20 May 2022
After 40 years of privatisation, the verdict from voters is in - it’s been a failure. We’ve just carried out polling with Survation, focussed on Red Wall voters in particular, and published in the Mirror today.
Of course the 'Red Wall' isn’t just one thing but the poll defined the 'red wall' as seats in the North of England and Midlands which switched from Labour to Conservative at the 2019 General Election.
1015 residents were asked 'Do you think the following services should be run in the private sector or the public sector?' for a range of services: water, buses, rail, NHS, energy and Royal Mail.
Their answers were clear.
65% of Red Wall respondents who voted Conservative in the 2019 election want energy in public ownership. 63% of them want rail in public ownership. The figures are 66% for water, 61% for buses, 81% for the NHS and 63% for Royal Mail.
Across political parties and excluding ‘don’t knows’ 3 out of 4 people want public ownership.
That’s because people across the political spectrum know that the ideological insistence on private companies doing EVERYTHING is extreme and misguided. Here are three reasons why.
1) Privatisation is hugely wasteful and costs us more because we waste money on shareholder dividends, the higher cost of borrowing in the private sector and fragmentation. We see this in our energy bills, rail fares, bus fares and water bills, as well as the huge waste caused by outsourcing in our NHS.
It doesn’t have to be this way - we could stop the waste. In France, where they have a publicly owned energy supply company, EDF, the government has limited price rises to 4% - compared to 54% here.
2) Privatisation damages the quality of services because private companies have the wrong incentives. They need to make a profit so they try to cut corners and cherry pick what they offer. The result? Lack of investment. Unprofitable bus routes cut. The private sector cherry picking NHS operations. Rivers filled with sewage.
It doesn’t have to be this way - we could invest properly. Publicly owned Scottish Water has invested £72 more per household per year than the privatised English water companies - if we had public ownership in England, £28 billion more could have gone into the infrastructure since privatisation.
3) Privatisation makes no sense because the whole point of it was to create a market with consumers who can choose, but most of our public services and utilities are natural monopolies. There isn’t really any competition. You don’t get to choose your train company or your water company. This means you don’t really have consumer power - accountability mechanisms for public service users are needed instead.
It doesn’t have to be this way - we don’t have to insist on markets where they don’t belong. Switzerland has the best railway in Europe and it’s publicly owned and integrated with buses and trams, providing a regular, reliable ‘clockface’ timetable service for every village over 300 people.
Previous polling we did in 2020 specifically asked people WHY they supported public services in public hands. The top reason was that money should be reinvested into our services rather than flowing to shareholders.
Arguably, Conservatives are aware of the support for public ownership. They’ve announced policies using language like ‘taking back control of the NHS’ and ‘Great British Railways’ even while these same policies outsource, privatise and sell off more of our services.
While Boris Johnson promised to help us 'take back control', he’s continued to give away control over our public services to shareholders around the world. This new polling gives us ammunition in calling for Conservative MPs to really 'take back' our water, energy, railways, buses, Royal Mail and NHS.
So if Red Wall voters want public ownership, why didn’t they vote for it when they had the chance with Corbyn’s Labour? Direct surveys of voters after the 2019 election showed that Brexit and leadership were the key issues influencing the way people voted. But the Labour Party policy of public ownership of post, water, energy, rail and buses was popular across all age groups, regions, class, income, gender, and ethnicity. As our polling shows today, public ownership continues to be supported by voters across all political parties.
The next election won’t be about Brexit. We might guess that cost of living and NHS waiting lists will be high on the agenda. A low level windfall tax won’t be enough to stop dire poverty from rising energy bills. People will be angry about the state of the NHS, about sewage in our rivers and public transport falling apart at the seams. Voters will want to see properly funded public services working for people not profit. In the Red Wall and throughout the country, they are likely to feel that running all our public services to benefit a handful of shareholders doesn’t actually make sense.