Episode 104 – Ellen Lees from We Own It (@We_OwnIt) speaks to Tiernan (@tiernandouieb) about re-nationalisation and public ownership. Plus a nice bit of schadenfreude about Italy’s politics and of course, Brexit Fallout which ruins it.
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Episode 104 – Ellen Lees from We Own It (@We_OwnIt) speaks to Tiernan (@tiernandouieb) about re-nationalisation and public ownership. Plus a nice bit of schadenfreude about Italy’s politics and of course, Brexit Fallout which ruins it.
Links and sources of info from Ellen’s interview:
All the usual ParPolBro stuff:
Hello and welcome to the Partly Political Broadcast, a podcast that were it a pie chart, it’d be one third politics, one third comedy and one third missing because I can’t resist a pie. This is episode 104, I’m Tiernan Douieb and this week I’m concerned that with the Conservatives being accused of Islamphobia, and Labour still tackling issues with anti-Semitism, are the Lib Dems going to get all shitty towards Buddhists or Christians? I’m hoping they go all out against Buddhism, and start campaigning for mindlessness, a middle ground instead of a higher one, and have a slogan that goes ‘not Zen but when?’
The Muslim Council of Britain, an often controversial umbrella body – which I always assume means its someone with a very thin torso and legs and a massive head – is an umbrella body for 500 Muslim associations, mosques and schools in Britain has called for an independent inquiry into increasing Islamaphobia in the Conservative Party. Now I don’t know if that actually needs an inquiry, but only because that’d be like spending millions of pounds and hours of time on checking if the sky is blue, or if Health Secretary and Big Bird’s withered brother Jeremy Hunt has an inner monologue that is just the song popcorn played on loop. In recent weeks a Conservative council candidate for Lewisham said that Islam is the new Nazism, which is wrong for so many reasons but I’m also sadly sure that if the majority of Muslims were white and acted more like fascists, then they’d probably have a better image in our media and with potential Tory councillors. Weeks before that a Conservative Enfield party candidate posted pictures on Facebook of bacon on a door handle as a way of protecting your house from terrorism which makes me really hope he volunteers as a mine sweeper covered in just a series of deli meats for safety. And who remembers Zac Goldsmith’s dog whistle campaign for London Mayor? That’s right, Zac Goldsmith does which on the plus side now gives him an answer if people ask him ‘why the long face?’
Man regularly in danger of being sat on and incubated by a broody bird, Sajid Javid, said that there wasn’t a problem of Islamaphobia in the Conservatives because he, a man who has previously said he doesn’t practice any religion, is Home Secretary. Great. He’s essentially saying the Tory policy is a new version of ‘some of my best friends are black people’ only they’re actually saying ‘one of our friends has a black father in law’ and even then they’re really saying ‘Javid could be Muslim but isn’t, phew! And he mostly wants to deport any black friends he has.’ Javid did state that the Muslim council doesn’t represent Muslims in Britain because they have had favourable comments on extremists, which is true and they’ve also had some fairly dodgy views on homosexuality and the Holocaust in the past too. So if anything, they probably represent certain factions of the Conservative Party better than British Muslims so Javid should really listen to their concerns before they write slogans on buses or something.
Javid also revealed plans this week for MI5 to share information on people suspected of having terrorist sympathies. Again, if he means people who call others infidels or traitors for not subscribing to their stringent belief system then that’s a chunk of Conservative Brexiteers and the Daily Mail in trouble. The Home Secretary said last year’s attack on London Bridge showed the need for wider and more local information, but you know, it obviously wasn’t urgent or they’d have done it 12 months ago. He said there must be no safe spaces for terror suspects anywhere, you know, apart from all the UK banks and property used for money laundering that the government still won’t tackle. Key data is going to be shared between neighbourhood police even though there aren’t any of those left, councils even though they haven’t got the money or resources to do anything with the information and the charity commission because what greater crowd funding prize option could you want? If you spend £10 you’ll have even less chance of being blown up, but for £20 we’ll mention you on the news if you do.
