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Friday, 19 September 2014

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It's true, eveything does come back into fashion

The Government’s plans to sell off the Royal Mail have reminded me of my school days. Way back then privatisation was all the rage.

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And it’s true what they say. Everything comes back into fashion eventually.

Its first time around was in the era of shoulder pads and electro-pop. First British Telecom was sold off in 1984, then British Gas in 1986, and then water in 1989. “Now you can be an H2Owner,” the ads announced – rather missing the point that, under public ownership, we already were all H2Owners.

The idea was that we would become a “property-owning democracy” according to Margaret Thatcher, although it didn’t turn out that way. The small investors who bought shares sold them immediately afterwards for a quick profit – so they ended up in the hands of institutions rather than individuals.

And then they got sold abroad. Our electricity was privatised in 1990 and is now mostly owned by French and German companies – not something you’d have expected the Tories to be enthusiastic about.

The Government’s “everything must go” attitude to state-owned companies wasn’t without its critics at the time, not just from opposition parties. Harold Macmillan, a former Conservative prime minister, compared it to selling off the family silver.

You can argue whether privatisation is the right or wrong future for the Royal Mail. Certainly many people would regard it as part of the nation’s family silver. But consider the other private chickens that are coming home to roost.

Rail privatisation was a fiasco. The privateers who run the trains get around six times the taxpayers’ money the old British Rail got, and we’ve ended up with some of the world’s highest train fares. Few people defend it with a straight face.

The privatisation of council houses – the so-called “right to buy” – allowed lots of council house tenants to become owner-occupiers. But the Government wouldn’t allow councils to use the proceeds to build more council houses, so we ended up with a chronic housing shortage and the housing benefit bill has gone through the roof – and into the pockets of private landlords.

The cost of our gas and electricity bills has become a major grumble in the age of wage freezes and food banks, with many arguing that energy would be cheaper under public ownership.

But the Government is determined to resurrect the old fashion. True, they dropped the plan to privatise our forests, but they’ve bounced back with this latest sell-off. Forget the fact that the Royal Mail made a profit of £400 million. It’s still burning a hole in their pocket.

I can’t help feeling that we’re going to live to regret this. Stamps have already undergone a hefty price increase and you can expect them to head in the same direction as train fares.

The Government promise that six day per week deliveries will continue. Don’t bank on it.

What I would put money on is the closure of the sorting office in Carlisle’s Junction Street, and the site being sold for more “luxury apartments” or yet another supermarket.

Have your say

Why not just sell the whole flipping country and be done with it?

"For sale by popular demand, England, a putative democracy with approx 53 million tenants. Fifty thousand square miles of land, and a thriving service industry although actual manufacturing has declined recently. Could be used to store overflow tenants from eastern Europe. Offers in writing only, to include hefty back-handers to captains of industry and members of parliament."

Posted by Expat Marra on 18 September 2013 at 14:15

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