Royal Mail Sell-Off Is British Politics At Its Worst
by Bobby Gant
Wed 18th Sep 2013
Last week the coalition government announced that they are going to float Royal Mail on the stock exchange, ending almost 500 years of the famous institution being government owned. The move caused an outcry from Royal Mail staff, trade unions and the public in general, who are largely opposed to the privatisation of Royal Mail.
Opinion polls show the public are overwhelmingly opposed. Polls have varied but opposition to the move ranges from around 60% to a staggering 91%. Figures suggest Royal Mail staff are also completely against the move, with figures released by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) in Scotland showing that 96% of their workforce is against privatisation.
So why is the government going down the privatisation route? Unlike previous privatisations, the argument cannot be made that it is too costly to keep Royal Mail in public hands. The opposite is in fact true and Royal Mail brings in a tidy profit to the public purse every year. The answer is sinister and cynical and demonstrates exactly what is wrong with British politics in this day and age.
The reason Royal Mail is being sold - ideology and close relations with big business come before the general public. This government is willing to totally ignore opposition to the sell-off in order to give their friends and donors the chance to earn a quick buck at the public’s expense. The profitable part of Royal Mail will be sold, while the unprofitable pension schemes will remain nationalised. This is not a one off either.Opinion polls show the public favour bringing the railways back under public ownership, yet the government opposes re-nationalisation and instead aims to re-privatise the profitable and efficient East Coast rail line.
When the public is ignored on matters that impact their day to day life, democracy has failed. People become disenfranchised and don’t believe they can make a difference, regardless of who they vote for. Labour, for their part hasn’t helped matters. True as it may be that the Tories and Lib Dems are acting without a mandate when privatising Royal Mail, the opposition from the Labour Party is lacklustre, possibly because they considered a similar stock market floatation in the Blair years. Regardless, the general public is looking for someone to protect a treasured public asset that they believe should remain in public hands. Labour Shadow Cabinet ministers may have come out on Twitter and voiced opposition but they then faded away. Labour should have stated categorically that they would re-nationalise Royal Mail in 2015 and hopefully throw a big enough spanner in the works to stop privatisation taking place in the first place.
As it stands, the CWU will ballot for strike action and may be backed in various ways by other trade unions. As the inevitable strike takes place, the general public will look on dismayed and perhaps rightly think that all politicians are the same. All three main parties are more concerned with courting and pleasing big business than they are with defending members of the public on issues that matter to them.
The Royal Mail sell-off will make people trust politicians even less than they already do. It will leave people believing that politicians care more about big business and their corporate paymasters than they do about them. It is British politics at its absolute worst.
Unless Labour step up to the plate and promise to re-nationalise Royal Mail if privatisation goes ahead, it will leave people feeling disenfranchised and totally disconnected from the Westminster bubble. It is a bad deal for the public, a bad deal for the Royal Mail staff and perhaps most worryingly long term, a bad deal for British politics.