Meanwhile US President and only person to both look tanned and not well at the same time Donald Trump has imposed steel tariffs on the EU probably because of jealously at his own severe lack of mettle. There is now a 25% duty on European steel going into the US, so much better to buy it in the airport before you leave, and a 10% duty on European aluminium which is fine because the US only buy European aluminum anyway. Disgraced MP Liam The Disgrace Fox has said that these tariffs are illegal and if anyone knows about dodgy policies, it’s him. This does hugely ruin Fox’s Brexit narrative that leaving the EU means we can get special deals with the US, not least now our Prime Minister and only person constructed with chicken wire Theresa May was previously known as the steel lady, so now she won’t be able to get through customs on a diplomatic without coughing up. Which to be fair, is her area of expertise anyway. The other Brexit plans which have gone array, a phrase that you can cut and paste from this show and just repeat before every plan every week for the past two years, is the Irish Border as Brexit Secretary and trapped fart David Davis suggested a 10 mile wide buffer zone that gives Northern Ireland joint EU and UK status all at once but then retracted it when he realised it wouldn’t work. I feel like Davis is wasted in the cabinet when he could be employed by TV production companies to pitch to commissioners before they do so anything that they present seems like a good idea. Meanwhile senior advisors have drawn up plans for a no deal Doomsday Brexit which would mean that Britain would be hit with shortages of medicine, fuel and food within two weeks. On the plus side it does mean many of us won’t make it to week three and therefore will finally stop hearing about fucking Brexit.
Back in the US, Trump has pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, a man that plead guilty to fraud and was subsequently charged, but who Donald says was treated unfairly by the government because as you know, in Trump’s eyes, its only fraud if you don’t get away with it and there’s every chance that even though D’Souza pleaded guilty and it’s on record that Trump has refused to look it up so therefore it doesn’t exist. Next up he plans to pardon Martha Stewart who was arrested for conspiracy and Rod Blagovich who was jailed for corruption. Pretty certain after that it’ll be Bernie Madoff next after Trump claims he was within his rights to try and make a quick buck. Trump’s solicitors have threatened Robert Mueller that as President, Trump could pardon himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the election. But of course we all know that turkeys only get pardoned at thanksgiving. First lady Melania has now not been seen for 24 days, and it’s been announced that she won’t be attending G7 with her husband. Many are concerned Trump has had her deported, but I believe that she is just proving that she is indeed a voice for the women of America, that echoes their cries to be as far away from Donald as possible.
Lastly an anti-Putin Russian journalist who was reported to have been shot dead in the Ukraine, showed up to a press conference to say that his murder was faked to foil an assassination plot against him. Damn that’s the smartest journalism I’ve heard of. That’s two headlines pieces and if he was really savvy, an obituary all in the bag in a week!
Oh and MP and woman who is for Brighton what the ravens are to the tower of London, Caroline Lucas has stepped down as co-leader of the Green Party. Instead Sian Berry is running for election with Jonathan Bartley who is running again for co-leader, after being co-leader with Lucas. I love how with the Greens even their leader candidates have to be part recycled.
Yeeeeeaaaaaaaahhhh hello. That was the audio attempt to start this gig like a comedy club. So many of them do the offstage introduction then they play big thumping music like what you’re about to witness is basically Game of Thrones onstage and then what walks out is someone like me going ‘hello’ and everyone starts the night disappointed. It’s always fun. Hello to you in cloudy grey June because we can’t have nice things anymore. But you can have this hopefully nice podcast and a hello to all you new subscribers and listeners. I’m not sure where you’ve come from but you’re very welcome. This show usually has a dip in a half term probably due to all of you either being teachers or having kids or trying your best to avoid kids or secretly living in a school and only having the one week to run around before you have to hide in a cupboard again. But last week numbers only dipped a wee bit because there are more of you and obviously some of you new lot don’t live in a school cupboard so that’s nice to know. Big thank you to D and Steve for donating to the Patreon this past week.
I’m now only $76 away from the $200 target I set two years ago! Yeah! Goals! If you do have even $1 that you can donate each month, then please do at patreon.com/parpolbro as it does hugely help me make this show better. $1 is currently worth 75p which is the cost of cheeseburger flavoured super noodles in Asda and at least this show won’t make you violently ill and doesn’t smell of a child’s sick. I mean, I smell of a child’s sick pretty much constantly now, but you can’t smell that through the audio yet. I’m sure the next iPhone will bring that feature in though. If $1 a month is too much and you’d like to do a one-off then please buy me a coffee at ko-fi.com/parpolbro and apparently I can now change the option of coffee to other food stuffs, but coffee is still desperately needed and I feel I put ‘iced coffee’ you’d just be even less inclined to donate. If you can’t donate at all, that is all good but then please give the show a review on iTunes or Stitcher or podbean or somewhere and apparently iTunes is now working again even though it definitely wasn’t. I searched for about an hour and found an email to contact Apple and after two days someone called Wesley replied and basically said ‘are you an idiot? Do you know how to look at the screen properly? ‘ and I replied yes and put screen shots and they panicked and a senior adviser called Julian replied and he said ‘oh that’s probably not our fault’ and then said all of you have to contact them individually if you’re having issues and then I swore at my computer and went for a walk. You’re welcome.
