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  • Published in Opinion
Billionaire Sir Richard Branson in 2011. Photo: Flickr/VirginMoney

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson in 2011. Photo: Flickr/VirginMoney

“One rule for them and one rule for us” is a key mantra for neoliberalism and it has to be destroyed, argues Lindsey German 

The sagas of Carillion and of Virgin East Coast tell you everything you need about the rottenness of privatisation in this country. While we are all regaled with the virtues of the free market and the need for competition, these companies are only able to make the huge profits that they do as a result of state funding and protection from competition.

These are super-semi-monopolies, granted tenders to run services which would be better and cheaper run in the public sector. Their tenders are often phoney, as was the case with the Virgin Stagecoach one for the East Coast railway (euphemistically described as overestimating). They involve a race to the bottom in terms of wages, job cuts, and working conditions. They also involve cuts in investment, meaning a deterioration of service provision. They are often a public disgrace, like Thames Water which has been admonished for record water leaks and for emptying sewage into the river.

Carillion’s directors stuffed their mouths with gold, according to MP Frank Field. But they were given licence to do so by a government which is so ideologically committed to privatisation that it cannot admit failure. So essential services, including prison security, social care, NHS treatments, and children’s services are contracted out to these people in the name of efficiency. The result is there for everyone to see. Worsening services in every direction at more expense for ordinary people. And those who work for these companies constantly under pressure to work harder while wages deteriorate in real terms.

Whatever the government now says, it has effectively renationalised the East Coast railway but even now refuses to bar Stagecoach and Virgin from future rail ownership. This goes against the objective reality but also against the views of all the rail unions - who are the only people who have stopped these privatisations being even worse - and against public opinion.

This disregard for the mass of the population has been seen most clearly in the case of the Grenfell fire and its aftermath. That was a tragedy which could have been avoided, but rather than banning combustible cladding, the government has stopped short of doing so. The investigation into the fire was conducted by, among others, those from the construction industry. Privatisation of council housing and other social housing has been catastrophic, with much of it now in the hands of private landlords who command rents several times what would have been paid by council tenants.

It represents a redistribution of wealth in favour of the rich, as do all the privatisations, and an assault on working class people. The class hatred of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour tells you how much these people will try to hang on to their wealth and how much we will have to fight to take it from them. 

A modern monarchy: one for the oxymorons

One of my favourite authors, Scott Fitzgerald, once wrote that the rich aren’t like us. It’s always worth remembering when we are sold the stories of everyday normality and decency on the part of billionaires who don’t wear ties and call their employees by first names, but who continue to carry out policies which maximise their profits and minimise their workers’ rights. It’s even more worth remembering when we talk about royalty. This dysfunctional family is sold to us as a soap opera, with its trials and tribulations just like any other family, and its heartbreak and happiness just like the rest of us.

They are not. They are one of the richest families in the world, completely removed from the cares of ordinary people, supposedly above politics, but actually in virtually every aspect that we can glean on the right - and sometimes extreme right - of politics. They are a major support of the military, the church and the establishment. Their embrace of change is minimal, and only occurs when they are found to be so far behind public opinion that they risk deep unpopularity. So I can only say don’t be taken in by a wedding service which made concessions to Meghan Markle’s race and nationality. It is about management and control, not about genuinely opposing racism, and it is about how to create an enduring monarchy for the 21st century. Expect business pretty much as usual. And let’s remember the cost of the wedding, and the super elites who attended it, who have no problem with the policies of a government which acts constantly in its behalf.

I was in Burford celebrating the martyred Levellers, executed on Cromwell’s orders in the churchyard for mutiny in 1649, and who represented the extreme left of the democratic republic. It was a great antidote to wedding fever, and one anecdote struck me. Apparently, Winston Churchill, when Lord of the Admiralty, wanted to name a battleship Cromwell. He asked for permission to George V and was told it was out of the question. He asked again, to be met with an even frostier response. A man who executed the king in the 17th century still wasn’t going to be forgiven nearly 300 years later. 

Netanyahu laughs while Gaza mourns and gets away with it 

The killing of 60 unarmed civilians in Gaza last week was a revelation of the true nature of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu's attitude to the Palestinians. It was underlined by the juxtaposition between the massacre and the grotesque spectacle of the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, a gala affair for the rich and powerful, where Israeli politicians mingled with Ivanka Trump, and it was all smiles and celebration as peaceful protestors were shot.

Trump and Netanyahu are acting illegally in moving the embassy. They are doing it to appease far right sentiment among Trump's domestic supporters, among settlers in the illegal West Bank settlements, and among Israelis. It would be deeply shocking, if not predictable. Israel repeatedly flouts international law, endorses the illegal settlements, and represses Palestinians in the occupied territories.

It is also predictable that international opinion - wrongfooted by the killings while the embassy was being opened - soon returned to business as usual, repeating Israeli lies that this was all the fault of Hamas and that those involved were terrorists. Every liberation movement has been accused of terrorism, of using innocent demonstrators. It is the opposite of the truth. 

The prize for the most despicable response so far goes to Labour Friends of Israel which issued a statement blaming the death on Hamas - a statement it had to withdraw. LFI is quick to blame others for anti-Semitism, but this response demonstrates that its major concern is support for Israel’s policies. It should be clear after Gaza - we can distinguish between anti-Semitism as racism, which we should all oppose, and criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, which we must continue to make.  

A woman’s right to choose on both sides of the border 

Good luck to all those campaigning in Ireland for repeal of section 8 of the constitution, which makes abortion illegal. It should be a woman’s right to choose whether or not she has a child,  not the church or state. Irish women, north and south, have been forced to suffer unwanted pregnancy or travel to England at great stress and expense to have abortions. I hope that the campaigners win - which is by no means certain given the continued role of the church in rural Ireland - and that this leads to a new victory for women. I hope too that this forces the Northern Ireland state to bring its laws into line. Or will it be the only part of these islands where women still have to fear unwanted pregnancy. Perhaps Theresa May would like to have a word with her DUP friends?

Lindsey German

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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