Thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s un-electability

I have been trying to write something on the Labour leadership election for a while now but keep getting put off. Rather than look at the election itself it might be interesting to look at two of the supposed truisms with surround the election and specifically Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign: that Corbyn as Labour leader would be unelectable and that only a Blairite Labour position can win a UK general election.

The standard view is that Corbyn is unelectable. He is repeatedly compared with the other unelectable Labour leader: Michael Foot. Foot has become a bye word in political circles for unelectablility: the Donkey Jacket wearing, elderly, slightly long haired socialist intellectual who looked like Worsel Gummidge (that will take some of you back).

In reality much of that is true and Foot may well have been close to unelectable but not completely unelectable. He campaigned for leaving NATO and unilateral nuclear disarmament which whilst then not as completely outwith the mainstream as they would be now were still very major vote losers. Some of his other views were, however, a bit less extreme than they seem today. His support for renationalisation was not that odd a position as the extensive nationalisation of British industry after the war was in those days still generally regarded positively. Although British Industry had huge problems in the 1970s and 1980s it did not afflict only nationalised industries.

Foot’s support for leaving Europe was also far from bizarre. It was a minority position but a large minority position: only later did it become the province of the very odd before coming back to being again a respectable if minority position today.

The joke hair and odd clothes were also not that ridiculous for the time. Quite simply men had longer hair in the 1970s and 1980s: obvious fact but should be mentioned when one regards Foot as bizarre. Politicians were also then often a bit older than they are now. His wearing a donkey jacket is also inaccurate. He actually wore what was more a duffle coat at the cenotaph: duffle coats having been introduced by the Royal Navy for wearing on the open decks of warships; hardly insulting to the war dead. Indeed apparently the Queen Mother complemented him on wearing a sensible coat considering how cold it was (and Foot was far from a young man at that time).

Foot was also no pacifist: in 1940 he cowrote “The Guilty men” denouncing Baldwin and Chamberlain’s appeasement policies – his chronic asthma prevented him from joining the forces during the war. When the Falklands were invaded he supported Thatcher in trying to regain the islands whilst Peter Shore his shadow foreign secretary was instrumental some months earlier in stopping the Thatcher government ceding joint sovereignty of the islands against the islanders wishes.

The Falklands though was the defining reason for Foot’s defeat. In the depths of the 1980-1 recession Labour was well ahead of the Tories in the opinion polls. This was destroyed by three factors: the Labour split to form the SDP; the improving economy and the Falklands War. Whilst the improving economy might have helped Thatcher the Labour split and even more so the war finished him. He can maybe be partially blamed for the Labour / SDP split (though others on both sides were more at fault) but the other two were outwith his control.

The fundamental point though is that Foot’s unelectability is to a significant extent a post hoc analysis. Had the economy not improved, had the Labour Party not split and most fundamentally had the war not been fought he might have won. Had the Excoets found their real marks and immobilised HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible (one Exocet would have been unlikely to sink even a small carrier) Foot might well have been elected.

The other truism is the converse one namely that Labour can only win from the centre with a Blairite agenda.

Again that is only a half truth. Firstly Neil Kinnock might well have beaten Thatcher in 1992: Major was one of the few party leaders truly to win an election against all expectations. That though is an issue for another time.

Blair won in 1997 on a platform significantly less to the right than he subsequently governed on: indeed his gradual drift to the right was very marked.

It is undoubtedly true that he dropped Clause 4 whilst in opposition but equally he won on a manifesto which supported a minimum wage when all and sundry were saying it would cost jobs; had a windfall tax on companies and was going to phase out nuclear power. Finally and most ironically in view of what was to follow was the “Ethical Foreign Policy” – denounced by all sorts of foreign policy experts as daft leftism. There was in the early days no talk of academies, partial privatisation of NHS provision, certainly no invasions of foreign countries at the USA’s behest.

As such although far from a left wing agenda Blair and New Labour were elected and governed initially on a much more left of centre agenda than they later adopted.

Much more important than that in terms of thinking about Labour and Jeremy Corbyn is that if Labour was unelectable in 1983 then they were practically undefeatable in 1997. By that stage the Tories, having been in power for approaching two decades were utterly exhausted, riven with spits and their one time electoral saviour Major was pilloried by many in his own party.

