David Cameron’s Big Society is really another big sell-off.

We need a  more mutual society, not a big one

In July 2010, The Slog took Andrew Lansley’s NHS proposals apart, adding that they only made sense as a form of creeping privatisation. Today, David Cameron writes in the Daily Telegraph, pretty much confirming that this is what’s going on.

The key phrase in Cameron’s piece is ‘….introduce competition in some public services – as we are now doing with schools and in the NHS – the state will have to justify why it should ever operate a monopoly…’

So choice and diversity (the old bollocks still appearing in every other paragraph) and competition are now morphing into breaking the monopoly.

This is how and why giving GPs a ridiculous 85% of the NHS budget will work: because the hospitals will be sold off to the private sector. ‘Patients will have the choice of which hospital they get treated in’ the Prime Minister writes. In our health authority, they do already; but setting that aside, beyond a preference for Exeter over Glasgow if you live in Dorchester, the ‘choice’ is meaningless.

When private business enters former State sectors, choice is always heralded, but rarely delivered. The rail services offer a choice of ripoff inefficiency, there’s a choice of five banks by whom you can get screwed, and although you can buy gas and electricity from whomever you wish, both users and shareholders have lost out relatively compared to the fat cats at the top. Privatising a life-supplying substance like water was and remains utterly mad: they’ve all shirked the infrastructural repair tasks, all put our bills up, and all taken home obscene bonuses.

Selling council houses to working class people created a generation locked in negative equity, and about to plunge into that region again. Selling hospitals to private operators (no doubt for a song) will indeed cut bureaucratic costs and devolve decision-making more sensitively. But there will be no central strategy, no centres of excellence, and absolutely no guarantee that patients will have more choice than they have now.

Does this make me Old Labour to the core? Emphatically not. The NHS is funded, organised and staffed according to the crazy ideas and self-seeking needs of civil servants: it should’ve been broken up years ago, rather than indulging in lachrymose drivel about ‘our NHS in the best of health’. It is a money-pit as currently configured.

My problem with the Lansley-Cameron plan is that as well as being devious, it is back yet again to the old Tory mantra: a free market profit motive generating cloices for the customer. This simply hasn’t materialised, but massively increased costs to the customer have. So it will be if these plans go through.

When I talk about a mixed economy, I mean an economy of mixed motives. In a great many areas, the profit motive alone is a recipe for disaster. It always was – but in the context of our contemporary culture of greed, cheating and feckless customer service, it is guaranteed to produce a double-disaster.

I too would take ownership of ALL services away from the State – and give it to mutual societies: genuine public ownership bringing dividends to the members, but without the mandarins who lack any commercial perspective. It worked with building societies until they all went mad (the Nationwide, which didn’t, has not cost the taxpayer a penny), it works with JLP, it works for the Coop Bank and supermarkets.

There is an alternative, if only people would think and analyse for a minute or two. But that’s never going to come from either Conservative or Labour Ministers, because they remain wedded to their arcane and antiquated ideas about how the world goes round. And as we’ve seen with the LibDems, they’ll do whatever keeps them in power.

We need a smaller State in order to live within our means – means so wilfully squandered by the current political Establishment and its investment banker allies. We need a smaller State to break dependency, and return personal responsibility to the People. But we urgently need a bigger economy in order to help repay our debts.

Handing everything over to a straightforward profit-and-shareholders model of capitalism is nothing short of a dereliction of duty to the community at large. Using mutual models for key services and small businesses will deliver both service and growth far more quickly than over-lent banks and neurotic bourses.

The bottom line in these reforms, as always, is that absolutely everything has been taken into account – except what the ordinary users and taxpayers want. Over and over Lansley boasts of how many GPs he has spoken to: but his ideas display the BMA agenda virtually intact, rather than the needs of a changing population.

And this disconnect between the elite and the rest of us – be those elites spongers, bankers, boozers, politicians, media types or Islamists – is why radicalism is the only course for those of us aiming for fundamental rather than superficial change.

The fundementals remain:

Change the Party system, vote for AV (it’s better than nothing), seek out new ideas, control the privileged minorities, break up the banks, diversify away from bourse-driven globalism, devolve more power to communities, give responsibility back to individuals, give education higher standards and cultural goals, fire half the Civil Service, reintroduce a thriving Mutual sector….and hand the benefits back to the Citizens.

And one concluding note: ‘everything designed to be more efficient’ in Cameron’s Big Society does not include either the Judiciary or the Security Services. No – the right to keep watch over us and bang us up for 40 days without trial is to remain firmly within the State’s sweaty grasp.

Surely not?

23 thoughts on “David Cameron’s Big Society is really another big sell-off.