Speaking of reviews, thank you to whoever gave the nice review on Podbean last week. I don’t have a Podbean account so I can’t see names, but the review said ‘Very topical, very funny’ thank you anonymous person, but it then said ‘shame about the gratuitous profanities littered throughout the podcasts.’ Now totally fair if you don’t like swears and if any of you have listened to this show from the very beginning, I think I managed about 4 clean episodes before totally caving in and ffing and jeffing all over the shop. And that’s partly because I like swears. I think they are both big and clever, especially when used properly which I hope I do. I very much put them in where I think they should go rather than trying to litter them and I’m sorry if that’s the impression I give! I always subscribe to Billy Connelly’s saying of ‘there’s no such thing as a bad word, just bad use of a good word’. But also, I really find that with current politics, I’m not sure how to express my feelings about much of it without swearing as so much of it is currently a festering sack of feckless pigshittery. So I use terms like that because it feels right for now and hence the little E for explicit on all podcast apps next to this title. Maybe in 5 years time when we’re all living in a dystoptian hellscape I’ll be too tired for swears so they’ll disappear. Who knows. But totally fair comment to make and if more of you would like a swear free version of this show, drop me a line via the partlypoliticalbroadcast.co.uk website contact page and let me know. Or at email@example.com.
Talking of swear free politics comedy things, the kids show that I have co-written with Tatton Spiller from simple politics.co.uk starts it’s mini-tour on June 16th at the Farnham Maltings. It’s called ‘How Does This Politics Thing Work Then?’ and is a swear free, non-partisan, gag filled explanation of how parliament and democracy works. Totally suitable for kids aged 7+ and families and after Farnham we’re at the Underbelly Festival on Southbank in London on June 17th, Arts at the Old Firestation at Offbeat Festival, Oxford on June 23rd, the Chipping Norton Theatre on June 30th, the Whitstable Umbrella on July 28th and the Stables Speigeltent in Milton Keynes on July 29th. There are more dates after that too but I’ll plug them nearer the time. You can grab tickets at the various venues websites.
Oh and lastly I know that last week’s episode was oddly quiet for those of you that listen to it straight away. I have no idea what happened. I’m guessing it was just a bit shy. The great team at Acast fixed it and I put a new version up by end of last week and this week I’m making the episode so loud your ears will cry so you can then turn it down because apparently that’s better. Let me know your volume preferences. I don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of this show by deafening you so you can’t hear any podcasts after three weeks but at the same time it isn’t a John Cage tribute show. Though sometimes I wish it was as the writing would be super easy.
On this week’s show I interview Ellen Lees at We Own It, the campaign for public ownership and renationalisation. Plus some Spain and Italy because occasionally it’s nice to know other countries are completely fucked as well. Sorry, completely sugared. No wait, that sounds tasty. Hmm. Anyway, because it was a quiet-ish week let’s start with this:
Not a lot of actually substantial Brexit news this week, which again, is a phrase you can cut and paste from this week’s show and just use every week, and that’s because the EU Withdrawal Bill isn’t heading back to Parliament till June 12th. Yes the day next week’s podcast will come out rendering it immediately out of date, and could be a day where MPs vote on up to 15 amendments that the Lords voted for and now the government want to remove. Yes weeks have passed and all that is likely to happen is that all the things that did happen will now unhappen. Brilliant. It’s like if Samuel Beckett played ping pong. What is likely to happen is that by the end of it is that we might – and yes I’ve used likely before then saying it might because it’s Brexit and so odds that anything will happen are lower than this sentence ending with a good betting analogy when I know nothing about gambling – so we might have a resolution to which option the Prime Minister will choose for the UK’s customs deal with the EU in future. Though the rumours that say this suggest it’ll be a customs partnership until the technology is developed at which point it’ll be max fac. So that’s one option that can’t happen, followed years later by the other option that can’t happen. Ah it’ll be so nice to finally have something decided right?