Furthermore had the election been called in 1994 John Smith an old fashioned right of centre Labour (ie well left of current New Labour) politician would very likely have become Prime Minister. Indeed one might argue that had Bryan Gould beaten John Smith in the 1992 leadership election we would have had a PM to the left not only of Blair but also of Smith for approaching a decade.

The above is not in any way meant to be exhaustive. The point is, however, that there is a strong tendency in recent political analysis even more so than in real history (not disparaging analysis but it is usually too simplistic and too deterministic) to assume that whatever happened was the only thing that could have happened. It is indeed the only thing that did happen but saying that it was always inevitable and nothing different could have been envisaged is simply inaccurate.

Jeremy Corbyn might appear unelectable as Prime Minister now. If he is elected as Labour leader (personally I suspect the chances are 50% or less) and loses everyone will say “I told you so” and whilst I agree his election as leader would reduce the chance of a Labour victory: it does not make it impossible. The right set of good fortune for him and the wrong set of fortune for his opponents could make the inconceivable perfectly possible:

To quote Ecclesiastes: I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

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  • Stravage

    One of the few balanced, informative comments on this new ‘paradigm’ there would appear to be a concerted effort of the ‘MSN’ to rubbish Mr Corbyn, they would appear to be running scared. Mr Will Self makes an interesting point, perhaps it’s time for the Labour party to split, the Tory party also.

  • Clanky

    A very well written piece Turgon, I tend to agree. I think Corbyn would regain and reinvigorate a large chunk of what used to be labours core vote whilst not necessarily scaring off as much of the fabled middle England as the right wing press would have everyone believe.

    There is a huge appetite for renationalisation of railways, post office and other key industries even within the middle classes in England and a slow dawning that the vindictive victimisation of the poor under Cameron, Osborne and the odious Duncan Smith is harming the country as a whole and not just the so-called benefit scroungers.

    Apologies for the typos which I am sure must be in there, typing this on my phone on a small ship in a big storm.

  • Korhomme

    Though it’s easy to use “left” and “right” in political debates, these terms aren’t always very useful; no matter.

    I remember seeing a diagram years ago, perhaps in the Sunday Times of where the great British public were on a left/right axis; and Tony Blair was almost exactly positioned at this point.

    The paradox is that the great British public would agree with a lot of what Corbyn says—renationalise the railways etc—yet would probably not vote for a Labour party if he was the leader. And if Corbyn does become leader will we see another “gang of four” splitting off from it?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    An excellent piece, Turgon, pricking quite a few misleading media myths about what actually constitutes “electability.” As you so perceptively say, “The fundamental point though is that Foot’s unelectability is to a significant extent a post hoc analysis.” The reasons that Thatcher was elected and Foot was not have much more to do with what the press wanted in 1984 than the actual personalities of each leader.

    I had a number of mutual friends with Michael Foot during the 1980s.The exiled middle European Bookseller in Cecil Court Bob Kris and the actor John Le Mesurier are the two people through whom I encountered Michael Foot most often. His debating skills and general popularity were unquestioned before the resentful fractiousness of the party grandees obscured his leadership abilities, particularly the “gang of four” defection that eroded his public image, something not helped by a grossly caricaturing press campaign to unscrupulously smear him, the “donkey Jacket” slur being just one instance. The man I met occasionally in those years would have made a most interesting prime-minister, particularly at that moment in time, as someone who was worldly wise enough to act, but never cankered by the poison of cynicism.

    As you so clearly state, much the same media scare tactics are being implied against Jeremy Corbyn, at a moment when his call for a return to a policy advocating important nationalisations challenges the thirty year old “quasi-religious” belief in the centrality for all politicians being seen to support privatisation of everything that is not actually nailed down. The private ownership of key infrastructure has now long been shown to be entirely impossible without serious subsidies from public money and the crying need for state management of important portions of the public infrastructure in a manner in which only something as big as the state can effectively provide has become an evident necessity for any efficient revitalisation of the economy.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I could not agree more. I’ve recently been in Oxford where many of my evening discussions addressed the very issue of the need for re-nationalisation as a secure base upon which an economy can be effectively kick started, as against the private ownership effort to push against the sand of a need for quick profit. “Selling off the family silver” has proved an expensive and debilitating blunder.

  • 23×7

    A monkey with a red rosette could have won in 1997. 5 years is a long time. Anything could happen that could potentially put Corbyn into No.10. The EU refferendum threatens to tear the Tories apart. Corbyn has one asset the rest don’t have and that’s credibility.

