Mrs. Thatcher csrried through a huge programme of privatisation of industries, Blair attempted the same (though with only limited success) in respect of services, and now the Tories are hell-bent on achieving what Blair failed to do, but using a different route – the austerity drive. By shrinking the State on the ostensible pretext that the budget deficit makes this ‘unavoidable’, the Tories have the perfect excuse to complete the ideological anti-State revolution to reverse once-and-for-all the post-1945 hegemony of social democracy. They are certainly approaching the task with relish on tghe evidence of just 2 months of coalition government.
Lansley, the Minister for junk food and privatisation of the NHS, made clear that by abolishing the PCTs (the main pillars for the public allocation of funding within the NHS) and transferring the commissioning role to GPs who have neither the expertise nor the inclination to take on this function, he was opening up huge new opportunities for the private sector. When I pressed him in the House if this would enable US organisations like UnitedHealth and UK organisation like BUPA and Virgin, on whom GPs would be forced to rely, to hand out large chunks of health care to the private sector, he flatly denied it – which of course is Tory-speak that that’s absolutely right, but you won’t catch us ever admitting it.
Gove has decided to force through his legislation in favour of academies and so-called ‘free schools’ (i.e. both independent of the State and firmly in the private sector) in double-quick time – an unprecedentedly short 8 days – revealing not only a contempt for Parliament, but a determination to de-nationalise British education with indecent haste.
Then there is the outsourcing of local givernment functions across the whole spectrum. Capita, Mouchel and Serco, the main outsourcing firms, are all expecting a bonanza from the squeeze on local authority budgets – though why privatising functions plus the profit element should be cheaper is not clear. In any case, even if the private sector were cheaper or more efficient (for which, contrary to the conventional wisdom, there is no evidence and in most cases is certainly not the case) , shouln’t the taxpayer rather than the shareholder benefit?
But the really big shift to a private market State and the attrition of public services almost to invisibility will come with the curiously ill-named Public Spending Reviewin October. Cutbacks of 25-40% in Departmental budgets , if carried through, will be the tipping point away from anything validly recognisable as a Welfare State. The private sector will have the opportunity without precedent to take over even some of the most central and intimate roles of the State. Neo-liberalism in economics is dead, long live neo-liberalism in society.