  1. Hoorah! Yes! Vote for AV and the mutual society. Absolutely bang on. Even though AV is crap. It is NOT proportional nor anything like it. But it IS better than first-past-the-post. I would add that AV could be significantly improved if EVERY ballot paper had at the bottom “NONE of the above”.
    Once we can get some sort of REAL middle ground politics rather than a two-party system flopping between ideological extremes, we can start to get to what actually will work – a truly mixed economy based on, as you say, “mutual societies”.
    Right behind you John. What are we going to call this reformist party? The Mutual Society? Not please the Co-op or even the Progressives.


  2. Maybe we need people to take to the streets to demand a return to true democracy and overturn the dictators who run our country. Except it’s harder to spot them here.


  3. The innovation of free schools, not controlled by the local education authority,but still financed by the taxpayer,is the dry run for health.Profits is not the point:the question is the benefit to the people of Dorchester of the existence and cost of huge Whitehall departments of health, education,etc.Not much.Anything is better than Brown’s topdown central control.


  4. The ruling class will never give up their power. They control everything including the voting system. The powers they have taken will not be relinquished without a long hard struggle. They control the police and the justice system. ASBO’s and stupid terrorist laws along with RIPA have neutered the majority of ordinary people.
    I hate to say it but were f**ked.


  5. Seems to me there are certain things which should be under state control as they have such a degree of importance to the heath of a nation, economically and socially, as to be fundamentally necessary to its well-being and independence. That’s not uber-leftish it’s just a sensible state of affairs for any democratically run country. How those ‘industries’ are run is quite another question and one which was used to publicly justify the whole daft privatisation issue. Why can’t a state run enterprise produce profits, which are used to build infrastructure within the system, why is that the providence of the private sector?
    The whole system is out of kilter, time to tear the rule books up and start again, it’s called periodically stress testing your business model!


  6. Wow John! After reading this piece I feel we have a complete meeting of minds.

    The British financial services sector is not and never has been involved in long-term strategic finance unlike, for example Germany. It is only interested in short-term high yield investments, which is not what is required by the UK at this moment in history.

    Public utilities are acknowledged as being inefficient when run by the state but handing them to the form of shareholder capitalism, as has been done with most of our public utilities, solves one problem with a solution that is worse than the original malady. With shareholding maybe lasting only hours the only motivation for owning them is profit and thus share price. This is a vehicle that is even worse than state ownership.

    The trouble with the British system is its lack of true democratic institutions. Once a party has been voted into power it has a mandate to do whatever it wants. It can experiment with the most extreme political philosophies with complete impunity. There are no, or few, checks and balances in our system. The result is that each time there is a party change in Westminster the political and fiscal direction swings from one extreme to another. The damage done by this phenomenon is huge. Again drawing parallels with Germany, who have a written and fiercely defended constitution, set up to further the interest of the whole society, normal citizens can take the government to court, and do frequently, if the government tries to do anything that is patently not in the interest of the citizenry.

    Again looking at the German model, they seem to be able to create public owned entities that are run independent from government. An example that springs to mind is Munich Airport. This is incorporated in a limited liability company (GmbH)with the city of Munich and the state of Bavaria being the major shareholders. It is a not-for-profit company but in reality these state owned companies do contribute fiscally.

    Maybe it is a cultural issue and this system won’t work in the UK but you are correct John, mutual companies do have a record of functioning exceptionally well here and if our political classes took an ideological breath they too may see the logic in setting up a framework that encourages the form.

    As you intimated though, history unfortunately teaches us that the vested interests in both Tory and Labour camps will undoubtably not facilitate this. As long as the people get the food they require and the distraction of banal entertainment and sport they are not going to demonstrate not allow revolt. I am a pessimist, I think Britain will continue its slow decline and we will be yet another “peripheral” country in Europe and the world.


  7. I don’t believe that any ‘public service’ (or much else come to that) benefits from being run by the State. The evidence has been all around us for many years that anything run by the State becomes arrogant, top-down and overstaffed with (at best) a “take it or leave it” attitude.
    And the State often introduces other agendas when it’s running any enterprise (especially when Labour are in office), and the mission of the enterprise becomes diluted and often washed away altogether to the detriment of its users/clients who pay the salaries of those employed by it.

    I believe one good way is to privatise all of these services but – as I have long said – NOT using the standard limited company law. A special model should have been introduced by Thatcher along the lines of “Public Service Company Ltd” which would have contained some significant legal and obligatory differences in favour of customers.
    She didn’t do that but it’s never too late!

    One other thing which we seem to have got very wrong is the role of “Regulator” over these privatised industries. ISTM their roles are flawed because they regularly fail to speak up for the customers and have had little effect on reigning in the greed of BT and the energy companies etc.