    Even if a Corbyn led Labour Party gets beaten at the next election his very presence will drag the political debate leftwards. This is already happening as we see renewed support among the electorate for public ownership of key utilities.

  • Korhomme

    Compare the UK and the German economies; German companies have large holdings of shares through banks who are in it for the “long game”; UK companies are owned by people who look for short term gains. “Slow but sure wins the race”.

    And Supermac, who made the comment about “selling the family silver” was a Tory of the old school.

  • andagain

    I agree his election as leader would reduce the chance of a Labour victory: it does not make it impossible.

    Put another way: it increaces the chances that Labour will lose seats at the next election.

    Note also that just because Corbyn right now can promise the Labour left everything they want and a pony too, does not mean he would be able to deliver on those promises if he was Prime Minister.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I remember Supermac, Korhomme, someone I used to caricature a great deal for my third form fellow boarders. Very much a Disraeli “one nation” man who understood that private enterprise could only flourish where a healthy infrastructure was guaranteed by the state. His loathing of “that woman” came from an instinctive sense of just how her asset stripping policies would eventually fatally weaken our broad economy. Recently a cousin of mine, a merchant banker of similar broad Tory views told me, “nowadays, there is simply no place for a traditional Disraeli Tory in the Conservative party.”

    As you say, the Germans have stuck to long term policy, while ever since Thatcher both main parties have played up to the Globalist interests. As Thatcher said, her greatest achievement was Tony Blair. The Murdock press have shamelessly backed this trend at every turn, and are now trying to convince us all that Jeremy Corbyn is some thin lipped Bolshie ideologue, as they so effectively did with Michael Foot.

    But I’m looking forward to discussing, should Corbyn win, my cousin’s voting for him.

  • Ian James Parsley

    That’s exactly right.

    Turgon makes some good points on policy, but that’s not actually what decides elections.

    Corbyn just doesn’t look Prime Ministerial (nor did Miliband), and he has some very dodgy past stances to defend – including praise of various despots and, of course, the IRA.

  • 23×7

    The idea of looking Prime Ministerial is such a tired cliche and even if it was even true it is becoming less important in the digital age. The idea of trying to control a personal “brand” or image as you could in the 70s, 80s and 90s is laughable. To steal a quote, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.”

    Alexis Tsipras became prime minister with very little political experience. To question Corbyn on foreign policy is also a bit of a joke. Name me one leader who hasn’t supported a despot or two? Corbyn’s knowledge of foreign affairs easily exceeds that of his peers.

  • Korhomme

    What then should a PM look like? I’ve heard that a full head of hair is essential if you want to be PM or POTUS. Perhaps this will count against Trump. What other looks do you need?

  • Ian James Parsley

    The evidence runs absolutely contrary to what you suggest.

    Leaving aside the obvious fact that Greece isn’t the UK, Tsirpas is young, telegenic, and offered a desperate populace and easy way out.

    It was nonsense, of course, but it’s not hard to see why they voted for him.

  • Ian James Parsley

    It’s not just about looks. It’s about charisma; it’s about standing; it’s about good health; etc.

    I suspect it will count against Trump, yes, although some exceptional candidates can overcome it. McCain more or less did (I don’t think any other Republican would have pushed Obama closer).

  • Ian James Parsley

    Spot on.

    Nothing is absolutely certain, but a Labour win at the next election was already highly unlikely. With Corbyn it moves to nigh impossible.

  • Ian James Parsley

    I don’t think anyone is “running scared”, apart from his three opponents none of whom has any real solutions at all. Frankly, they deserve what is coming to them (though I hope Liz Kendall gets another go in due course).

  • 23×7

    Beppe Grillo then or is he too handsome as well? I think many people take the electorate to be complete fools.

  • Dee Reynolds

    The idea that his election would reduce Labour’s chances is limited in my opinion; there is a large amount of statistical evidence that people support the majority of his policy agenda, particularly his core agenda which would crucially provide a simple and coherent narrative in an election campaign.

    This change in narrative is also significant as in the cases of Thatcher, Blair and arguably Cameron the winning party in the election won on the basis that they provided a new political narrative and that this change was absolutely necessary. NPM under Thatcher wasn’t necessary it just came along at the right time, New Labour seemed like a new vision at the right time and austerity has been seen to fail miserably, but it provided a genuine change in a stagnant political atmosphere where current ideas had ground to a halt, as you’ve mentioned.

