Perhaps because of my background in the construction industry, whenever I hear about ‘free market competition’ or ‘competitive tendering’ I am reminded of that quotation attributed to John Ruskin: “There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.” You could interpret this as you get what you pay for, but surely it is a function of our democratic government to serve the people and protect them from sharp practice, whether we are talking about St Michael’s Gate in Parnwell or the national economy.
It is not in the best interests of the people of this city or anywhere else to cut services to the point where they become inoperable, or to see ‘privatisation’ (i.e, cost-cutting by others) as a panacea which will provide greater efficiencies at less cost: surely, bearing in mind Mr Ruskin, the present state of affairs in our heavily-privatise public sector is already at least cost with the drive for maximum efficiency from the leanest of resources. Overheads such as plant, fuel and consumable materials are not often considered for reduction on the balance sheet, but labour costs -which include overtime, pensions, sick pay, maternity pay and associated cover- are always seen as malleable in the sense that you can get five people to do the work (almost) of eight former employees. We have seen how warehouse workers, food packers and ‘back of house’ retail staff, care workers and hospital ancillary staff have had their terms of service renewed on less advantageous terms year after year. Peterborough may be considered low-lying geographically on the edge of the fens but it is also just as much an area of low paid work; in every direction that the increasingly put upon worker looks for the safer, higher ground of a secure wage that will afford them the elusive Tory ‘choice’ which is granted only to those with increased disposable income – the landscape is monotonously the same.
It may be that HM Government will devolve funds to the region via the proposed Combined Authority. Personally, this provides me with little hope for the future if the decision-making process remains in the hands of the same political dinosaurs who maintain faith in a failing economic system where a tiny number of wealthy people increase their share of the spoils at the expense of the those who earn their profits yet in return are treated with contempt. We need a change away from the currently favoured business model of exploitation to a more progressive, socially acceptable and viable model. Sorry, I just don’t see that “the American way” imported into our health system, manufacturing processes, education system etc sits well with either traditional British or progressive European values. I consider the Referendum vote on the 23rd of June to be an ill-judged mistake; a genuine error of judgement by disgruntled citizens voting with gut instinct for change rather than sound reason. That is a personal view, realised through canvassing and doorstep conversations. I don’t propose to re-run the arguments: Britain stuck two fingers up at an out of touch establishment and will brace themselves against the coming difficulties as only the redoubtable forbearance of our island dwellers can do: it is part of our culture to bear against adversity with stoicism. Theresa May was amazingly quick to react to the change in wind, sensing voting capital in the seventeen million people she embraced who came to that unanticipated decision the leave the EU. What if, as Jeremy Corbyn suggested last week, that -with deference to philosopher Baldrick- “Our cunning plan is to have no plan”? The silence of the ‘Department for Brexit’ is a strong indicator that this is correct. So in failing to plan, the government has planned to fail and if that failure er, ‘succeeds’, we will come out of Europe both economically and culturally poorer.
Currently the Labour party is the party of opposition; the party not of mere protest but of performing the valuable function of exposing those parts of the machinery of government that are grinding away the rights of workers; workers who are effectively cowed into competing with one another rather than combining in a union for their collective good, grinding away at the checks and safeguards that protect employment and keep our pension funds safe, grinding away at public services and undermining public institutions. A Conservative government is no longer in the business of conserving what is best from the past; it is no longer reactionary – the Conservative party has embarked on a radical freebooting voyage of piracy, raiding our hospitals and schools of the funds necessary to keep them in good shape and thundering volley after volley to bring down those that crew them. The remaining hulks will be boarded by inspectors who will declare them no longer fit for purpose. “The solution”, they will say, “it to privatise!” – get rid of a unified authority -the navy, in my metaphor- and replace it with independent privateers; leaner, meaner and with individual profit motives and targets for success. Is this not what is happening to our hospitals and schools? Is no-one going to be held to account for the deconstruction of British industry; coal and steel? The railways? Break them up by selling them off in bits. Bring in management teams to operate sections competing for the same resource. Watch them struggle and fail, then announce the only solution if private investment and entrepreneurship. Our nationalised industries which we, the people, owned through our government were stolen from us and sold back to those who had previously held that business in common with our fellows, but only to those fortunate to have sufficient money to buy a share certificate which would attribute ownership to a select and wealthy few. We remember British Gas, British Telecom, the Water Authorities… all were consistently undervalued: the share prices spiked soon after being sold off with the entirely predictable effect that the shares held by tiny investors (i.e. the small investor public) turned a quick profit and were returned to the market to be snapped up by corporate investors, resulting in a small number of influential representatives having a large say in the control of the companies. A perfectly symbiotic relationship between the people who vote Tory for increased dividends, the Administration who perform such conjuring tricks with legislation to enable such performance and the people in suits who manage the operation.
What will be next? Will it be the police service replaced with private security firms – villains hopping over the county line to be safe from contracted jurisdiction? Fire and Rescue with a company who will check your insurance before turning the hoses on? Maybe reduce the army, navy and the RAF to “ceremonial duties only staff and take out loans to hire in Uncle Sam as needed. It wouldn’t be the first time.
When everything is sold off that can be sold off, when the UK is asset-stripped down to the bone and can no longer function, those who have made their fortune from this destruction will retire to Bermuda, Lichtenstein, The Cayman Islands or Mauritius with their friends and we will be left in whatever misery awaits. I don’t see that anyone with a social conscience, anyone who went to a non fee-paying school or who has enjoyed the benefits of the public purse, be it state benefits or a university grant. I don’t see that any of these people -which is by any definition the vast majority of the population- could decide to vote any other way but Labour. We have to connect with and remind our brothers and sisters that they are not abandoned to struggle alone that it is not merely ‘the fortunes of (financial) war.’ We in the Labour party have come together in our hundreds of thousands this past an historic year to stand up to the bullies; we will take no more of it, and resolutely, we will triumph together. Every vote for a Labour candidate is a vote against financial oppression, against debt and against living hand-to-mouth.
In simple contrast, I have observed before now that the Tories will always do what is best for them. Labour will do what is best for everyone.