The Campaign for Public Ownership

The complexity of modern life gives rise to a public dependence on services that are complicated to deliver. These services are often only capable of being produced by organisations that must think to the long term, raise a great deal of long-term debt, and plan their provision without regard to day-to-day profitability.

There are effectively only two sorts of organisation that can function in that fashion. The first is a business so large and dominant, or at most sharing a great dominance, that it can extend services without placing the full burden on customers.

The UK model of high street banking, for instance, offers free cash machines, unauthorised overdrafts that often do not result in severe penalties, and widespread free banking. This is at the expense of appeals, a certain amount of fairness, and a more efficient clearing system. However, at least the UK banks are not dependent(Northern Rock aside) on vast public subsidies.

A second model of organisation in those spheres such as the provision of public utilities, the generation of nuclear power, and the maintenance of a transport system that can move people around the country cheaply and efficiently, is that of social ownership.

Social ownership can take many forms. In the past in Britain, governments attempted to run organisations from political ministries. This placed burdens on public debt, encouraged the generation of large countervailing Unions, and often led to a lack of provision. Another model, in which boards run businesses on a not for profit basis and were accountable to parliament, with a government holding 51% of shares but expecting the company to raise money on the markets, would be perfectly manageable, and an improvement on the past.

Such a system would also be an improvement on the present. At the moment, a cartelised and crony-based form of subsidy rapacity has taken over Britain's railways. Customers are regularly palmed off with nonsense about safety, or vital investment, fleeced of cash, and left with a denuded and confused system. Newspapers of left and right and ordinary people of no political affiliation now regularly complain of this.

This system is costing the country billions. In the banking sector, where it is necessary sometimes for the government to support institutions to maintain confidence, up to fifty five billions of pounds have been pledged to support a private company that is still awarding its executives hundred per cent pay rises. The influence of a few large firms over the personal information of citizens, passport details, the provision of administrative services, and even the police and armed forces, has reached ridiculous proportions.

In all this, when attempts are made to hold those firms accountable, ministers regularly hide behind a doctrine of commercial confidentiality which means that the public are now taxed without representation and are unable through Parliament to control the new industrial feudalism.

So, it's time for a new beginning. A new model of social ownership in vital services, natural monopolies, and utilities that combines the best of the market and the democracy of an old and European state. We do not have here the space, the capacity to start again over and over, the social patterns, or the culture of the market that subsist in the USA and attempts to recreate the liberty and glamour of American capitalist markets here have resulted in those with money fleecing the people at every turn for more. We don't sue, and our courts don't let us sue, on the same basis of contract and tort as in the USA; and the same approach to risk and to uncertainty in the provision of services is not exhilarating but a recipe for greed and the dimunition of life here.

People's lives are being wasted on contemptible trains, their monies raised by taxes on pain of imprisonment and thrown away on organisations that can't possibly work, and their government at every level is influenced by the nonsense of consultants and false management models. Even in those areas where the state does still try to provide services, it feels beholden to financial initiatives and consultancy models that would be little out of place in the world of the medieval pardoners.

If you have the time and inclination, and are a Tory, or Labour, or Liberal Democrat, or Gaullist, or Christian Democrat, or for that matter of any civil political persuasion or none, and think that some social ownership is a good idea, (just, I suppose, like some breakfasts in the right time and place are a good idea) come and join the campaign for Public ownership.

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