    Labour’s main issue in the last election was that it failed to create its own narrative, but debated within the Tory narrative and thus couldn’t appear to be markedly different as it had no clear identity within the pro austerity space. It floated around with a Tory lite policy platform and a leader who was never going to carry that off as something more significant than it was. Corbyn allows Labour to create a separate narrative, and force the Tories to explain the pitfalls of their agenda while presenting an actual alternative.

    The PR strategy behind the policies would very much work as a weapon in elections, and there are statistics which back that up. Analysed further here:

    http://thetache.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/jeremy-corbyn-not-just-moral-winner.html

  • Korhomme

    The 1959 presidential debates: viewers saw Kennedy as young, fresh-faced etc; Nixon was sweating and had a 5 o’clock shadow. Kennedy looked as if he could be trusted, Nixon didn’t.

    But those who heard the debates on radio thought that Nixon had the better arguments.

    I seem to remember that being above-average height is also a bonus (in US).

  • Stephen Wigmore

    I love a good quote from Ecclesiastes 🙂

  • Reader

    Not normally my sort of thing – but that particular quote is a belter.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    The UK electorate were smart enough to see Ed Miliband and the left wing expedient as an economic catastrophe. Let Labour elect someone even more left wing, hirsute or not, and consign themselves to the electoral wilderness for a generation.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Seriously, are we pining for renationalisation? Do you forget British Rail, the black outs, rubbish not being collected in the streets. The 3 day week??

    Behave!

  • Sergiogiorgio

    But Trump has hair…….no wait….do you mean its a syrup?

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Look to France and see what a lurch to the left did for them. Real socialism, not just laughable conjecture. As a conservative I’d be voting for Corbyn. Doesn’t that tell you something?

  • 23×7

    Would that be the same France whose productivity per employee is approximately 21% above the UK? The number 1 tourist destination in the world? That France?

  • 23×7

    Bingo! Think I got a full house of left wing clichés there.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Yes that’s the one – the one with an unemployment rate of 10% compared to the UK’s 5%, but sure the graduates can all become barrista’s to serve those tourists you seem so keen on. And sure the weather is nice when you’ve nothing else to do, i.e. work. And just to put a number around that, its 3.5M people claiming benefits for unemployment. But luckily Frances economy is so bad that they are in a 6 month period of deflation, so its good that their unemployed can afford food. Shucks, their annual GDP rate of growth is 1% compared with those nasty Tory loving UK’ers taking 3%.
    But sure why let economic reality intrude upon socialist dream land.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    I think you are confusing bingo and poker old chap, but don’t let reality intrude. You lost!

  • 23×7

    Would that be the same UK where 1 in 10, 3M people are underemployed? Or the same UK whether almost 1million people are visiting food banks? That sounds like an economic miracle.

  • 23×7

    Maybe you’d like to delete that last post so as not to embarrass yourself any further.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    While I’m not living in England a sufficiently large number of my family members are and frequently tell me just what a woeful disaster privatisation has been. Few of them are at all left wing, I am after all the black sheep! The strong element of “asset stripping” has not gone unnoticed by those who actually mix with those profiting directly from “the selling of of the family silver.” With privatised “public transport” reduced to only a few links daily in many places, and a rail system that would quickly fold without public money, and a national health service riddled with weaknesses created by stealth privatisations through subcontracting to private firms, even the well off can see that thirty years of Thatcherite consensus has been just as much of a disaster as what you describe. And do you really think its even slightly acceptable to be subsidising private profit from the public purse. Effective economic growth requires a strong infrastructure as its foundation, as Disraeli recognised long before the so called progressives amongst the Liberals.

    There is no reason whatsoever why private ownership should be in any way more efficient than public ownership. This was recognised with regard to armies four hundred years ago, and the same principal (the need for public interest over self-interest) applies regarding the baleful effect of the privatisations also. The sooner the state undertakes its proper responsibilities to the broader community, rather than to elite private interests, the better. As Korhomme says below, simply compare our tottering economy with that of Germany.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I could not agree more 23×7!!! Its very important to actually get out and see what’s happening to real people instead of simply believing all those impressive Press releases about just how well our economy is doing. I’ve just been visiting friends in the south of England who have lived in London all their lives forced far out of Greater London by the sheer expense of living there, and I’m not talking about the poor!