The other Brexit news – and I should add that I’m not going to talk about David Davis’s Irish border plans any more as they are too stupid. I feel like we’re just days away from him saying out loud ‘what about if we draw a picture of a border and just send everyone a copy and they can look at it at some point between the Republic and Northern Ireland?’ So the other news apart from that and Trump showing that we really can’t cash all our chips on a good deal with the US when the croupier is still trying to eat the chips on the table, the other news is, well rubbish. A major Tory donor, Crispin Odey, a man who’s name makes it sound like he’s an old folk song about making French fries, has urged for the Conservatives to replace Theresa May with wattle face Michael Gove because he doesn’t believe the Prime Minister can carry Brexit through. No, neither do I. I think she’ll barely push it through with her nose while crawling along the floor insisting she’s up on her feet and in control. However the only reason I could feasibly see that you’d want to swap her with Gove is because he’d ignore experts even more and just leave without thinking anything through. But then, saying that, there’s just as big a chance that he’d stab all the leave voters in the back and then decide to remain. It’s swapping predictably shit careerist with unpredictably shit careerist. Odey has said the European union are not good at hitting a moving ball, but the problem is, Theresa May is not good at hitting a moving ball either. Great, so let’s have Gove, a man who looks like a moving ball has hit him repeatedly in the face by accident while he insists, though broken teeth, that it’s his skilful defending all along.
Oh and Lord Lawson, chair of the Vote Leave campaign and only man in the world who looks like he’s wearing a loose fitting rubber mask of his own face, has applied for French residency. Many have called it hypocrisy, but I’d argue he’s just proving that Brexit is indeed removing the people who were damaging British Values after all.
INTERVIEW WITH ELLEN AT WE OWN IT
You’d be forgiven if over the last few weeks, nay, months, ok years, you’d begun to assume that the job of the UK rail industry was actually to derail people’s lives. Govia Thameslink Railway and Northern are being super efficient at running a cancellation service, pleasing all those customers who just love spending absurd amounts of money to uncomfortably stand on a station platform, staring into the mid distance wondering what they’ve done to deserve this. Meanwhile Southern rail continue to operate like a surgeon using a pneumatic drill to perform a craniotomy. Though on the plus side if they were your doctor and that’s what you were booked in for they’d probably just not show up. Transport Secretary and like if the Vision from the Avengers had anaemia Chris Grayling has said the rail industry has failed passengers but actually it’s a lot more likely that the Department of Transport has failed passengers by consistently giving contracts to companies that are inefficient at running rail services. The East Coast rail line is temporarily renationalised due to Virgin Rail expensively cocking up and being paid full whack to do so. But why only temporarily? Re-nationalisation, especially of the railways, is a very popular opinion around the country and while I wouldn’t trust Chris Grayling to run a Brio set, at least there would have to be accountability from his department and as the public use it and pay for it, it’d make a lot of sense for us to own it too.
Labour have been campaigning for nationalising public services for the past few years now, but since these bad signals from the railways and the collapse of Carillion in January threatening 450 government contracts, it’s an idea that seems even more sensible. Many have warned that returning services to public ownership would be costly but mainly because it’d require buying out contracts from companies that they were previously sold to. So it’s like saying it’d be too costly to safely remove the giant bulldog they installed to guard your front door without your permission or want, so you may as well deal with it and stay indoors for the rest of your life spending money you don’t have on dog food deliveries. And yes I, like you, do worry about the public being in charge of everything and isn’t there a chance everything will be called Raily McRailface, Gassy McGasface, Royal Maily McMailface and so on. But really that seems to me, an uninformed idiot, like the only reason not to do it. Am I right? Well this week I spoke to Ellen Lees at We Own It, a campaign for public ownership. They have successfully blocked the governments attempts to sell the land registry, NHS professionals and Network Rail and are currently looking into ways to affordably renationalise both the rail service and water suppliers. Ellen very kindly took the time to explain to me how and why that should all happen.
Now this week I’m afraid there’s a return to:
But it’s not a bad one. It’s simply that where Ellen was had a lot of background noise and we repeatedly had to stop because, for example, someone started doing the hoovering. So there’s some pretty obvious edit points in here because really, there was no other way to do it as hoovers are very hard to remove which I suppose makes sense or they’d suck themselves up. However, all of Ellen’s good chat remains complete. So hope you enjoy, here’s Ellen:
INTERVIEW PART 1:
Tiernan Douieb: I wanted to ask about the government’s now looking at the collapse of Carillion and they’re talking about whether their risk assessment stages should be readjusted and all that. Labour are, kind of, saying, ‘Maybe we need to renationalise more of our public services.’ Do you think that is going to happen or do you think we need to see more fall outs like Carillion before any major renationalisation occurs?
