But who would not agree with the following: more choice; less bureaucracy; more local decision-making; efficient public services? Unfortunately the way the Con-Dems seek to bring about this “revolution” is by selling the country to the lowest bidder. This can be seen in the two key policy areas announced so far – schools and the NHS.
The schools policies led by Michael Gove are a classic example of local empowerment being used as a mask for big business profiteering. The offensive began with the usual removal of bureaucracy and local decision-making mantra. In this case the local is to be devolved so far that parents will be allowed to set up and run schools themselves. What began under the New Labour academies program to help failing schools (a policy so flawed I don’t have space to go into now) is to be extended so that every school, with a particular focus on the best achieving, will be “freed” from local government control.
At the same time as schools are to be turned into micro-businesses, run by educational companies bought in by pushy parents, the Building Schools for the Future program is also abolished. So not only are schools taken away from democratically accountable local bodies, those bodies are left with no money to improve the schools that remain in their control. In effect the government is telling parents “if you want new schools, you have to go to the private sector and ask them to build them”. This two-pronged attack is designed to dismantle local government and clear space for commercial companies to move in.
The exact same process is happening in the NHS. Primary Care Trusts will be abolished and GP surgeries will manage their budgets. Seeing that the primary function of a GP is to treat patients, they will have little time to retrain as accountants and business managers. Logically the first thing a practice will have to do, if it wants its doctors to carry on treating people, is to bring in a private management company to carry out the role of the PCT. We will have profit making companies not only leeching money out of the system, but also making financial decisions on clinical care, placing budgets before health. This will end any pretence of universal coverage and hail the new dawn of the postcode lottery.
And what is next in this liberating agenda? We already know about the plans for elected Police Commissioners. Given the “common sense” agenda, who is likely to be elected? The Commissioner who focuses on rehabilitation, community care, building relationships and trust with the public, understanding the causes of crime – all costly policies? Or will it be the Commissioner that puts as many police on the streets as possible, comes down hard on “gangs of youths” and does it all on the cheap? Is it unrealistic to see this as a step towards a police state run by private security firms?
We must also not forget Royal Mail – even New Labour wanted to sell that off. First to dispel some myths. 1. Royal Mail is profitable. 2. The reason Royal Mail has a pension deficit is because Royal Mail management, not the staff, took a “payment holiday” from making contributions. A holiday that lasted an unbelievable TEN years! If Royal Mail is privatised, which bits are likely to go? I can, using my psychic powers, predict that it won’t be the parts that are not generating profit. The privateers will suck up all the choice contracts, leaving the taxpayer to look after the postman who has to walk up your garden path. Here’s a radical idea. If the government wants to turn Royal Mail into a first class service it only needs to do one simple thing. Give it back its monopoly. Kick out DHL, TNT and the rest. End the farce of TNT collecting mail from business customers and taking it to Royal Mail depots for them to sort and deliver, creaming of a profit for this minimal service.
The electorate have been lied to. It is easy to blame Labour for the economic crisis, a crisis of neo-liberal capitalism. Unfortunately the public have believed the lie that the way to fix capitalism is to have an accelerated, steroid pumped version of neo-liberal market policies. Capitalism is failing, but the electorate has voted for even more of the same.
Many of you will know that I like to end on quotes. I have two for you this month.
“I don’t want more choice, I just want nicer things!” – Edina Monsoon.
“The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them” - Albert Einstein