Public Ownership as Aspiration

The latest explosion of ridicule and indignation finds its target in Jeremy Corbyn daring to speak about ‘public ownership of some necessary things‘. Media is abuzz with ideologues, lexical hair-splitters and supercilious interpreters making great effort to draw attention away from any constructive debate. If public ownership of natural monopolies had been advocated as a vehicle of Cameron’s Big Society I wonder whether the response would be this inane.

Clause Four! Clause Four! Oh, my good gods but the hysteria and vitriol, from both political wings, is woeful and tedious in its predictability. The capacity to focus in on the least relevant aspect of a message is remarkable. Clause IV (commitment to the “common ownership of the means of production”), re-nationalisation, pre-distribution, mutualism, socialism… Really, I don’t give a rat’s arse for the semantic games and the expedient framing they afford. The concept matters more than a loaded label, right now and ‘public ownership’ is an appropriate description. I care about the intention behind socio-political ideas, the mechanisms employed in manifesting them and their socio-economic effectiveness. Personally, it’s neither here nor there, to me, whether Labour feels a need to officially re-establish the principle behind Clause IV into its ethos. That’s for the Party to wrestle with. I am just glad that Corbyn is putting the basic principle front and centre.

As I’ve written, several times, over the last couple of years, I’d like for essential utilities and services, for example: energy, water, health, education, public transport.. to be in public ownership. You know: those upon which we all depend for national prosperity and personal well-being. How such public ownership is achieved, at this late stage, is probably going to vary according to entity, current systems, rational and legality so I’m not pretending that there’s a magic, one size fits all formula. However, the debate needs to be had. Rightists may have ‘won’ the argument once, a couple of generations back but it didn’t follow that they were wholly correct, did it..?

Why would the population of a country wish to create public ownership of those utilities and services deemed so essential to a civilised and prosperous Society? Why would such a population choose to hand over such responsibility, accountability, control and profit to (often) mercenary, private corporations? Why is it named ‘aspiration’ when it comes to the traditional reasons for individuals wanting to own their houses or to be self-employed/entrepreneurial but it is called a regressive notion for a whole nation of individuals to scale this up and share the responsibilities and rewards of collective interest?

As you know, I believe that it is We, the People, who are the State and that the Government and Official Opposition are supposed to be agents through which it is represented and its affairs managed. For a long time it has been self-interest that has been represented and public expectation that has been managed. We can’t say the People are represented when even the prospect of valid and valuable arguments is suffocated by the ignorance and hubris of the TINA Brigade and when all permissible discussion has to be funnelled, first, through an Overton Window of pro-exploitative, short-sighted and incoherent modelling. Markets, competition, the private and corporate sectors have their place but it is self-evident that they do not automatically constitute some socio-economic panacea and it is insulting and patronising to keep insisting that they do. I would rather the country comes to see public ownership as a matter of civic participation in an effort to better secure the collective pride and interest and the sovereignty of its citizens. The past and the present prove that the outsourcing of the most basic needs of Society does not.

Owning Democracy

Last week, Callme Dave Cameron raved that “the dream of a property-owning democracy was alive“. This, in spite of the fact that most people these days, are lucky just to be renting someone else’s property, let alone imagining owning some. This, in spite of the fact that, as far as assets go, the Cons seem to prefer that multinational corporations and other countries own chunks of our property than the citizens of the country they so ardently purport to love and serve.

And, too, this week, Callme has been spouting on about Britain being a ‘share-owning democracy’. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday that “being able to own shares in healthy, successful banks is the sort of country we should be building” even though he has done nothing to champion us having a proper, fully publicly owned national bank – one of those people’s mutual thingies.

It’s funny, really: I, too, think that we should be the owners of shares and the holders of stakes. You know, of things like the public assets that successive governments keep selling off; the public services they outsource to the profit-first sector; the infrastructure they fragment into financial packages. But no, Callme wants us to help buy other people’s houses for them and some shares in a crummy old bank with a public/private identity crisis. Twice.

The cognitive dissonance is so stark in its irony. The Cons want us to own private property as private individuals but not to own public property as a national collective. They bang on about the principle of inheritance and proclaim concern about the future we are leaving our children but make a complete mockery of our common inheritance. They want us to have shares in private financial institutions as individuals but not in public infrastructure and services, together. They want us to look after ourselves as proud, independent private citizens or as small, non-threatening groups that they can pass off as being entrepreneurial or beacons of localism – or responsible citizens in that creepy patriotic do-the-right-thing way – but they don’t want those services and resources upon which everyone depends for their common and basic needs to be in the control and interests of the people who need and use them. They don’t want us, as a population, owning assets in common, responsibly pooling our resources for efficiency, uniformity and affordability. No, because we might push for ethics, quality and sustainability; for reliability and ease of access. We might say we want Energy, Water, Railways etc to be monopolies if we can own them, so stuff your silly notions of choice and competition. We might factor in those inconvenient externalities such as the long-term costs of environmental and social impacts into our decisions.

Besides, a property-owning, share-owning democracy requires they not only approve of the existence of the State but also recognise and concede that the State is all of us – We, the People. No, of course they don’t want us to be sharing the ownership of national assets because if that was the property our ‘democracy’ owned shares in, that might look a little too much like actual devolution.

Pah.

I’m tired of this myth of ‘choice’

I’m tired of this myth of ‘choice’ that says

We have to voice our preference for a school

Or shop around for fuel to heat our homes

And cook our meals. And I don’t want to deal with

Competition, guile and clout or frustration fed on doubt

For my children’s education or well-being. I just

Want my nearest school to be as good as all the rest

For no child to be betrayed nor any parent left bereft

Because they can’t afford to buy a private ‘best’.

And you can ditch that empty pitch of ‘switching’

As the glitch of penalties inhibits changes

Of supplier –

And the competition bit you hail:

Your holy grail,

Propels the billing ever higher.

Surely for the Common Good,

There are some services that should be owned

By everyone and deemed as assets to have pride in

Not on loan to profiteers. Lord, when you think of all

The years, the wasted money and resources and

Imagine how much better off we’d be now if

The stinking troughs of Thatcher and the PFIs of Blatcher

Had just never been begun…