Politics Magazine

A Glorious Day of Privatisation

Posted on the 27 March 2013 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

Yesterday, the Government released a flurry of announcements before Parliament’s Easter recess. The UK Border Agency is to be split into two equally useless organisations under the control of the Home Secretary. Changes to welfare entitlements for immigrants are to be enacted. East Coast, the state-owned rail franchise, is to be sold off in 2015. Oh, and the air rescue service will be outsourced to a Texan firm for the next 70 years- but no, apparently this isn’t privatisation. I’m a bit puzzled as to what newspeak term we are supposed to use to describe the triumph of market forces over the public interest, and also logic.

The Conservative Party is addicted to the marketisation of any service, industry, and role possible. The Thatcher government replaced state monopoly services (such as utilities) with private monopolies which shamelessly inflated profit margins. Advertising has been allowed to proliferate, and outsourcing has lowered standards throughout the country. Where competition can exist, it is often a good idea to introduce private competition. But the problem comes where natural monopolies are converted into profit-driven entities. These institutions have no interest in public service, merely obtaining the most funds for the minimum expenditure. We’ve seen the problems this causes, and the public recognize that the public service ethic is of value. And as it happens, the majority of the public would prefer a return of British Rail to the highly inefficient little monopolies which are in place in our railway system.

It would make a pleasant change if our political leaders accepted that there are some areas in which there is no place for profit. Emergency services are topical examples. Other than the endless practical flaws created by privatisation, there is the question: is it right that shareholders should profit from others’ personal tragedies?

I make no apology for asking this question. Many would respond: “the profit aspect doesn’t harm those being rescued”. That argument is true. However, there is a parallel with handling stolen goods: just because the rightful owner has already replaced the item, it doesn’t mean that others should benefit from their loss. True, the thief in this metaphor is nothing more than circumstance, but there is a similar redistribution of suffering and benefit. It’s simple- there are some things it is wrong to profit from. I doubt that evangelical Conservatives would see it that way. They see education, healthcare, and to a degree law enforcement, and even defence as commodities, not collective rights.

I sound somewhat more radical than I intend to. I’m not saying that capitalism is evil, or that nationalisation is the solution to poor performance in every part of the economy. A system will function according to the behaviours and actions it rewards. That is why a mixed economy with strong public and co-operative sectors is the model we should aspire to. The markets serve a valuable purpose, but they needn’t dominate every service and industry.

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