Thursday, 29 March 2012

A Bad State of Affairs

In today’s Daily Telegraph David Cameron set out his vision for “tearing down the big state”, a vision first revealed last year in the government’s Open Public Services White Paper.

The Prime Minister states that he wants “to end once and for all the closed state monopoly where central government decides what you get and how you get it”, ignoring the inherent contradictions this highlights in his own government’s polices and the cataclysmic problems this will cause in trying to fight poverty, create inequality and strengthen Britain’s vast democratic deficit.

Since the ConDem coalition came into being education in Britain has seen the most top down, central government changes in modern history in defiance of the Prime Minister’s statement. Local councils, unions and teachers have been usurped with power held solely in the hands of the education secretary who decides which schools can become academies and free schools, who can fund 10% or all of these respectively, who can teach in them and what they can teach. This is the bypassing of democracy.

The greatest choice of all, voting in a secret ballot, has been relegated by the choice of proprietor, fitting for a government that didn’t gain a majority and received only one-fifth of the possible public vote, fitting for a party that seek to challenge proportional representation and for a party that stands in the way of workers appearing on company rumination boards.

Power is ceded from the voter and the professional, in this case the teacher, to profit making bodies and charitable institutions that lie predominantly in the hands of the wealthiest in society. Follow the money and the freedom lies with them not with the majority of individuals. You are free to be a buyer but you must work for the seller. This may make “the user feel truly empowered” as Cameron argues but clearly they are not. For the public, and thus the individual, doesn’t have a say regarding services or industry.

No encouragement of unionization or collective power is asserted in a country with the strongest anti-union legislation in the EU. The desire it seems is for the false illusion of individual consumer power in a society where the vast majority have no say or hold in its foundations.

This eradication of democracy can be seen in the anti-state, “unashamedly pro-business” mandate pushed by the government since 2010 and strengthened in last week’s budget. These advocates of further privatization argue that as 45% of Britain’s GDP is generated by the private sector the state is still too large even after over 30 years of neo-liberal policy. This belies the fact that so much of the former publicly owned institutions are subsided by the state in league with the private sector who then cipher away the profits- the rail network being a particularly poignant example of this.

Factor in the example of the big six electric companies now operating in Britain and you find the appearance of choice masked in an oligargy that pushes prices up with society and the individual clearly being seen to suffer. Prisons, elderly care and unemployment are all recent examples of this failed ideology.

However, society still pays big business to run trains. It pays big business high prices as they run their electric supply and they have no say over either. Big business rather than the democratic state is therefore the predominant withdrawer of liberty, freedom and choice. You have no vote in it and all small business is suffocated by them.

Thus, as the public sector is opened up to multi-nationals under this bravado of choice the idea of strengthening the power of society and its individuals is weakened. With the availability of social media technology there has never been a greater chance to implement the nationalization, regionalization and co-operative community approach to public services absent in some of the top-down civil serviced structure that has existed in the past.

But it seems this is absent in the mind of the Prime Minister as he looks to force greater 'choice' and dismantle the public's hold on it' assets in the most unequal Britain since 1918. Where 20% of children are still brought up in poverty. Facts that lead effortlessly to the words of one of the creators of the public services structure the government is attacking, Nye Bevan: “If freedom is to be saved and enlarged, poverty must be ended. There is no other solution.”

It seems the Prime Minister’s main concern is to remove publicly-owned services “brick by brick, edifice by edifice” into the hands of those with the most rather than tackle the rampant inequality in Britain today. To create socialism for the rich and a laissez faire society for the poor.

But there is an alternative. To cite Bevan again we can create services run by society for society that exist ‘In Place of Fear’.

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