You have to hand it to the Tories, they really do have infernal brass neck (No, I’m not referring to Lord Young helpfully reminding us that the Tory upper classes don’t do recessions, only their commoner subjects who they may not notice below their ken). I’m referring to the Cabinet Office Minhister, Francis Maude, announcing that he wants to “liberate public sector workers” by setting up mutuals to replace public services. Shades of Lansley, Health Minister, earlier issuing a White Paper cheekily entitled ‘Liberating the NHS’ by setting up 500 (mandatory) GP consortia. Leave aside that in both cases this verbal sleight-of-hand represents a prelude to full-scale privatisation. Leave aside that people don’t want to be ‘liberated’ when it means greater insecurity, loss of State-supported pension rights, and possible buy-outs. The real point is that neither public sector workers nor the doctors want to be liberated from profoundly important services they deeply believe in.
But, since they mention it, maybe there is a place for this ‘liberation’ idea. Why doesn’t the Labour Party lead a campaign to liberate private sector workers who are subjected to dirt-poor wages, menial working conditions, poor management, job insecurity, and lack of opportunity (and reward) for improving their organisation? Just as the last Labour Government set up a valuable fund to provide seed money for small new businesses, why shouldn’t the next Labour Government equally provide funding for private sector workers to buy out their employers where they can provide a business plan to show they can manage the enterprise better themselves?
There’s another point here too. The Tory argument is that all organisations should be run efficiently, and so they should be. But they should be run efficiently not to maximise profits for the employer, but rather to achieve all the objectives that good companies should meet. That includes high labour standards and enhancement of human capital, protecting the environment including minimising carbon emissions and reducing waste and pollution, as well as commitments to the local community. The next Labour Government should tax companies strictly in accordance with how they meet these criteria.
Moreover since the market has dramatically failed in banking, pensions, housing, transport and energy, the next Labour Government should bring in a major element of public sector competition in each of these strategic areas, if not in some cases restore a majority of public ownership. The collapse of market fundamentalism demonstrates starkly and painfully that a new post-neoliberal economic model is now urgently needed, and that can only involve a major extension of public sector principles.