Friday, 4 April 2014

People want public ownership not waffle

Andrew Fisher

I know. I'm a little late to the party. Trying to revive a conversation that has long since finished, and was probably never worth starting. But ...

Last week, the Guardian columnist John Harris scribbled yet another paean to abstract wonkery that in its breathtaking arrogance condemned the entire left for supporting "nationalisation, the big state and jobs for life". My friend Louise Whittle has already taken a literary stab at replying to this 'Compassite John Harris is living in the past'.

I was only drawn to the article again, having gurned and sighed my way through it the first time, as someone pointed out that the article links to a quote by me in the Morning Star outdatedly advocating "a massive house-building programme". Alongside my crime Harris laments those advocating "renatonalisation of the railways".

So are these policies outdated? As I've writtten for the Guardian datablog, London faces a severe housing crisis - both of supply and affordability. And the story is not much better around the rest of the UK. Ed Miliband has pledged to be building 200,000 homes a year by 2020 (if elected in 2015) and even George Osborne's 2014 Budget promised an extra 200,000 homes by 2018-19. Everyone from Boris Johnson to Jeremy Corbyn has warned of social cleansing in London due to the housing crisis in the capital and policies like the bedroom tax and benefit cap (which both are a right wing policy response to the lack of supply and its consequences). Maybe we're all wrong and overcrowding is 'on trend'. Maybe John Harris has a solution to the housing crisis which doesn't involve large scale house-building?

Perhaps the opinion polls that show housing as gone from being a major concern for 8% of people in January 2007 to 11% today (Ipsos MORI) are all wrong and people are demanding something "forward-thinking" like "co-production of public services"?

The British public has also got it wrong on public ownership of the railways - despite opinion polls consistently registering support for rail renationalisation between two-thirds and three-quarters, and it being Labour Party conference policy and TUC policy. So put up with fast rising rail fares, overcrowding, and huge government subsidies to private franchises ... or you're outdated!

Ironically rail renationalisation advocate Bob Crow wrote, in a LEAP pamphlet I edited, that the renationalised railways should be run by a body consisting of "representation from the various ‘stakeholders’– trade unions, national,regional and local authorities, passengers, and the industry itself". That almosts sounds like "giving away power and resources to our nations, regions, cities, localities and, where possible, directly to the people" - except not over the railways presumably ...

So kill off public ownership, meeting housing need and job security,  ... and get away from being outdated alongside the untrendy majority of the British people.

Or, Labour could try listening to those demands. Who knows? You could even call it democratic socialism.

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