Margaret Thatcher was denounced for selling the family silver. In California, however, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been praised for selling the contents of the family garage. In a "garage sale" – or, as it is called here, a car-boot sale – the state raised $1.5m (£920,000) auctioning vehicles, office furniture, computers and the odd piano and surfboard. The amount is paltry, but the example is encouraging. With public services in Britain strapped, stretched, and substandard, this is an idea we could emulate. Consider, for instance, what the following might bring:
Monuments. I would happily contribute a fiver each – and I'm sure millions would join me – to purchase several London statues, on the understanding that they would be dumped at sea to make future civilisations believe they are the remnants of one more primitive than our own. Top nominations are the dismal tribute in Whitehall to the women of the Second World War (empty uniforms hanging, limp, like corpses on a wire), the giant robots embracing at St Pancras Station and the senile, twittering Queen Mother's Gates at Hyde Park Corner.
Police cars. California found these a popular item. They should do well here, too. Boys of all ages would enjoy speeding down the road, siren screaming, on the way to the supermarket. Throw in the standard police freedom to maim passersby while exceeding the speed limit in a good cause (for instance, while enough remains of the 3 for 2 offer) and sales will go through the roof.
Libraries. Since all information is now available on the internet libraries are now the haunt of the old, the poor and the peculiar. With health-and-safety laws precluding shelves that require readers to stand on a stool, thereby risking concussion, and councils considering libraries anomalous to their business models (a recent Camden Council report dealt with the challenge of transforming them from "consumers of resources" to "generators of income"), even these marginal constituencies are ill served. The obvious solution is to flog libraries in good locations as potential blocks of luxury flats (with built-in bookcases).
Tanks. With troop withdrawals promised for Afghanistan, a good deal of army surplus looks to be forthcoming. While many of these vehicles were not sufficiently armoured to protect soldiers, they should be adequate for the less-demanding conditions of a trip home from the coach station in Oxford on a Friday night.
Prison clothing. A great success in California. Since the male fashion of wearing trousers perilously low on the hips copied that of prisoners, it makes sense to give consumers a shot at the real thing. The style also has the advantage of accustoming many of its wearers early to the customs of their eventual destination. Other departments might also consider the sales potential of their own uniforms. Nurses' costumes, still smelling of disinfectant, would be much in demand in certain niche markets.
Whichever goods the government decides to flog, they should remember one point: although Governor Schwarzenegger autographed some of the more expensive lots, in the belief that their prices would increase, the signature had no effect. One potential buyer dismissed it as "graffiti". In our case, since an autograph might actually depreciate the goods, someone should be detailed to hide Gordon Brown's pen.Reuse content