There is a lot of election talk in the UK these days, which is unsurprising with the EU elections recently taking place and the next national election due in one year’s time. Current polls are starting to suggest that the lead the opposition Labour Party has held for a few years is beginning to slip, and the Conservatives may rebuild their base over the next year and win the election outright – rather than having to go into coalition with the Liberal Democrats as they did this time around.
All of this is very interesting, but only if you’re a bit of a geek for UK politics. What might prove more interesting to all of us in the long term, however, is that a particular topic seems to slowly be creeping onto the radar of the national discussion that will take place over the next year – and that topic is renationalization. The Green Party are explicitly arguing for the railways to be nationalized again, and some in the Labour Party are encouraging leader Ed Miliband to do the same, seeing it as a potentially very popular policy among voters from all sides of the political spectrum.
Many British institutions that were traditionally owned by the state – most notably the railways and the energy infrastructure – were sold off to private companies during the 18 years that the Conservatives were in power under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. The current Conservative government is following a similar path by slowly trying to sell off more and more of the much-loved National Health Service. However, such policies are seen by much of the public as a disaster – they have seen the ways in which energy bills and train tickets are permanently going up while service levels get worse and worse. A recent poll by YouGov found that 68% of the British public support handing the energy companies back to the state, 66% support nationalizing the railways, and a massive 84% believe that the health service should not be sold to private companies.
The railways, energy companies, and health service were built up by generations of hard work from the people of Britain. They were not created by private companies, and private companies did nothing to create the value they had when they were privatized. By selling them off, Thatcher essentially gave away decades of labor to her corporate friends at a price far below what it was actually worth. The companies running these services have proven that they do not have the same level of passion for them that the British people do, they do not care for the effects of their policies on the people, and they care only about profits rather than about providing an efficient service to those who need it. Things will be no different if the health service is given to private companies – indeed, they may be worse, as profit would then be taking precedence over what is literally a matter of life and death.
The damage privatization did to the UK was huge, and is ongoing – both in terms of the gradual decline of the railways and the energy companies, and in terms of the ideology of private profit and ‘free markets’ that it helped to spread. However, we still have time to reverse it if we act now, and consequently the upcoming election campaign needs to hinge around the issue of keeping the National Health Service in public hands, and returning the other services to the people who built them. The Green Party should be commended for making this part of their platform, and those on the left need to encourage Labour to follow suit – for the good of all working people in the UK.