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Sorry Seann, but having worked in both the public and private sector, its night and day. Just cast your eye over our own Northern Ireland civil service. The NHS doesn’t function, not as a result or stealth privatisation. It falls on its ass becuase it is just so damn inefficient. I agree the situation is far from perfect but lurching back into some halcyon view of state run monopolies frightens the living daylights out of me – British Rail, British Airways, power generation, take your pick. I’m just about old enough to remember the 70’s – Christ but it was grim!

  • Sergiogiorgio

    LOL, “underemployed”, so now we are inventing words….deal with the comparisons I raised above or shut up. France is socialist run and on its economic ass. The UK would have been in the same place but for the electorate realising Labour and Ed were an economic joke. You may not like it, but you were out voted!

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Yawn…..

  • 23×7
  • Sergiogiorgio

    I don’t mean to be 23X7, but you really are clutching at straws with “underemployment”. Would you prefer to be underemployed or unemployed? People who would “like” to be working more hours…..seriously? Sorry old chap but your socialist idyll just doesn’t work economically and the UK electorate saw that when Red Ed stood for the Labour Party and he tanked. At least we agree that Jeremy Corbyn is the man to lead Labour, just for opposite reasons.

  • spiraldaisy

    A major reason the public sector doesn’t function is due to the ineffective political system we have in place and the complete lack of accountability.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    I completely agree with you Spiral.

  • spiraldaisy

    You agree with my statement but draw different conclusions from it to me. Political institutions COULD become more effective and accountable. I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions about public and private sector based on Northern Ireland practices. Some regions in the UK, some local authorities and some parts of Europe manage very well with variations of public ownership operating

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Again, I agree that we draw different conclusions on the public/private sector. I can only go with my experiences of the public sector and I left it because it embarrassed me to be taking a wage for contributing so little. We were actively encouraged to reduce output as it could be viewed as being over staffed.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I too remember the 1970s, but perhaps my own experiences of the 1980s and all the raw greed and asset stripping that went on has coloured my own ability to be starry eyed about the shibboleth of privatisation.

    I’m probably a lot closer to your position that you realise, however. I fully agree with what you say about the NI Civil Service (and their cousins over the water) but I simply do not see a much failed policy of simplistic privatisation as any serious answer to this. Every attempt to privatise aspects of the grossly inefficient NI Civil Service simply seems to have hived off pretty much the same people into “stealth” companies that carry out much the same work still funded by rather more public money than before, in some mummers version of real private enterprise.

    Over about 25 years I ran films in London and Los Angeles with what I was told was a surprising degree of efficiency for the film business, both for other companies and latterly through my own company. I’m no enemy of genuine enterprise, simply of so-called “privatised” businesses that entirely rely on public funds. What we need is state controlled efficiency in such utilities that would benefit from being managed at a national scale, in the interests of us all, not a lazy evasive habit of pretend privatisation that is simply lining the pockets of those sly enough to play the system.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Sergiogiorgio and spiraldaisy for an intelligent and productive exchange on this issue. What we really need is efficiency, and simply privatising services does not actually guarantee this. There is no “one shot” answer, just had work and disciplined commitment to the public good.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Someone mentioned Corbyn’s “experience” on foreign policy.

    This includes bigging up terrorist homophobes like Vladimir Putin and other assorted lunatics like Hugo Chávez. As well as extolling the IRA, of course.

    With experience like that, I’ll take a rookie.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Seaan – I find myself in a most agreeable mood. Whilst I “agree” that simple privatisation is no panacea, re nationalisation is the road to perdition. The levels of bureaucracy associated to the public sector and the attendant costs would, without doubt, result in additional taxes and a reduction in service. Remember we would be reliant upon civil servants to pull these industries back into public ownership and then run them. The output would be horrific. Let the private experts get on with it – they know far better than the public sector how to run businesses.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    The railways are a good example of what goes wrong with such privatisation. They are a national network that simply cannot be split up “to enhance competition” without creating problems.

