The failed ideology of “keep the change”

Picture this: a hard-pressed mum, busy trying to manage the budget for the family, gives her kid a £50 note and says “go buy a carton of milk and keep the change.” The kid comes back with the milk, and two carrier bags stuffed with £47.50worth of sweets, biscuits and cakes and some friends, then disappears upstairs to have a party and make themselves sick.

What if I told you that’s how right-wing ideologues run our country, because they have an unrealistic belief about what “works”? Here’s an example:

The lost children

In my town and all along the south coast, there have been terrible rumours about under-age individuals – that is, children and teens – washing up on the beach with the cross-channel refugees, and then disappearing. There’s a distinct likelihood sex-traffickers and other undesirables are involved. I know many people lack sympathy for teenagers, especially scruffy, harried looking ones such as you get when they‘ve been forced to live in the camps in Calais then cross the channel in an over-crowded little boat but most people would, I think, understand that it’s necessary for it to be someone’s job to take charge of those youngsters, and see that they were safe and fed until our (very slow!) government gets around to working out who they are and what to do about them.

So who is responsible for looking after those young refugees?

The answer to that is long and complex. The county council “oversees” the care of youngsters if they know where they are – but whose job is it to find them and bring them into care? Social services? Surely, young and vulnerable individuals in the borough are the responsibility of social services? Oh, but what happened to social services? Ah – we need to go back a good few years to find out…

Back in the 80s, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sold her government the idea that local authority services were wasteful, that private providers, because they were competing for profit, would provide better services. When Tony Blair took over as Prime Minister, he presented Labour’s version of that – the “public private partnership”. Under these “partnerships”, our schools and National Health Service, Social Services went the way our transport and energy networks had already gone. They lost billions in sold-off assets and services and most of their local management structures were dismantled. As cuts, failures and things like train crashes hit the news, we began to realize Blair’s policy translated as “give businesses the profit and the tax payer the bill” or “privatize profit, nationalize risk.”

Keep the change

Our local papers this week give us chapter and verse on how that Thatcherite principle has played out in the case of managing refugees.

Hastings Independent reporter Hugh Sullivan investigates claims made in the national papers that youngsters had been kidnapped…

Click here to read the Guardian article.

Click here to read the Hastings Independent article. and if you’re in Hastings, Click here to find a copy of the Hastings Independent.

In short, any under-18s who get swept up with the adults when they arrive on the beaches end up in the hands of “Clear Springs Ready Homes Ltd”, and the lion’s share of their profits goes to someone called Graham King, of Rayleigh, Essex. Sullivan finds that King’s company claims to have the welfare and safeguarding of both local residents and refugees “at the heart of their business”, but has so far failed to explain what actual work they do on these issues. Meanwhile, he reports, King’s company profits in 2021-2 have risen from £4.4m to £35m.

That is the equivalent of the kid with the £50 to buy milk. In fact, it would appear to be the equivalent of the kid with the £50 deciding the family could make do with a tiny carton of milk, the cheapest one, and keeping more than £49 to spend on sweets.

I don’t want my money spent that way, do you?

Ideologues on all sides?

Now, except for a small remainder of ‘lefties’, most Westminster politicians appear to operate with the Thatcherite principle of private = competition = better services – or at least the “Blairites” do. The ones to the right of them have wiped out the element of competition, and blatantly go for private = me and my mates get the money. They run things that way in the face of all the evidence of declining and ever-more-expensive services, which suggests to me that right leaning politicians are either blind ideologues or bare-faced thieves.

Had the government  given our council millions of pounds to look after refugees, not only would the council have had the option of spending more of the money to pay local hostels and caterers to accommodate and feed refugees, but they could also have created local jobs for medical and social care workers to find and look after the young ones, and oversee their path to safety. Local jobs, local accountability and properly looked after youngsters. Everyone would be a winner.

The case is even worse in our NHS and emergency services because there, workers can’t take the laid back attitude that Mr King of Clear Springs Ready Homes does. Our NHS workers in particular are there, on the front line, seeing how people suffer when resources and staff are not allocated to look after them properly so they, our nurses and emergency response workers, push themselves to exhaustion, trying to do the jobs they are no longer properly resourced to do, because all the “keep the change” money is going into the pockets of private providers.

So are right and centre-right politicians ideologues, clinging to the idea of privatization in the face of all the evidence that it’s not working? Or am I, a “lefty” being an unrealistic when I say I don’t want public money to go to help some bloke live a multi-million pound, untroubled life in Essex whilst the people of my town go running down the beach when boats come in, desperately trying to find and rescue youngsters in danger? Is it an unrealistic ideology that says we’ve seen how private contractors spend our money, and we’d rather give that money to proper, fully accountable local authorities, so they can do the jobs we want doing?

The other explanation

Perhaps neither the centre nor the right really believe private = competition = better services. Perhaps they just say that because it’s the best explanation they can think of for obediently promoting those profit-generating practices in return for donations from private companies seeking “keep the change” government contracts, donations which are the MPs’ very own share of “keep the change” profiteers’ practice.

If that is the case, perhaps they depend on the public believing the left are unrealistic ideologues. Perhaps they hope that belief will stop the public reading articles like this one, which try to explain why private = competition = better services doesn’t work. In which case, thank goodness for really short explanations that keep turning up on social media …

Paul Brown tweet

Ideologues or thieves – which ever it is, we have a problem because whilst the majority of the people in this country seem to understand now that we need to get rid of corrupt, profiteering politicians, they tend to think the way to do that is to vote Labour. But we also have NHS workers who are saying they can’t possibly vote for Labour in the next elections because Keir Starmer (who has accepted donations from private health care) is likely to make Wes Streeting (who has accepted donations from private health care) his Minister for Health, and Streeting is already busy selling the idea that we will somehow save money for the NHS by giving  contracts to private companies, instead of investing directly in our NHS.

Whilst I do think we should all go out and vote for the most honest and realistic candidates we can find, we cannot assume that any of the Westminster parties have honest, realistic candidates – and that includes the Greens and other minority parties. In my experience, they show little sign of understanding the need for real public services. Please do go and vote, but remember voting is not enough.

Most RMT campaigners support rail nationalization. Most striking nurses support NHS reinstatement. Most striking posties can explain to you the expensive wrongs done by privateers in the postal service. Support the striking workers. Support our NHS. Say “no” to profiteers and private contracts anywhere and any way you get the chance, and ask political candidates if they are going to demand real public services run by real, accountable, public servants who would never get the opportunity to sweep up millions of public money in “keep the change” deals.

Maybe my belief in publicly owned services is an ideology, but it’s an evidence-based one and, when we look at what’s happening to our NHS, and to vulnerable, unaccompanied youngsters, and how badly we need better public services in all sectors, I think we can see that it’s also a realistic survival tactic.


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