Is there any part of Britain’s private sector that is free from corruption, mismanagement and blatant profiteering?  The banks, G4s, etc, etc: day after day, evidence of the scale of the rip-off being endured by British taxpayers piles up.  But are sufficient numbers of us angry enough?  Seumus Milne writing in today’s Guardian claims that public opinion in Britain has always opposed privatisation. But:

after the G4S fiasco, even paid-up Conservatives are getting restless. The Tory MP Michael Ellis told Buckles the public was “sick of huge corporations like yours thinking they can get away with everything”. And the Thatcher minister William Waldegrave warned Conservatives in Monday’s Times never to “make the mistake of falling in love with free enterprise”, adding that people who believe “private companies are always more efficient than the public service have never worked in real private enterprise”. […]

Milne reminds us of some recent examples of private sector disasters:

The G4S saga is only the latest in a series of recent outsourcing scandals: from the alleged fraud and incompetence of A4E’s welfare-to-work contract, to the “staggering losses” incurred by Somerset council in a disastrous private-sector joint venture, to the shipping of vulnerable children half way across the country to private equity-owned care homes in Rochdale. That’s not to mention the exorbitant private finance initiative to build and run schools, hospitals and prisons, which, it is now estimated, will cost up to £25bn more than if the government had paid for them directly; or the £1.2bn of public money lost every year because of rail privatisation and fragmentation; or the water shortage achieved in rain-drenched southern England this summer by a privatised water company that had sold off 25 reservoirs over the past 20 years while rewarding shareholders with £5bn in dividends.

Meanwhile, today the Liverpool radical magazine Nerve has this:

Former Labour Cabinet member John Reid who originally gave G4S contract for Olympic security is now a director at G4S. Teresa May has shares in Prudential, owned by G4S and Goldman Sachs have the most shares in G4S. How cosy!

Milne concludes:

The privatisation juggernaut isn’t unstoppable. Just as energy and water were brought under public control through the “municipal socialism” of a century or more ago, services and industries can be taken into modern forms of democratic social ownership today.  But while unions can resist outsourcing on the ground and groups like UK Uncut take direct action against the privateers, the emerging consensus against a discredited neoliberalism now has to find a real voice in national politics. Labour frontbenchers, such as Maria Eagle and Jon Trickett, have started to float the case for returning rail to public ownership and a “change of direction” on public services. But after G4S, what’s needed is a political sea change.

Back in March, on openDemocracy, Mel Kelly described how, with precious little public scrutiny, G4S – the world’s largest security company – has gained astonishing influence over our government and our lives.  Meanwhile – to take another example – in the Education section of yesterday’s Guardian, a revealing article explored the ever-growing influence of Pearson, the giant multinational that is the world’s largest education firm, on the English education system. Pearson is at the heart of what goes on in English secondary schools and FE colleges through its ownership of Edexcel, the largest UK exam board.  At the same time, Pearson’s education publishing business, via the brands of Heinemann, Longman, and Edexcel publishing sell textbooks and computer-based resources to schools, parents and pupils. Since 2009, Pearson, through Edexcel, has also had a contract to administer the marking of Sats tests for England’s 11-year-olds.

Now Pearson is moving closer to the heart of English education, running and funding several government-sponsored inquiries into aspects of the education system, and, crucially, developing a computer-based curriculum – ‘the Always Learning Gateway’ – currently being trialled in secondary schools.

In other words, there is now a multinational company at the heart of the English education system which is gaining the position in which it designs the secondary curriculum, sells the educational resources to support that curriculum, and sets and marks the tests that assess student outcomes.  The Guardian article quotes Stephen Ball, professor of the sociology of education at London University’s Institute of Education as saying: ‘I think it’s … an overall strategy: they want to offer products and services in all areas of school practice: assessment, pedagogy, curriculum and management, and they want to create the possibility for that through policy work. … It’s a very well thought-out business strategy. I think we should be thinking about it, because a lot of it is going unnoticed’.  While Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, which is critical of corporate influence in education, says: ‘This stuff frightens the life out of me. My concern is that business dictates the nature of education, and especially the aims of education, when it should be one voice among others’.

