Who knows? The public could get a taste for public ownership

Who knows? The public could get a taste for public ownership

The Henry G Manson Friday column

For the last 30 years we’ve heard Prime Ministers Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron argue for policies of privatisation, private finance initiatives, public-private partnerships and so on. Whether it’s our utilities or our postal service the belief in the inherent private sector has been steadfast.

The private sector failure running the East Coast Main Line led to the state running a portion of Britain’s rail again – and successfully. Our ministers are happy for overseas firms to run key parts of our national infrastructure including nuclear energy supply. Meanwhile our refineries in the hands of billionaires with no obligation to our national interest. Is this sustainable? Will some of the alternatives ever be considered?

Public hostility to energy companies grows as prices outstrip earnings at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet. Yet the truth is that Ed Miliband’s energy policy is not that radical. It really isn’t. A price freeze at already high levels is only a relative improvement when people fear their continuing escalation. Yet to look at the response of the big 6 firms, the Conservatives and their friends in the press, you’d think Labour had outlined a policy of state owned energy firms – something entirely absent from current debate.

New Labour died the day banks were taken into public ownership. But what is replacing it is still to take shape. The next generation of Labour politicians are more open minded than their predecessors, many of whom looked at political positioning rather than policy. We’ll know if they’ve moved on when step out of the consensus of past decades and consider public ownership as something more than a temporary bandage for private sector failures.

With the next general election all to play for, the audacity to do something different could be rewarded by a jaded and unimpressed public.

Henry G Manson

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