Life can be full of ironies. To make sure of meeting Tuesday night’s deadline I wanted to post an application for shares late on Friday night. When I got to the local pillar box it was blocked up, with the (not entirely necessary) inscription “box closed” where the collection times should be. I did suffer a moment’s hesitation about investing in this business. Not for long though.
In truth, the post should have been privatised years ago. We invented it and it was once the envy of the world. Margaret Thatcher, much to the dismay of her ministers and to the puzzlement of subsequent biographers, refused to countenance the sale of this business on the grounds that the Queen’s head would have to come off the stamps and the public wouldn’t stand for it, a curiously sentimental view given her general attitude to the public sector.
John Major went on to privatise the wrong industry – rail. Under New Labour, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson never quite got to a sell-off, especially with the depressed state of the stock markets in the financial crisis.
So we have had to wait until now for our post office to catch up with the long-since privatised Dutch, German and other mails, and form partnerships overseas, invest in new technology and exploit the explosion in e-shopping. It is odd indeed that I was able to buy shares in Deutsche Post (in 2000) through an open public offer before I could buy into Royal Mail; since then DP has bought DHL… Like those delightful occasional stories about letters sent in the Great War that have only just been delivered, this privatisation may be late, but it is welcome.