Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Thatcherism is Alive and Well.

Let them eat cake!

In the midst of the scandal, which looks to swallow News International whole, David Cameron stated, what we all knew, that his government is dedicated to a radical transformation of the way public services are delivered. The stated aim on the tin is greater choice, less bureaucracy, improved services and equal access for rich and poor. The problem being that no one would oppose such things, which is just the point, no doubt this list was carefully constructed by a public relations team. The welfare state and public services are about to torn open to face the full brunt of the market, oh and the voluntary sector as Cameron would add to reassure us of the prospects of privatisation. The suggestion that opening up public services for privatisation is fine because there might be a bit of charity work, and volunteering going on as well, is ridiculous. Just as when the US Supreme Court decided to open the floodgates on campaign funding, a union might be able to contribute to Obama's campaign but it will mostly be corporations that actually flood the campaign with bales of cash.

The Prime Minister stressed that he wanted to put power in "people's hands" and to do so the "grip of state control" had to be loosened. These people are the raiders of the public good remember. This is no different than the Thatcherite rhetoric of popular capitalism which gave "power to the people" by selling off British Telecom for £3.7 billion, the first of a series of privatisations in the 1980s. Soon after the privatisation the workforce of British Telecom was subjected to a witch-hunt against trade unionists. We should also keep in mind when John Major took power after the fall of the Iron Lady in 1990. As Prime Minister John Major soon promised the British people "nothing less than a revolution in the way public services are delivered, it will be the most comprehensive quality initiative ever launched." The market reforms initiated under Major were intensified under Tony Blair and it was applied to almost every aspect of government and public services. We know just how well this turned out.

We're incapable of imagining a better world and instead resort to a business ontology, whereby everything can be better if it is handed over to the markets. The privatisation of British Rail in 1993 was made on the separation of track from train operation in the same way as the model of air transport, which is fundamentally different in terms of infrastructure and engineering. Richard Branson just gobbled down an £18 million dividend from Virgin Trains, which does quite well out of £8 billion of tax-payers' money spent to upgrade the West Coast Mainline. The support for the railways has fallen from £5.2 billion in 2008 and 2009 to £4.6 billion in 2010, whilst the contribution from the private sector is at £459 million and most of which is spent on stock. The state can either under-charge as the private providers pay huge dividends to the investors in the private sector or the private providor hemorrhages cash and the tax-payer has to bailout the franchise. British Rail has been turned into a gravy train and the standard of service has hardly been improved.

Remember the Conservative u-turn on NHS reform, well it turns out to be bollocks. The Tories have refused to scrap the reforms which will rip open the NHS to private competition for the sake of "efficiency" and all the other buzzwords. The so-called "u-turn" of the Coalition has retained the aspect of the reforms that stipulates any private company can be involved in the NHS so long as the firm is a "qualified" provider. So the unelected bureaucrats and unaccountable private companies can still take hold of the health budgets and provide the care. The talk of "choice" is to be feared most, free choice is always invoked but never explained in its most brutal expression: You can either live in a fancy house or under a bridge? What is missing here is the amount of money it involves to buy a nice house in this country? The costs which will be incurred by the NHS reforms are not going to be put forward in advance, this is particularly true of social costs, because no one would sign up to it if that were the case. Just as there will be no mention of the inconvenient truths around the cuts.

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