    You are correct in suggesting that “The levels of bureaucracy associated to the public sector and the attendant costs” are a problem should we simply use the civil service as it currently exists, but there is no reason why all of this cannot be rationalised and new structures developed. My own expertise was the assembly and management of focused creative teams of specialists to achieve particular results that the simple hiring of any old artists could not achieve. While I will not name productions, my approach led to a complete revolution in British animation in the 1980s. Careful and intelligent selectivity produced much finer results for dramatically less expenditure. I cannot see any reason why the layers of management within a new public sector control cannot be rationalised far more effectively under the state, and the state is the only thing with sufficient public interest to even begin to run anything that is required to operate on a national scale. The problem with leaving it to the private sector is the steady erosion of services by “asset stripping lite” that inevitably goes on. So much that is required for a society to function simply is not profitable in itself, although it will indirectly facilitate profit across the community. The “bribe” system of spending public money to bolster unprofitable necessities within public sector framework simply does not really work, as it is essentially a system of “protection money”.

    It is notable that the most efficient of European nations know that a state supported system of infrastructure is actually necessity for enterprise to flourish. Only the UK appears to feel that doing something that is not working over and over simply out of credulous belief in the one size fits all answer of privatisation will actually do other than run our economy down.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Seaan – associating your successful running of an animation company (which i applaud) to running a railway system is a bit of a stretch. I would contend that privatisation of British Rail has led to a better and safer service, albeit, with an attendant increase in ticket prices. Railway usage has nearly doubled since privatisation. I agree there are other national models but I don’t trust politicians to boil me an egg, so the thought of renationalisation by a shower of civil servants is madness.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I have a most marked distrust of politicians myself, but an even greater distrust of many of the businessmen I know who run major businesses. When any organisation passes a particular point in scale it begins to naturally carry much expensive deadwood. I have had to contend with many such people in the media, making such directors real money in spite of their own best efforts to sink projects with ignorance, conventionality and even plain silliness.

    As the European experiences shows, it is far from impossible for the state to manage large concerns rather more efficiently than private enterprise. And we are all still paying taxes to support those rail improvements you commend, the network of rail franchises are not genuine self supporting enterprises by any stretch of the imagination. So we have all the disadvantages of public ownership and none of the benefits. The worst possible solution.

    And I simply cannot see who organisation and efficiency must of necessity be an impossibility in large scale organisations, or why my experience is in some manner inappropriate. Its management intention I’m referring to rather than simply size.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Then we disagree Seaan. I think the view of greedy, corrupt business men is lazy and untrue. Similarly there are probably quite a few honest politicians, their main problem being their ineptitude, rather than corruption. I look for the best possible solution within the confines of what is possible. I believe you are looking for an ideal. Privatisation of the railways has generally been a success. More people use the railways, safety has improved, strikes have lessened and, in contention to your point above, tax payers contributions to the private system has decreased from the nationalised days. I agree other countries within the EU may have a different approach but I don’t have the data to hand to do a meaningful comparison and a volte face to a German model, for example, is a huge oversimplification. We should take what we have now as an improvement to what has gone before and refine it further. Renationalisation is not the answer.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Respectfully disagree, I’d hope, Sergiogeorgio. I can certainly see where you are coming from, and recognise the logic of much of what you are saying, and yes, improvement on what has gone before, but you could even say that about the modern civil service and that of the 1970s.

    We have perhaps had different experiences of the private sector. Mine have led me to find greed, folly, laziness and corruption everywhere where it can take root, both in the public and private sector, and although quite a few of those I’ve encountered may be serious and hard working, boards are packed with “names” who seem to do little beyond rubber stamp top management and accept the cheques. This approach does little to encourage zeal at lower levels.

    And I’d really like to see proper figures that clearly show that the “success” of privatisation of the railways has been achieved without increased costs to the public purse. That is certainly not what I’ve been hearing on visits to England.

    Private enterprise is not immune form the problems you so accurately attach to the public sector, issues of scale rather than inherent issues of public vs private management. And the solution to this is genuine commitment and efficiency, rather than simply offering up our necessary infastructure as a milk cow for private interests. To paraphrase the patrolman at the opening of “51st State”, “the [eighties] are over…”

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Always respectively old chap. I did the old Google thing – year on year passenger numbers and safety metrics etc etc. The cost elements I surmised as we went from a nationalised industry were the industry and the tax payer meet all associated costs to a semi-private / part tax payer funded model. Anyway I think we’ve done this one to death, but always good to debate with you.

  • Zeno

    I agree with that. My experience of the Public Sector Management is they have a cover your back culture. No one will make a decision without calling in a Consultant. By doing that if anything went wrong with any project they blamed the Consultant. I did some consultancy work for them and it really is money for old rope.