.
"As long as the road network remains under state control, it is likely to continue to suffer from endemic congestion, misdirected investment and poor maintenance," the IEA claims in its new report Which Road Ahead- Government Or Market?.
"The long-term solution is to free the road system from government interference to remove the influence of special interests and allow entrepreneurs to allocate resources more efficiently," it argues.
Does that ring a few bells? It was exactly the kind of spiel that free-market think tanks were spouting in the lead-up to the privatisation of British Rail.
Back then we were told that "freeing the railway" from government interference would allow market forces to allocate resources "more efficiently," resulting in "more competition" and a better deal for consumers.
The result of privatisation was that we ended up with the most expensive ticket prices in Europe, if not the world, and the taxpayer having to cough up around five times more in subsidies to the privately owned rail operators than they did in the days of British Rail.
Despite the proposals to privatise Britain's railways being dismissed by moderate Conservatives like the late Sir Ian Gilmour as "crazy," the neoliberal zealots got their way and what started off as an idea floated by extremist think tanks became government policy.
Don't rule out that happening to road privatisation too. The government has yet to come out unequivocally in favour of wholesale privatisation, but it's already clear in which direction it would like to take us.
In September, Transport Minister Norman Baker predicted that road tax would be replaced by pay-as-you-go tolls. "Every government of every colour will get there, whatever parties say now, so I think we should actually face up to that now in a mature way as a society and address how we're going to deal with that," he stated.
In March, David Cameron announced that he was asking the Department for Transport and the Treasury to carry out a feasibility study of "new ownership and financing models" for the national roads system. "Why is it that other infrastructure - for example water - is funded by private-sector capital through privately owned, independently regulated utilities, but roads in Britain call on the public finances for funding?" the Prime Minister demanded. "We need to look urgently at the options for getting large-scale private investment into the national roads network - from sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and other investors."
The IEA report is not the first time that a plan has been put forward calling for road privatisation. In 2009 the multinational investment bank NM Rothschild, which handled the major privatisations of the Thatcher era, called for the government to sell off all the roads overseen by the Highways Agency.
And it's worth noting that one of the most enthusiastic reactions to their report came from Lib Dem Vince Cable, a man who would like us to believe that he's some of kind of 1960s pro-mixed economy progressive trapped in a right-wing government against his will.
"This is an attractive, positive idea which could release considerable resources to the public finances … The scale of it is vast - it makes rail privatisation look like small beer," The FT quoted Uncle Vince as saying of the NM Rothschild plan.
It seems that the bank hasn't given up on its plan. Earlier this year, an FT report citing government sources, claimed that NM Rothschild, which led the 1980s share sell-offs in British Gas and BP and in coal and electricity assets, has been "knocking at the door of the Treasury" in recent months to "offer advice on the transfer of public assets to the private sector."
As in the case of rail privatisation, those pushing for the sell-off of our roads need to rubbish the existing system. Britain's roads are "simply not up to scratch," says the IEA's Richard Wellings. Yet the reality is that we have among the safest roads in Europe, with only Sweden having a lower rate of fatalities.
"The British government spends millions of pounds of public money on propaganda which gives the impression that our roads are the worst in Europe," says the Association of British Drivers. But, of course, the government can't boast about how good our roads are - and the fact that they are fit for purpose - because it then wouldn't be able to make the case for privatising them.
While it's true that our city roads are among the most gridlocked in Europe, the solution to that is not to flog them to Richard Branson but to renationalise all public transport and reduce train and bus fares to the European average.
The neoliberals also claim that selling off our roads, or getting the funding for them from private-sector capital, is necessary as the state can't afford to invest in the road network at the present time.
This too is a red herring. "The odd thing about all this is that it has never been cheaper for the government to carry out infrastructure projects," according to the Guardian's economics leader writer Aditya Chakrabortty.
"Amid a global slump and a dearth of places to put their cash, investors are desperate to lend to safe bets yielding reliable returns. If Cameron wanted to take out a 30-year loan, he'd find markets would be willing to give it to him at just over 3 per cent - an absolute bargain."
Instead, of course, our pro-capital government continues to plump for expensive private finance deals, such as the £3.4 billion one to widen a stretch of the M25 and to float the idea for "new ownership models." In any case, "the cupboard is bare" argument is as phoney as a Denis MacShane invoice - we all know that if the US President got on the phone and told the Prime Minister that we were going to war with Syria or Iran, the billions needed for those operations would miraculously be found without any delay.
If the neoliberals do get their way and our roads are privatised the results will be disastrous. Travelling on motorways and A-roads will become a luxury, with tolls being continually hiked by the new private owners, and we plebs will be priced off them.
Don't believe the claim from the neoliberal think tanks that it will save us money. They said the same thing about railway privatisation and look how much that has cost us.
The only people who will benefit will be the new road owners and the fat cats in the City who I'm sure are already licking their lips at the riches in store for them if we allow our roads go the way of our railways.
If you appreciated this article then please consider donating to the Morning Star's Fighting Fund to ensure we can keep developing your paper.