Stuart Weir has been issuing bulletins on ‘the full enormity of what is going on’ on openDemocracy; writing again in June, he spoke of ‘the huge expansion of privatisation’:

According to the Financial Times, Britain is poised “for the biggest wave of outsourcing [that word again] since the 1980s”. More than £4 billion in tenders are being negotiated this year, according to studies of contracts published in the Official Journal of the European Union and analysis of companies’ bid pipelines. According to analysts, the FT reports, contracts involving the prison service – which is going to be almost wholly taken over – police forces, defence and health are “coming to market this year”.

Three government departments – the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defence and Department for Work and Pensions – are the big drivers, but the expansion in privatisation includes local government, transport and education.  Local authorities are losing 27 per cent of their grant over four years and government is under increasing pressure to use the private sector in order to maintain frontline services in the face of the cuts.

In March, Weir characterised what is happening as ‘no less than a modern enclosure movement’:

Cameron and co – a group which includes Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander – and their two parties are engaged in the destruction of the historic postwar compromise between the public and private sectors with the wholesale transfer of public functions to private enterprise.  Their project amounts to no less than a modern enclosure movement, in which it is not common land but what is still left in the public sphere as a whole that is being wrested from the people.

In his poem To a Fallen Elm that railed against enclosure, John Clare saw precisely how those who hypocritically promote the interests of profit before the community ‘Bawl freedom loud and then oppress the free’.  The poem concludes:

With axe at root he felled thee to the ground
And barked of freedom – O I hate that sound
It grows the cant terms of enslaving tools
To wrong another by the name of right
It grows a liscence with oer bearing fools
To cheat plain honesty by force of might
Thus came enclosure – ruin was her guide
But freedoms clapping hands enjoyed the sight
Tho comforts cottage soon was thrust aside
And workhouse prisons raised upon the scite
Een natures dwelling far away from men
The common heath became the spoilers prey
The rabbit had not where to make his den
And labours only cow was drove away
No matter- wrong was right and right was wrong
And freedoms brawl was sanction to the song
Such was thy ruin music making Elm
The rights of freedom was to injure thine
As thou wert served so would they overwhelm
In freedoms name the little so would they over whelm
And these are knaves that brawl for better laws
And cant of tyranny in stronger powers
Who glut their vile unsatiated maws
And freedoms birthright from the weak devours

George Monbiot, in another of his increasingly urgent missives from the frontline of modern encroachments on our commons and our liberty, wrote yesterday in The Guardian of the Diggers 2012, a group being hounded from land adjacent, ironically, to the meadows at Runnymede where the Magna Carta was sealed almost 800 years ago.

Writing this, a lyric by Joni Mitchell comes to mind.  The other day I watched a rather good account of her life and artistic career, Woman of Heart and Mind.  In part, the film touched on the albums of the late ’80s and early ’90s (albums such as Dog Eat Dog, Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm, and Turbulent Indigo) on which Mitchell expressed discontent with the way things were heading, politically, socially and environmentally. ‘Dog Eat Dog’ seems particularly apposite in these times:

Where the wealth’s displayed
Thieves and sycophants parade
And where it’s made
the slaves will be taken
Some are treated well
In these games of buy and sell
And some like poor beast
Are burdened down to breaking

Dog Eat Dog
It’s dog eat dog ain’t it Flim Flam man
Dog eat dog you can lie cheat skim scam
Beat’ em any way you can
Dog eat Dog
You’ll do well in this land of
Snakebite evangelists and racketeers
You could get to be
a big wig financier

Land of snap decisions
Land of short attention spans
Nothing is savored
Long enough to really understand
In every culture in decline
The watchful ones among the slaves
Know all that is genuine will be
Scorned and conned and cast away

Dog eat dog
People looking seeing nothing …

10 thoughts on “Privatisation: a modern enclosure movement

  1. The slippery slide to privatisation began under Margaret Thatcher, it was not her idea, one of her senior advisors handed her a book on the then – presumably Republican – philosophical justification behind the US culture of finance. Thatcher then proceeded to implement this in Britain, a country with a completely different culture to the United States. Things like the Welfare State are anathema to US Republicans, witness Obama’s heroic attempts to revise health care in America. Thus the Welfare State in Britain came under immediate and remorseless attack which has continued apace under all the governments after Thatcher: it’s just something she got out of a book after the Torys had run out of ideas in the 1980s. But philosophical bankruptcy is no excuse to asset strip a nation, and that is what privatisation in the UK amounts to.

