Kevin Maguire: Jeremy Corbyn is winning big on public ownership

Written by Kevin Maguire on 22 August 2018 in Opinion

Reviving the popularity of public ownership is an undisputed triumph for the Labour leader's socialist brand of politics.

Jeremy Corbyn has suffered a few knocks in a bruising summer but a Tory Government pushing aside G4S to take back control of cockroach infested privatised Birmingham prison is another little victory for his campaign.

Labour's manifesto scored big approval ratings for promises to renationalise water (83), gas (77), electricity (77), rail (76) and mail (65). So too did ejecting Richard Branson profit-syphoning tax haven billionaires from the NHS, while a majority also favour restoring local ownership of bus companies. Pollsters such as YouGov and Populus have even discovered that a sizeable minority would like to see airlines and travel agents run by the state.

The world has turned upside down from the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s when a Tory privatisation mania saw first Margaret Thatcher and then John Major sell off the family silver. Or the New Labour era of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown when private operators were invited into the NHS and nationalisation an emergency when Railtrack (now Network Rail) crashed and the banks collapsed.

It's debatable how far Corbyn creates or rides a national mood but on nationalisation he, not Theresa May, is undoubtedly on the side of public opinion. Years of rising bills and train fares to fund Lottery-style salary packages for a boss class extracting enormous profits for often foreign-owned corporations created a backlash he's politically capitalising. Remaining consistent, sticking to a position, pays dividends when events turn in your favour.

G4S is a free gift for Corbyn, a company still stained by the London 2012 Olympic security flop. Either Sodexo or Serco, the two other private firms running prisons in England, receiving a red card wouldn't resonate as loudly. Birmingham's hell hole, G4S and privatisation-nationalisation are part of Labour's wider argument put most forcefully by Corbyn and Labour's shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, that the economy is working for the few not the many.

The work underway to enhance Labour's offer at the next election, whenever that may be, is wrestling with an answer to the challenge of producing a hope-filled attractive radical alternative which also reassures voters the party is competent and could deliver in government.

Corbyn recognises Labour simply can't republish last year's little red book, correctly identified by his Islington neighbour Emily Thornberry as the real star of a successful campaign that was close but no cigar. The big nationalisation pledges on water, power, rail and mail will be repeated alongside a commitment to take in-house privately run jails.

McDonnell is targeting ruinously expensive Private Finance Initiatives crippling the NHS. One shadow cabinet Minister said how far Labour's changed in a few years can be gauged by the opening of doors for groups pleading for public ownership and control and shutting of them in the faces of those lobbying for privatisation or deregulation.

Tory claims that nationalisation is inefficient and Labour couldn't run a bath never mind a railway fail to resonate with the young who don't remember the 1970s and 1980s. Nor do they fire up folk who do remember and think those decades were better than the crazy rip-off era they're in now. There are other difficulties for him to deal with, but public ownership is Corbyn's rock in storms over Brexit and anti-Semitism.


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