Jeremy Corbyn may be just the man to curb this creeping privatisation

Parliamentary Business: National Gallery staff have taken almost 80 days of strike action over Securitas managing some of its visitor services

Mark Leftly
Wednesday 09 September 2015 01:02 BST

Kenny Stevenson, a politics PhD student, has made a reasonable case for a surprise Yvette Cooper victory this weekend on the Labour Uncut website.

Analysing party data, Mr Stevenson, a member of the Glasgow Cathcart Labour branch, claims the shadow Home Secretary could maybe, potentially, possibly, sneak past Jeremy Corbyn on second preferences and seize the party leadership when ballot papers are counted. It’s an interesting argument, but there are too many guesstimates, assumptions and seemingly arbitrary figures to make a compelling case.

Mr Corbyn is viewed as refreshing outside the Westminster bubble, despite having sat on Parliament’s green benches for 32 years, and remains on course to become the most left-wing leader in Labour’s history. It is even possible that he will win on first preferences by snaffling more than 50 per cent of the initial vote.

The City and big business are right, then, to fear that one of their fiercest critics – who wants to clamp down on “fancy accountants” routing income through offshore shell companies to avoid tax – will soon be the voice of the UK opposition.

Having gone through most of the seven stages of grief, most notably denial and anger, many in the parliamentary Labour party are now depressed. There are also plenty who have discovered hope – the hope of mounting a coup within a couple of years, so sure are they that Mr Corbyn will otherwise steer them to electoral oblivion.

Devout Corbynistas say power is meaningless without principle, while centrists argue politics is pointless without seizing Number 10. Mr Corbyn’s task will be to show that compromise is unnecessary – that the growing enthusiasm for his left-wing philosophy can deliver the votes needed for a Labour majority in 2020.

Ignoring the problems of his views on foreign policy and his apparent closeness to Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams – a vote loser in middle England if ever there was one – Mr Corbyn should be able to weave credible and fundamentally left-wing policy by unstitching the hidden thread in the tapestry of government policy.

To achieve this, the 66-year-old must avoid parroting an anti-austerity rhetoric, given that we have just elected a Conservative government committed to balancing the nation’s books.

Rather, Mr Corbyn should analyse the way in which the Conservatives, first in coalition and now on their own, have used the financial crisis to shrink the state. This is not just about spending less, but outsourcing services to the private sector – and, more pertinently, privatisation creep.

This is not to say that privatisation is intrinsically wrong or ineffective in all circumstances, but to acknowledge that there remains widespread suspicion of private sector involvement in what have historically been public services. You only have to look at the polling data showing how overwhelmingly popular is the idea of renationalising the railways.

But first Mr Corbyn must identify where this privatisation is taking place. The stock market listing of Royal Mail has been the most obvious example, but it has also served to distract critics from the more subtle private sector intrusions that are taking place across Whitehall.

For example, I revealed last month that a draft version of the Government’s forthcoming motoring services strategy states that officials will look at semi-privatising the practical driving test. The document says this will include “options for private sector involvement and greater diversity of provision, as well as considering other commercial and mutual options”.

The Government also wants to resurrect plans to bring in a commercial partner for the Vehicle Certification Agency, which approves types of cars for use on roads. Embarrassingly, the previous competition to introduce private sector nous to the VCA collapsed last year when the British Standards walked away from negotiations.

There are a couple of others I have banged on about for ages. Defence Equipment & Support, which buys the military’s kit, will in effect be run by Bechtel and CH2M Hill, the huge US engineers, under what are known as “managed service provider” contracts. Meanwhile, the likes of the French caterer Sodexo and FTSE 250 construction group Interserve are among the companies that now run around 70 per cent of the probation service.

The Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, recently signed off the business case for the privatisation of collecting court fines – America’s Synnex-Concentrix is preferred bidder. Even the national mapping agency, Ordnance Survey, has been turned into a government-owned company, which the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) feels certain is a precursor to a sale.

The PCS also points out that Equiniti took a controlling stake in MyCSP, the company that administers civil service pensions, last year. The union’s members at the National Gallery have taken almost 80 days of strike action already this year over Securitas managing some of its visitor services, meaning change of employer, from state to private, for hundreds of assistants.

There are many, many more examples – enough to show that privatisation, without using that word, is core to Cameronism and Osbornism. By opposing this, the new Labour leader could create a Corbynism that proves popular beyond his core militant support.

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