    A good example you picked up on is the chronic water shortage in Britain: drought. This will rear its scaly desiccated head again in 2013. Everyone has known that weather patterns in the UK have changed, we were hearing about unsettled summers and dry winters a quarter of a century ago. This summer we have seen trillions of gallons of pure rainwater fall from the skies, swell and in many cases burst rivers, then ultimately flow out to sea and gone. A third of all that water could have been directly diverted from our larger river systems into reservoirs and aquifers, but not one drop has been saved in this way. Why? Because the privatised water companies (some now owned or part-owned overseas) can see no instant profit in devising an excess water storage system, and so do nothing. Profit is more important to them than the millions of people who will be facing chronic water shortages next year and each year after that. This is little less than sabotage to the basic utilities – in this case water – that we have taken for granted for so long. And you can’t blame the business people who run the water companies now, they are hard-wired into returning profits to shareholders; but you can blame the politicians who have allowed this situation to arise and to continue, and indeed they grease the wheels for even more privatisation to follow.

    If you put basic utilities into private hands you have created the conditions for intimidation on a national scale, but this is what the flag-waving politicians have done and are doing.

    You have to ask yourself a simple question. Do people like Cameron and Clegg represent the majority of people in this country? If the answer is no, then what are they doing in power?

    Margaret – ‘Our ally General Pinochet’ – Thatcher said she had a mandate to ‘rule’ [42.4% votes i.e.. less than half – is this democracy?] and then she proceeded to attack the unions and began to dismantle the Welfare State. Meanwhile her ally Pinochet was indicted for crimes against humanity but died before he could be tried. So much for the Prime Minister who inaugurated full scale privatisation for the UK out of a book. I always thought privatisation stank and we are now scenting that sickening miasma of corruption on the breeze, and it has something of the stench of death about it.

    1. Thanks for this, Kris. The case against privatisation is becoming clear, even to some Tories, as Seamus Milne notes in his article. It’s unfortunately the case that, if we look at the percentage of those voting for the parties at the last election the coalition does represent a majority of the 65% who voted.

      1. Thanks Gerry – but I wonder of that 65% who voted what the percentage of all the eligible voters would be, plus I think the Tories on their own only polled in the region of the high thirties percentage? I really think in times of rock bottom scores that there should be a cross-parliament representing at least 3 if not 4 of the highest polling parties. I am seriously concerned also that the majority of MPs don’t actually represent the people of this country (or any country) they seem to represent themselves and their own interests, rather than selflessly reflect the wishes of those that elect them? Trouble is we’ve become so used to this abuse of power that we scarcely notice it any more, and that is not a good thing. Democracy involves everyone, not just those ‘at the top’ – we need true democracy.

  2. Great post Gerry, and research! I don’t know if you have read Owen Hatherley’s withering A Guide to the New Ruins of Britain?
    Basically Hatherley documents every PFI building under new labour and concludes not only do the deals not work but nor does the architecture. Should be read alongside Anna Mintons Ground Control!
    Manchester & Liverpool fare badly

    1. Thank you, Fred. I haven’t read either books, though familiar with them and their arguments from reviews. I caught Anna Minton recently on Midweek on the car radio. Both (especially Minton) part of the wider picture of the corporate encroachment on our commons.

  3. If the system is broken, it is because Man is broken.
    One sits in wonder, bemusement and sadness at the reports of the ‘breakdown’ of the economic and financial systems caused by the bad, (interesting to watch ‘The Bank of Dave’ programmes and how the FSA ‘obstructed’ him giving good and worthy service to the people, yet could not defend us against criminal elements inside the banks) incompetent and mismanagement of a few, the phone hacking scandals and the sickening pursuance of people (‘Paparazzi spat at Sienna Miller’) and the revelations of the Leveson enquiry, particularly Tony Blairs plea that had he not ‘cosied up’ to Murdoch, ‘The Press’ would have destroyed them, thereby creating a false impression that The Press is all powerful when in fact the fickleness of the newspaper purchaser is such that no doubt the Sunday after the demise of the News of the World, Mr. Average would switch his ‘allegiance’ to another similar rag without a second thought for those good and true people who worked for that paper and are now unemployed. (or offered jobs in Siberia) Well Mr Blair, (and Cameron too) how about doing your damn job, listen to the wisdom of good people, stay true to yourself and serve what should be most dear to you, the law, the people, Parliament and those principles that will see us through to a better age and then after, have the courage of your convictions. (But not George Bush’s convictions!)
    The Olympics, whose spirit of bringing the youth of the world together, still counts for much, seems to be more a circus than a celebration of sport. It seems to have outgrown its usefulness in its current form. I’m heartily sick of the platitudinous waffle given out by the likes of Coe and buffoon Boris as to the ‘inspiration’ and legacy they will bring. The talk of ‘lock-downs’, the security requirements, the armed services on standby, the over expectation of the performance of the British teams, as if what they will achieve will be to reduce the ‘epidemic of obesity’ that is spiralling out of control in this and other countries. If we want to ‘inspire’ children to lead healthy lives then invest 12 billion pounds at school age level, in sports and education or at least let the farmers producing our milk make a little profit by supplying it as the main sponsored drink for the Olympics, instead of the flatulence inducing liquids that will be on offer. Hope and (over) expectation is what we have; well, as Mark Rowlands says, hope is a used car salesman and the only expectation we can expect is that for sure, we will see, surely the inspiration behind Steve Coogans alter ego, Alan Partridge, that is sports reporter Gary Richardson, thrusting a microphone into an exhausted, hyper – ventilating athlete and asking him, as he did Andy Murray, ‘our experts in the studio gave you 8 out of 10. What do you think?’ Murray should have punched him out. Charlie Brooker got it right when he said (not quoting directly) that the people who try to extract from athletes the mind numbing clichéd answers some of the press think we deserve are the same people who try to get him to get up and dance at weddings.
    One wonders where all this nonsense came from, where it all began. Maybe Adam and Eve and ‘original sin’ is the cause. Privatisation? The Garden of Eden? Would God have turned that over to a ministerial committee to maintain or would he have trusted nature to look after itself. Hmm…if only she hadn’t offered that apple.
    I have just scanned briefly a book, a brief book, 58 pages is all, written by Barry Lopez, ‘The rediscovery of North America’, which whilst not giving the answer to where the source of our ills come from, suggests that modern (though medievally inclined) thinking man has a lot to answer for. It’s worth purchasing, very reasonable considering the writing power and beauty of thought of Lopez.
    I knew little of Columbus, save for 3 ships, Spain, discovers America, all schoolboy stuff…oh and a Ridley Scott film and an incredible painting by Dali which I viewed at St. Petersburg Dali museum. (An incredible work of art, but metaphorical not historical).
    It’s first few paragraphs deal with what may be called honourable men.
    Prior to sailing, the King and Queen of Spain promised the first man to sight land would be given a pension for life. 10 miles from the coast of either San Salvador island or Samana Cay in the Bahamas, Juan Rodriguez Bermeo, a lookout, shouted his exclamation in the darkness.
    Columbus ordered to haul anchor 5 miles out and await dawn. He then let it be known that he himself has sighted a light on the island a few hours before midnight, meaning when they were30 miles over the curve of the Earth and that too on a rolling sea. Columbus thereby took for himself the pension. So much for men of honour.
    Lopez goes on to say that what began was an ‘incursion’, that in the name of abstract and distant powers, the Spanish began an appropriation of the place, a seizure of its people, its elements, whatever could be carried off. Murder, rape, theft, kidnapping, vandalism, child molestation, acts of cruelty, torture, and humiliation all followed. In front of Bartolome las Casas, a man later a priest, 3000 people were dismembered, beheaded or raped, children who ran from them had their legs cut off, bets were made as to who could cut a person in half with one sweep of a sword. The Spanish used nursing infants as dog food.
    It was, Lopez says, “the assumption of an imperial right conferred by God, sanctioned by the state, and enforced by a militia, the assumption of unquestioned superiority over a resident people, based not on morality but on race and cultural comparison – or, let me say it plainly, on ignorance, on a fundamental illiteracy – the assumption that one is DUE wealth in North America… can hear it today in the rhetoric of timber barons in my home state of Oregon, standing before the last of old-growth forest, irritated that anyone is saying “enough…., it is enough.”
    Lopez does not say his generation would have behaved differently, he recalls political aims in Vietnam. The Spanish imposed, they did not propose.
    Lopez suggests we require a ‘querencia’, a place in which we know exactly who we are, a sense of place. He offers remedies towards the end of the short book, it’s a meditation though, not a manual.
    Michael Soule, who is involved in a ‘rewilding’ programme in North America, has a few things to say about the causes of the mess that our way of thinking has brought about.
    What our so called lords and masters should be concerned with, is viewing the Chris Packham presented series recently aired on BBC called ‘Secrets of a living planet’, (available on you tube) which showed, perhaps for the first time, the web of life in action, in detail. Stunning how for example, a salmon from a thousand miles away, can end up nourishing a tree which then supports a whole other chain of plants and animals.
    Perhaps as George Monbiot has apparently concluded, we must put our efforts into preservation of this other world, find our own and our earths own ‘querencia’ and perhaps if brave enough, adopt Thoreau’s ‘civil disobedience’ to do so as well as his mantra that, ‘in wilderness lies the preservation of the world’.
    We must create our own private universes before they privatise us into extinction.

