Taking Back Control: Winning the Argument for 21st Century Public Ownership

Since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and the masterstroke appointment of John McDonnell – one of the strongest anti-austerity voices in Parliament – as Shadow Chancellor, Labour has been shifting the parameters of the debate when it comes to discussion on the future direction of economic policy in Britain.

Since 2015 Labour has not only outlined why austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity, but started to mainstream this position, starting to win more public support for an investment-based alternative, particularly in the 2017 General Election campaign. As Jeremy said at last year’s Labour Party conference, “2017 may [have been] the year when politics finally caught up with the crash of 2008 – because we offered people a clear choice.”

Our task now is to keep winning further support for a clear alternative to austerity.

At the core of this alternative is a new role for public ownership - and new models of public and co-operative ownership for the 21st century - in the economy. To this end, on Saturday, Labour hosted a conference with a range of expert, labour movement, community and campaigning speakers to help further popularise and develop these plans.

Paul Mason has explained the significance of these plans as “a way of taking back control over some of the most vital services we rely on, making them cheaper to use, and preparing society for the big transition towards the low-work, highly-automated future we all know is coming.”

The evidence is clear. Privatisation has delivered large profits and dividends for a few, but higher bills; under investment and poor quality service for the many.

The recent Carrillion scandal, the rip off of our privatised railways as exemplified in the East Coast and Southern disasters, and rocketing water and energy bills for millions whilst private companies make obese profits, have seen increased public support for an end to privatisations and a change of direction.

And perhaps it is this high level of popular support for taking back some of our key public services and utilities that explains the flurry of articles and tweets from across the current political and economic establishment, and their supporters, that seek to discredit Labour’s policies for public ownership every time they are highlighted.

It’s important to understand when looking at this debate that economics is politics. It is about what power and what wealth is in whose hands. Labour’s economic policy is a direct challenge to the 1% and about redistributing power and wealth from the few to the many. The public ownership discussion really cuts to the heart of this.

Until Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, the large numbers of people who don’t support privatisation and support a return to public ownership had often not seen their voices reflected in much of the debate at the highest political level on these issues.

Now with the clear programme outlined in our manifesto ‘For the Many’ and the further development of these policies since the election, we can win the argument – and electoral support – for not only an end to austerity and the love-affair with privatisation, but for a different kind of economy.

We have seen in the last year that the political centre of gravity isn’t fixed or unmovable - it shifts as people’s expectations and experiences change and political space is opened up. Our challenge now, in the words of Jeremy Corbyn this weekend, is to win the majority to the idea that we can have “a society which puts its most valuable resources, the creations of our collective endeavour, in the hands of everyone who is part of that society.”

In the rest of 2018, let’s step up our campaigns against Tory austerity and for Labour on the doorstep and make this happen.

  • Matt Willgress is the National Organiser of the Labour Assembly Against Austerity – you can follow them on Facebook here and Twitter here.

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