Over the past 40 years I’ve watched the rich and powerful greedily chomping their way through every scrap of public property they could get their hands on – from British Aerospace and British Telecom to gas, electricity, water, British Rail , the Royal Mail and now – the last remaining jewels in the Great British public’s crown – the NHS and the BBC.
It’s not hard to understand why they want all this stuff. If you sell things people don’t really need, your profits are hostage to the whims of fashion, but if you have a monopoly on all the things people can’t live without then your profits are guaranteed for life.
The last time the Super-Rich had that kind of monopoly it caused the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which lead to the Great Depression, which was only ended by the outbreak of the Second World War just 10 years later.
In January 1941, six months after Nazi forces had surrounded what Winston Churchill later called “the whole root and core and brain” of the British Army and driven them into the sea at Dunkirk, Picture Post ran a photo story explaining where it had all gone wrong:
THE TRAGIC TALE THAT MUST NOT BE REPEATED: A TWO MINUTE HISTORY OF THE YEARS 1918-1939
In a last-ditch attempt to boost moral and give the British people something worth fighting for they were promised that, after they’d won the war, everything would be different.
Cold, damp, overcrowded rat-infested slums would be demolished and replaced by decent, low-rent Council housing. “Homes Fit for Heroes” as they were called.
No more unemployment – a job for every able bodied worker. No more exploitation by the rich and powerful – State control of the banks. No more poverty and starvation – Social Security for all. No more worrying about paying medical bills – free healthcare for everyone.
The Welfare State in other words!
But, over and above everything else was what Picture Post called “Our Main Problem” – the barrier between rich and poor “deliberately created by our system of education”.
“Our task is to remove the barrier – to bring the public schools into the general scheme.”Picture Post, January 1941
The month after Picture Post hit the street, George Orwell followed suit with his essay “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius“ putting the view that the outdated British class system was hampering the war effort and that, to defeat Hitler, Britain needed a socialist revolution:
Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there. One of the dominant facts in English life during the past three quarters of a century has been the decay of ability in the ruling class.
In the years between 1920 and 1940 it was happening with the speed of a chemical reaction. Yet at the moment of writing it is still possible to speak of a ruling class. Like the knife which has had two new blades and three new handles, the upper fringe of English society is still almost what it was in the mid-nineteenth century. After 1832 the old landowning aristocracy steadily lost power, but instead of disappearing or becoming a fossil they simply intermarried with the merchants, manufacturers and financiers who had replaced them, and soon turned them into accurate copies of themselves.George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius
“The Lion and the Unicorn” was instrumental in creating a new kind of democratic “English Socialism“, in contrast to the oppressive Soviet socialism, and also a new form of Britishness – a Socialist one, liberated from Empire and the decadent ruling classes.
When the troops returned home victorious and went to the polls in the ‘Khaki Election’ in 1945, the first thing they did was kick Churchill out of Downing Street and put Clement Atlee’s first-ever majority Labour government in with a mandate to implement the new democratic English Socialism. The rich and powerful loathed it, obviously. The newspapers described it as an “unexpected landslide victory”, as school history books still do. Unexpected by whom exactly?
But despite vehement opposition from the ruling elite, and a War Debt so great it wasn’t paid off until 61 years later in 2006, Atlee’s Labour government still succeeded in creating the democratic Socialist revolution that’s now known as the Welfare State.
That was the era my generation was brought up in. A golden age of light, fresh air, optimism, progress and freedom, with lots of interesting, creative things to do with our time, lots of great programmes to watch on the telly, lots of great music to play on the record player and the liberty to think and say whatever we pleased, A golden age won for us by our parents’ generation, who’d sacrificed their own youth, lives and personal ambitions to give us all the things they never had themselves.
But, as the survivors of the Great Depression and Second World War started fading into history, the memories of all the things they fought and died for started fading along with them. Slowly but surely the rich and powerful succeeded in convincing the post-war baby boomers that public ownership wasn’t working and only the “discipline of the free market” could do the business.
In Margaret Thatcher’s share-owning democracy of the 1980s the public were offered the opportunity to buy shares in all the things they already owned. Starting stealthily by selling off profitable companies like British Aerospace to reduce the deficit, the major turning point came with the destruction of the major obstacle to privatisation, the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984.
From then on there was nothing to stop the privateers getting their grubby little paws on every scrap of public property they could find.
From Jaguar, British Telecom, British Aerospace, Britoil and British Gas…
…to British Steel, British Petroleum, Rolls Royce, British Airways, water, electricity and finally British Coal and British Rail in 1993.
When the railways were in public ownership trains were occasionally late and you couldn’t get a McDonald’s to save your life, but things were never that bad!
But by then it had been firmly established in the public’s mind that public ownership was as evil as communism and there was no alternative but to make the rich richer so their wealth could trickle down to the rest of us.
Never mind that trickle down was what your grandmother used to call “crumbs from the rich man’s table”. That was the old glass-half-empty, politics-of-envy stuff that caused all our problems in the first place. This was the new entrepreneurial (formerly known as rentier) age and as long as we kept thinking the glass was half full we’d soon be rich ourselves.
Having spent the 80s trying to point out that if you don’t complain your glass is half empty you’re never going to get it filled up, and steadfastly refusing to buy shares in companies we already owned, I finally gave in and bought shares in five electricity companies when they were privatised in 1990.
Over the next five years they did very well and I made a couple of grand, until I started receiving letters like the one below telling me that, under Section 429 of the Companies Act 1985, I had to sell out to a transnational corporation whether I liked it or not.
