Privatisation: a modern enclosure movement

Privatisation: a modern enclosure movement

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 …

Wembley: September 1974

Writing yesterday about the first two Knebworth festivals, helped prise open another ‘window of memory’: recollections of attending a concert with an incredible line-up (see poster, above) at Wembley in September 1974, a week before my 26th birthday. The event featured a dazzling array of  California superstars (plus The Band) and drew a crowd of around 80,000, a key attraction being the fact that Crosby Stills Nash and Young had got together again, and this show was their first in the UK since 1970.

Wembley 1974 (photo from by Vin Miles)

We were lucky: as well as the excellent music, it was a gloriously warm, sunny afternoon, unusual for mid-September.  Jesse Colin Young opened proceedings at 12 noon, and was followed by a two-hour set by The Band, featuring:

Just Another Whistle Stop, Stage Fright, The Weight, Shape I’m In, Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever, Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Across the Great Divide, Endless Highway, Smoke Signal, I Shall be Released, WS Walcott Medicine Show, Mystery Train, Genetic Method, Chest Fever, Up on Cripple Creek.

Joni Mitchell was next with a set part solo with acoustic or piano, and partly accompanied by Tom Scott’s L.A. Express (the band that had provided the distinctive sound for Court and Spark, her most recent album). They were: Max Bennett (Bass), Victor Feldman(Piano), Robben Ford (Electric Guitar), John Guerin (Drums and Percussion), Larry Nash (Piano) and Tom Scott (Woodwinds and Reeds).

Set list: Woodstock, Big Yellow Taxi, Rainy Night Home, Last Time I Saw Richard, This Night Tonight, Raised On Robbery, Twisted, Some Situation, Peoples Parties, Blue, All I Want, Help Me, For Free.

Joni Mitchell, Wembley 1974 (photo from by Vin Miles)

Then the main event: nearly four hours of Crosby Stills Nash and Young. The quartet had reassembled once again in the summer of 1974, with sidemen Tim Drummond on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums, and Joe Lala on percussion. They embarked on an outdoor stadium tour, arranged by San Francisco impresario Bill Graham. The band typically played three and a half hours of old favorites and new songs, many of which never appeared in a definitive CSN or CSNY studio format. There is an unreleased film of the Wembley Stadium show; highlights on YouTube (below) reveal the quality of these performances, with CSN&Y often switching instruments during the same song.

Set list: Love the One You’re With, Wooden Ships, Immigration Man, Helpless, Military Madness, Johnny’s Garden, Traces, Almost Cut My Hair, Teach Your Children,Only Love Can Break Your Heart, The Lee Shore, Time After Time, It’s Alright, Another Sleep Song, Our House,Hawaiian Sunrise, Star of Bethlehem, Love Art Blues, Old Man, Change Partners, Blackbird (Beatles cover), Myth of Sysiphus, You Can’t Catch Me-Word Game, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (with Joni Mitchell on vocals),Deja Vu, First Things First, Don’t Be Denied, Black Queen, Pushed It Over the End, Pre-Road Downs, Carry On, Ohio.

A week later, Soundz magazine carried this review of the event:

By The Time We Got Through Neasden…

Barbara Charone and Geoff Barton report on the day the spirit of Woodstock invaded Wembley Stadium.

Everyone had their doubts. Throughout the daylong musical orgy of all 72,000 paying customers sat in nervous anticipation, enjoying the exceptionally fine music and the low key atmosphere but privately wondering if the rave reviews from the states were true.

Like a dream come true, three master of the California sound and one transplanted Englishman flawlessly revealed how after all these years and all those changes, they remain unchallenged title-holders as the definitive American band, heavyweight division. CSN&Y had been good in the past but they were even better at Wembley. From the “Love The One Your With” kickoff right on through the passionate “Ohio” finale, CSNY turned a content, sane crowd into crazy, raving cup-match brawlers.

Too proud to deliver anything but the best, the band paid special attention to details, lyrical phrasing and spellbinding guitar duels as if the 72,000 were a room full of people. They sang emotionally and played superbly. Crosby and Nash cranked up the enthusiasm and polished off the harmonies. Stills and Young turned on the rhythms and revved up the solos. Kunkel, Drummond and Lala pounded out the beat with frenetic energy. English hard rock devotees blinked twice in disbelief and finally agreed that well, er ah, yes those Americans really could rock n’ roll.

The Wembley set, the last concert of this CSN&Y reunion tour, was largely similar to the summer’s previous shows, yet played and presented with opening night fervour. You’re not supposed to hear high falsetto or background piano weavings in a sports arena. You’re not supposed to sit on the edge of the hard wooden seats eagerly awaiting the next song, oblivious to the brisk evening temperatures or the passed-out drunk to your left.

The quality was high throughout the set and the magic moments many. Joni Mitchell injected delicate harmonies into Young’s stunning “Helpless”. Nash earned the applause of a beautiful rendition of “Our House” backup vocal support from CSN&Y gently blasting out of the monster speakers with unbelievable clarity. A whisper-soft “Blackbird” hushed the audience to a ecstatic silence of admiration.

And again “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” got all 72,000 people clapping along as the song builds to it’s joyous climax. “Deja Vu, done up harder and rockier, showed off Young’s piano abilities as Stills delivered a wincing guitar solo that came out of nowhere and destroyed everyone. While Young almost stole the show with his autobiographical “Don’t Be Denied”.

By the time they got to “Carry On”, the whole CSN&Y front line looked more like a swinging chorus revue than a rock band, as Stills and Young axed out guitar conversations that left fans speechless. The applause was overwhelming.

‘It was great to be here.’ Nash squealed as they stood stage centre embracing. ‘We love you all’. Crosby mumbled. There were 72,000 people standing, waving, clapping and behaving like lunatics. It was rock ‘n roll at it’s most potent high.

This had been the only European gig on CSN&Y’s 1974 reunion tour and was the only opportunity many of us had to see them at their peak. People came from all over Europe and many celebrities also were in attendance. After the show Neil Young and Steven Stills jammed with Jimmy Page in a London club.

On a less enthusiastic note, Michael Watts and Steve Lake observed in an article titled ‘CSN&Y- Journey Through The Past’,  published in Melody Maker on 21 September:

The Wembley Music Concert, starring Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joni Mitchell and the Band went off … well, okay is probably the best word. Not climacteric, or transcendental, or phantasmagoric, or even plain outasite – just … okay. The long jam on ‘Carry On,’ which closed the set, was mindless and boring; Crosby’s ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ seemed more daft than ever – a sentiment now totally displaced in time. Their earnestness couldn’t always pull them through. It was both right and totally inappropriate that they should finish as an encore with ‘Ohio’. ‘Tin soldiers and Nixon coming.’ Well, Nixon’s gone now, in almost every sense. But that song was emphatically about a particular era – about McGovern, and student politicking, and fierce idealism – and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are firmly of that era, the placard reading ‘Good Vibes’ hung about their necks. And that was why Saturday’s gig at Wembley was somewhat washed-out. Because, after all, you can’t help but make comparisons. Nostalgia is rampant in the blood. Where will it all end?”

It won’t.  It’s still there, 36 years later.