    Underlying all of this appears to be a British inability to operate successfully in a genuine free and competitive marketplace in the best interests of customers and society. Their standard MO is to monopolise their market sector, operate cartels and develop products/services to screw and deceive customers to make a quick buck.

    I’m as much against the abuse of marketplace power by corporates as I am against anything being run by the State. As you regularly point out, there is an alterantive.


  8. BT,

    The evidence has been all around us for many years that anything run by the State becomes arrogant, top-down and overstaffed with (at best) a “take it or leave it” attitude.

    The evidence has been all around us for many years that anything run by the private sector becomes arrogant, top-down and understaffed with (at best) a “take a large pay-off for incompetence and leave” attitude.

    I think the sea change in attitudes and working practices (basically similar) needed either side of this argument only goes to show it needs a fundamental shift in the goals we set for society. It’s not the delivery system as much as the destination and how we want to get there.


  9. Having had recent exposure to the state system from both inside and out, I would say that there are good, hard working people in our public service. However, ‘managerialism’ has taken the lead and it really seems that the efforts of many of our state middle managers are devoted to excessive top-down control, monitoring political correctness and endless check-box ticking. This will drive the decent people out and leave only the dross, and the latter in the public service are worse than elsewhere, there being no incentive and little means to remove them except in extreme cases. You virtually have to beat up a colleague to be thrown out – personal performance is no reason for ejection.


  10. Indeed, there are good and bad people in every public service and private industry.

    The recent exposure of poor care of the elderly in some NHS hospitals didn’t surprise me one jot. Seven years ago I had to move my own mother to a private nursing home to spend the final six weeks of her life, due to appalling standards of cleanliness and care in the NHS hospital she was in. That had little to do with cash shortage, simply staff not doing the job they’re paid to do. No sanctions were taken against them.

    Perhaps a top-down micro-management style encourages negative cultures to develop in State run public services.


  11. “The evidence has been all around us for many years that anything run by the private sector becomes arrogant, top-down and understaffed with (at best) a “take a large pay-off for incompetence and leave” attitude.”

    True, what are we to do, Mac?
    Exercise our right to choose and go elsewhere?


  12. Bankrupt Taxpayer what rubbish.State run enterprises run very well and give enormous value to the taxpayer by keeping costs low by being frugal with expenses ,including top management. keeping plant costs down,and providing good service,and you do not have to pay greedy shareholders,who given the right deal,will sell their own grandmother,just as EDF have just done.If you mean let other countries own and run all our utilities our infrastructure and rip us off then your spot on,thats exactly what their doing and we are powerless to stop them.I pay £36 per month for water thats what you get by going private.May i just point out that the NHS is not run by the NHS but by the Minisry of Health who are run by Civil Servants who run themselves with the help of the Elite.When the GPO ran letters parcels post offices telephones telex international radio and espionage with the help of 5 it was efficient cheap and the envy of the world.Now look at it,a complete shambles.When the other utilities were owned by ,us we had control, but you cannot control the French or the Germans who now own us.Privatisation does not work except for the shareholders and certainly not for the public interests.


  13. BT,
    I think the best thing we can do at the moment is to stimulate the debate to provide a fertile ground where new ideas and ways of doing this stuff comes out. As I said I think there are pretty huge flaws in either side of the argument at the minute but starting off from entrenched positions just makes the necessary change so much harder.


  14. ‘Tis the same old song.
    I fell over in the mud when walking my dog and hurt my hip. Result – have learnt never ever to ring my surgery for an appointment- Doc always rings back to assess the urgency- three days pass before you can actually get an appointment!

    Xmas was a night mare – very ill with flu and doc said take paracetamol, ended up on antibiotics for near pneumonia.
    Back to hip, dearly beloved took me to A+E – which was full of children with injuries to arms wrists legs etc– GARDEN TRAMPOLINES!

    Hip – waited 3 hours- okay by me, other adults who needed to be seen also commented on difficulties getting appointments to see GPs , and the rigmarole involved. Something badly wrong there.

    My hip is bruised thankfully, and very grateful to A+E staff for their kindness.

    Today am going to struggle like mad helping out at National blood service donor session, I hear Lansley wants to tamper with that too. Funny situation really – ptivatising something that good hearted give away for free- BLOOD!

    I say that the Tories are a bit ‘Harpic’- clean round the bend!


  15. Couple of things:

    1) ‘State run enterprises run very well’ – You are talking about the UK right?

    2) This is a bit pernickety but there is a space AFTER punctuation and if you want to be taken even remotely seriously in life basic grammar is a must. Your spelling is a bit laxidasical as well and given that this is a reasonably serious blog, not a forum, please take 30 secs to spell check it or write it in your email client and get that to check it.


  16. i agree none of the above is needed but they fear not being elected as most would say of politicians no thank you



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