This post first appeared on the Radix blog...
Long after this was stopped being a useful debate, and for my entire lifetime, British political debate has been bled by this pointless discussion. And now, thanks to the Labour manifesto, we are shooting back round again. My main fear is that it will take decades for us to emerge from this new cycle.
Especially as privatisation is virtually dead in the UK. And for the following reasons:
First, there is no available fat on our services which can provide any of the biggest corporations with the profit they need any more.
Second, thanks largely to Norman Lamb as health minister, the watchword of the NHS is now 'integration', not competition - not completely incompatible but still tough to reconcile completely.
This not to suggest that privately run companies, and especially small ones and co-ops, have no role to play in public services. They do and should.
But the third reason is this. The fiasco over Southern Rail's failure to run a proper service through most of 2016 has taught me at least that privatisation along the current lines is virtually dead. When the Department of Transport steps in to protect its failed providers from the wrath of users, you know the writing is on the wall - and not just in railways.
I have been closely involved in the Southern debate - I wrote a book about it called Cancelled! - and I was left with the strong impression that we will go through a period here and elsewhere, where government departments are increasingly 'owned' by their providers - in social care in particular - because the system is close to collapse and no obvious alternative is anywhere near in place.
Departments will no doubt grit their teeth and keep on defending the indefensible for some time yet, but there will come a time - and not too long hence - when the current dispensation becomes clearly impossible.
I'm unsure what Whitehall can do then, since they are making no provision for it as far as I know, except probably to send in the army as they did to run security at the Olympics in 2012 when the privatised manpower supplier failed to deliver.
How can we prevent this? I'm not sure, except that Southern users need to vote according to the extent to which their MP supported them, and told them the truth, during the long, dark railway journey of the soul last year. In the meantime, I commend the Association of British Commuters election demands on the issue:
1. Independent Public Inquiry into the relationship between Govia Thameslink Railway and the Department for Transport.
2. The return of guaranteed assistance for disabled passengers on services currently branded as Southern Rail.
3. Immediate removal of the TGSN contract from Govia and passenger representation in any solution, which must take into account the findings of the Chris Gibb report (still secret).
See my new book Ronald Laing: The rise and fall and rise of a revolutionary psychiatrist. Get ahead of the Mad to be Normal film when it comes out!
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