Section 429 of the 1985 Companies Act was one of those teensy-weensy bits of small print Margaret Thatcher forgot to tell Sid about. And, despite what it said on the tin, Entergy Power UK plc had very little to do with the UK. It was a front for Entergy Corp., an American-owned transnational who, a couple of years later, sold my own small stake in London Electricity on to EDF, a French transnational owned by the French government!
So much for the evils of nationalization! So much for Margaret Thatcher’s share-owning democracy! So much for the Dunkirk spirit and the Khaki Election. Since the end of World War ll the income growth of the top 10% has been steadily rising, whilst its been steadily falling for the rest of us, to the point that it has now gone into reverse!
So it’s no surprise that the pockets of the rich and powerful are now so stuffed full of what used to be our money that 86 of them now own as much as half of the rest of the world’s population put together. Which means each one of them is worth more than forty million other people! How can one person be worth more than a population the size of Canada?! Surely that can’t be right, can it?
The rich are now so grotesquely rich that the annual income of just 100 of them could solve world poverty four times over. In other words, if the hundred richest people donated just a quarter of their monthly salaries , without dipping into any of their savings or selling off any of their assets, they could cure world poverty forever.
That really is awesome don’t you think? If you were one of those 100 people wouldn’t you want to spend money you can easily afford curing world poverty rather than buying one more Caribbean Island, Lear Jet or Super Yacht? If that tells you nothing else, it’s that they don’t care anywhere near as much about other people’s health as they care about their own wealth.
Which raises the question: are these the kind of people we want owning all the things we can’t live without and looking after us when we’re old and sick?
After five years of austerity, and just four months away from a General Election, these are the things we need to be discussing. Does it have to be this way? Are there alternatives? What are they? What would be the relative benefits and costs?
No surprise then that the 86 people who currently own more than half of the rest of the world’s population would want to own that discussion too. And you know what? They already do:
If you look at those headlines dispassionately from a distance a pattern begins to emerge. Take a problem and charge it so full of emotion it’s impossible to think straight. Blow it up so far out of proportion it pushes everything else off the page. Keep on shouting until people are so wound up they’ll do anything to get it to stop. Then offer the solution you already had sitting on the shelf just waiting for a problem to solve.
Take dementia for instance. All illness is miserable, no doubt. But is dementia so much more miserable than than a lot of others you could think of? The mass media says it is. Suddenly there’s a pill that may halt the misery of dimension. Not definitely will, just may, if we’re lucky. It’s going to be hugely expensive, but when we’re dealing with so much human suffering cost is no object, obviously.
But what about Ebola? Isn’t that an even bigger problem? Ah yes, well, a couple of weeks ago it was. but we’re working on a pill for that too. So isn’t that going to be even more expensive? Well yes, it is, but if we can save just one human life it’s worth it.
But if money is no object then one day the NHS is going to go broke surely? Well, yes it is, but we’ve got a pill for that too. Drinkers, smokers and fat people have brought all their problems on themselves, so we cut them out for starters. Then we sell off the rest of the services to private corporations who can run them more efficiently, obviously.
There are always two sides to every story. A quick Google search will turn up all kinds of things that call all of the above into question. But with the long hours people have to work these days who has time for that?
In the Mass Media age the only defence we have against only ever hearing one side of the story is a mass media corporation we own ourselves – the BBC in other words.
The one and only purpose of the BBC is to provide the public with the accurate, unbiased information they need to see through the manipulations of the private corporations and make properly informed decisions for themselves. When you think about how much trouble that could save us, the licence fee would be a bargain at twice the price.
Every Saturday morning when I were a lad BBC Radio ran a programme, Children’s Favourites with Uncle Mac which started with the same catch phrase, “Hello children, everywhere”, and played the same records over and over again.
In those early post war years, with Dunkirk still fresh in people’s minds, the BBC stuck close to it’s founding principles of public service broadcasting, so no surprise that many of the records Uncle Mac played were chosen to inform and educate young minds as well as entertain. And at least one of those songs taught us that solving one problem often creates and even bigger one:
But the BBC doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s full of people just like us. If we were taken in by the propaganda it’s likely they could have been too. In fact, if you drew a graph of how much the BBC has represented the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the public over the post-war years my guess is it would correlate pretty highly with the differences in income growth.
The income growth of the majority of the public went into reverse in 2009. If recent events are anything to go by it appears the BBC has followed suit. In July 2014 the BBC spent licence payer’s money on lawyers representing BBC employees who don’t believe in the higher purpose of public service broadcasting against one of the few remaining ones that still did!
Any doubts about where that was leading were dispelled three months later when the BBC put the final nail in the public broadcasting coffin by appointing a top banker, currently being sued over allegations of laundering terrorist and drug cartel money, to Chair the BBC Trust!
There are plenty of people within the BBC who think that’s not right, but at the moment they’re outranked by those who think it is. Which is why, If we want the BBC to do what it’s supposed to do we have to complain when it doesn’t.
Anatomy of a BBC Complaint
I’ve never been one of those do as I say, not as I do types myself, so I put my money where my mouth is and submitted my own BBC complaint about the lack of coverage News at Six gave to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) announcement that the June 2014 deficit was a massive 50% higher than the previous year!
BBC Editorial Standards say they should acknowledge mistakes and correct them quickly. So, EITHER the BBC acknowledges that burying news of a 50% increase in the deficit in the year leading up to a General Election WAS a mistake, OR they can provide evidence to prove that it wasn’t.
You’d think that would be a pretty simple wouldn’t you? So how come it took more than 10 months and 55 pages of correspondence before the BBC decided they hadn’t made a mistake AND that burying news that could have had a significant influence on the outcome of the General Election wasn’t evidence of lack of due impartiality and accuracy either!
If you can bear wading through 55 pages of BBC Doublethink to discover how they succeeded in proving black is white, you can download a PDF of the entire case correspondence here: