Mark Steel: Let Ryanair run all our services

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Eventually the Coalition will sell itself off and the country will be run by Ryanair. You realise this if you listen to one of their favourite thinkers, Mark Littlewood, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, which describes itself as a "free-market think-tank." Yesterday he suggested stopping libraries from receiving public funding, because he doesn't use them, so "why should I pay?" And that is a legitimate economic argument which raises valid social as well as monetary concerns for anyone who's a miserable, wretched, anti-social, smug, selfish bastard.

Because it's a sign of an advanced society that we can stroll into a public library, see pensioners enthusing about books they couldn't afford to buy, and schoolchildren using computers beyond their families' private means, and think: "How much is this costing ME? It's NOT FAIR. I can't afford my own safari park, I don't go borrowing a free one off the council."

The libraries should be allowed to stay open, their spokesman said yesterday, as long as they're prepared to charge a rate for borrowing each book, so they could be run for a profit. But then it wouldn't be a library, just like Blockbuster Videos isn't a library. He might as well have said: "I have no objection to libraries remaining open, if they clear out all the books and replace them with a waitress service bar, and instead of a reference section and librarians they install some poles and employ young women to swivel round them and wriggle on men'slaps. That's the sort of modernisation that can make the library service fresh and relevant for the 21st century."

The cuts are sold as essential to reduce the deficit, but when you hear these people they appear as part of an ideology that understands almost all public funding as morally wrong. They almost dribble with pleasure as they tell us their recommendation that the onus will be on kidney patients to get sponsorship for their dialysis machine, which will free them from reliance on the local health trust. Or they ask: "Why should the taxpayer provide funding for guide dogs for the blind? After all, I can't climb trees, yet nobody provides me with a gibbon."

It's the philosophy of Ryanair, to pay for exactly what you use and nothing, not even the toilet, is communal. So as they've got the experience, we should let them run our services. They can put toll gates in every park, and charge for each conker a child picks up, with a "performance fee" added on if it does well, like the clause attached to footballers. At night there can be a lamp-post toll on every street so those who use the light pay for the lighting, but so as not to hurt the least well-off, anyone without sufficient funds will be entitled to drive with a bin liner over their head. The fire brigade will become Pay-per-Gasp because why should I pay for someone else to be carried down the stairs when I'm not alight?

Ryanair can adapt its current machines so that each week we'll check in our rubbish, paying for exactly what we've got, and we can do the same for human waste. Instead of the unfair system where we all pay the same towards sewage regardless of how much we use, we'll take our own down, weigh it and if it's above the standard rate, the clerk will say: "I'm afraid there's a bit of excess to pay on that." And this way the resident who keeps his urine in bottles and stacks them in the attic is rewarded for being frugal.

The Coalition's pet think tank was formed in 1955 and has been coming out with stuff like this ever since, so the size of the public debt is just an excuse for insisting it all has to be done now. It's as if the Pope said on his visit: "Given the unprecedented level of debt we must all throw away our condoms, as they're all borrowing a thousand pounds every second."

But if they get their way, soon we'll have a society we can be proud of, where neighbours will once again gladly let you pop in for a friendly chat, so they can charge you four quid for a cup of rancid tea and a pound to use their toilet.

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