You would be forgiven for thinking that there isn’t much else happening in the world of politics aside from the News International/Murdoch empire collapse. However, whilst the focus upon News International – a critical moment for those fighting for alternative, democratic media – is mightily important, there has also been a rather pivotal attack upon the public sector by the government this week, which has been virtually ignored by mainstream reporting. Essentially, it epitomises Cameron’s ‘big society’; the decentralisation of public services – not so they are collectively and democratically controlled for the public interest – so they meet the neoliberal ideal of cost-cutting and ensuring the promotion of a ‘rational’ consumer.
This isn’t new. Technically, this neoliberal driven idea of cost-cutting, masked by the pretence of democracy, has been central to UK social, economic and welfare policies since the 70s/80s – essentially, led by Thatcher, carried on by Major, Blair – and with more venom – the current government. Take mental health, for instance; a programme of de-institutionalisation was implemented around the rise of neoliberalism, driven forward by the Care in the Community programme (for example, around 100 psychiatry hospitals were closed between 1985 and 2000, which meant that there was only around 30 left in the NHS.)
It’s true to say that mental health services are rather poor and certainly one of the most under-resourced areas of social provision. This is not set to improve under the guise of Cameron and co.; already most of the secure units are run by the private sector and often cost three times more than a psychiatry bed in a general hospital. Again, the rational of private sector provision is profit – here, it is to make a profit out of problems that are largely caused by the very thing driving the private focused provision: neoliberalism. Likewise, given the ever decreasing funding opportunities for the third sector (I had first-hand experience of this, when researching funding options for a company I am one of the director’s for – SilenceBreakers), community and voluntary provision is often skewed by the direction of the government (so shaped by neoliberal fascinations) in order to guarantee funding.
In oxymoron fashion, endless choice is branded as control and freedom – when really, the excessive choice and competition creates a dangerous focus upon ‘consumers’ (people) having to self-regulate as rational subjects, meeting the stringent neoliberal ideas of what it means to be ‘normal’. All this choice is really a cover for the endless production of false needs, hopes and aspirations – that really curtail the real needs, hopes and aspirations people have.
I am all for enhancing local control, democratic decision-making and providing people a real say in the provision of their services. But, history stands as a clear testament of the failures of private provision in enabling this; after all, most PFI and private led ‘investments’ fall back on state/public funding. Therefore, often rather than decreasing central control, the private sector promotes corporate and minority interests (that many in the cabinet represent) that fails and thus relies upon the public to bail them out – no public liberation there; instead, we lose our jobs, health care, welfare, education provision because of the sheer spineless selfish gluttony of those who threaten, mess up and never take responsibility for their actions. Instead, the public are preached to about the virtues of responsibility, whilst we are also threatened by the dangers of those gutless individuals who nearly collapsed the country, then spit their dummy out threatening to flea (good riddance.)
In fact, what is truly concerning is the news that public sector services could be left to fail in order to create a ‘real’ market; a market that would be defined through amorality and total disregard for people’s needs:
Documents obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act reveal research by civil servants warning that markets are susceptible to “failure” and costs could in fact rise unless a true market is created by allowing public services to collapse if they are unsuccessful. (From The Guardian)
Rather, collectives, communal arrangements led by real people without governmental agenda pressure would ensure local democracy. Instead, what we have is the promotion of flowery rhetoric, which attempts to mask the sheer callous nature of this government’s onslaught upon ordinary people’s rights as people and citizens.