    1. As always, Les, much to ponder. I haven’t dared to write about the Olympics because the whole business (for that is what it has become – increasingly an opportunity for greedy corporate pigs (apologies to real pigs) to stick their noses in a trough endlessly restocked by taxpayers, and for the security industry to make a killing. Stop!
      I have followed your recommendations before – now I’ve just ordered the Barry Lopez book because it sounds right up my street. Your musings on the American ‘incursion’ chime with the post I wrote last week on the new Patti Smith album:
      Small correction: you missed two letters off your link to the Barry Lopez book review. It’s at: Cheers.

  4. Thanks Gerry, I actually bought Patti Smiths cd last week, haven’t listened to it yet as I bought Paul Simons last studio album, ‘So beautiful or so what’ and am taking that in. And I guessed you probably have the Olympics lined up somewhere in your sites! just so much over-hyping, like the Murray final, why not let the sport just unfold before us – too many pundits and experts (expert – ex is a has been, spert – a drip under pressure), too much riding on the result, feed the soma to the masses, drug them up to forget their pain. Reminds of the old ‘Carry On’ film line – ‘The legacy, the legacy, we’ve all got the legacy’.
    Thanks for the correction too, I must have stabbed the keyboard in wrath!

  5. The system is corrupt. Western culture is underpinned by two thousand years of monotheistic philosophy which is based on dogma not reason and clerical excess followed by convenient secularism means that even Scriptural warnings against avarice and vanity were and are ignored. We have it both ways in the northern hemisphere, coo over cosy religiousity at Christmas time (& increasingly Easter now I notice) then call ourselves modern and progressive for the rest of the year decrying spirituality as ‘silly & old fashioned’. I find the mindset feckless on the one hand and historically inhuman on the other, when it starts to feel the insecurity of challenge, or bounces back on religious texts as an excuse for the fire and the sword. However abolishing religion may not be the answer, witness the attempt under Stalin which paralleled political violence on the scale of the religious pogrom.

    Politics and religion apparently to one side, I support the concept of sport but I think the Olympics should now be permanently situated in Greece, that unfortunate country needs the revenue, the tourism, let the games go back to Greece & we all participate there. I live south of the Games in eastern Britain and am virtually cut off from travelling north as a result, I think that is going too far, I think that is ridiculous, and I don’t particularly want to be chased up the M11 by a heat-seeking missile courtesy of the Ministry of Defence.

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