Ellen Lees: Well, it’s hard to say what this government’s going to do but I would say that the collapse of Carillion wasn’t a special case and that outsourcing companies, things like Serco, Capita, Atos, they’ve got a history of failures. I think Serco and Capita have both issued profit warnings recently, there are concerns about the level of debt they have, the CEO pay. So, these sorts of generalised outsourcing companies that take contracts from the government, we already know that they’re unreliable. So, Carillion’s collapse was called a watershed moment in that I think it did change the way that the sort of national conversation about outsourcing and privatisation happened, it was definitely on the agenda more than before, but the Conservative government doesn’t seem to have changed its behaviour because of that.
TD: It really looks like Carillion was one of a possible many?
EL: Definitely, yes. I think so.
TD: What lead to Carillion’s collapse? Why didn’t anybody notice it before or why weren’t the public more aware that that was going to happen beforehand?
EL: I’m not sure about the details of Carillion’s management and its policies but the thing about outsourcing, especially to these big organisations that take on too many contracts and have these really risky financial strategies, is that it’s a really untrustworthy way to be running public services. It might be fine for the private sector where people are willing to take on the risk and they pay for that risk and that’s how the market works, but for something like providing school meals and cleaning service for hospitals, these are the things that have to happen, whether someone’s paying for them or not. So, relying on a private company that’s trying to make a profit in this way, for those kinds of services, it’s just always going to be a bad idea.
TD: The thing that I always find it hard to get my head around, they’re running public services, how on earth are they making profit? That does just mean that they’re making efficiency cuts wherever possible, is that right?
EL: Yes. I mean, if they’re not charging higher prices for it then they must be making cuts somewhere, whether that’s to staff or processes or equipment.
TD: Does it save money? Part of the thing is that I can never understand why the government would choose that over doing it publically. Does it save the government money to have it as a privatised company?
EL: People say that it can save money in the short term because you get private capital to invest in the services so that the government doesn’t have to finance it themselves, but this argument ignores the fact that private companies finance things through borrowing, and they have higher interest rates than a public company would. So, it’s more expensive to borrow for a private company than it is for the government to borrow. Then they also pay dividends to shareholders, so a chunk of your income will be going to the shareholders every year. It seems like a good solution to save money in the short term, I think, sometimes, but even then this ignores the private debt that builds up. The water industry was privatised in the late 80s from the regional public water companies, and when they were sold to the private companies, their debt was wiped completely. So, these private companies got these wonderful clean companies with no debt and, since that, they’ve made money through our water bills, and all of that money has gone out in dividends to shareholders. Any investment that they make in pipes, in improving the infrastructure, in anything, has come from borrowing. So, they’ve built up another debt mountain and I think it’s got to something like £42 billion. They make about £1.8 billion in pre-tax profits every year, on average, and they pay out an average of £1.8 billion to shareholders every year.
TD: That is horrific. One of the ones I found out about recently, which I didn’t realise, was about Virgin Care and how Virgin Care never ever pays any tax because it’s always owing another company owned by Richard Branson money, then they owe another company until there’s, sort of, 13 of them. I’m guessing that’s just the case in most situations?
EL: Well, it’s different for every sector. I can’t say that no company that runs a public service pays any tax, I don’t know that for certain, but yes, there are plenty of ways to avoid that sort of thing and they do tend to take advantage of them.
TD: A lot of the times, I know we briefly mentioned it, it is at the cost of the service as well. I mean, we’ve seen that with Carillion where tons of things were just dropped when they went under. For example, in the water industry, how has that affected how the public get their water? Would we have noticed anything different?
EL: Well, we’ve noticed that the pipes, the sewages works and things, haven’t had the investment that they need. This is true all over the world according to David Hall, who does a lot of research on water privatisation. There’s a trend of cities and countries taking their water back into public ownership because the citizens haven’t seen any benefit from privatisation where, at the same time, they can see a really visible benefit to the shareholders.
TD: Yes, basically we’re paying more but absolutely not gaining anything for it whatsoever.
EL: Yes. That was a bit obscure, sorry.
TD: No, not at all. I wanted to ask you, I know there are a lot of specific cases but, generally, do you think the UK is weird in the high level of things that are privatised? I’m often quite shocked to realise when things are being run by companies as opposed to by the state.
EL: Yes. I don’t know the figures worldwide but we’re definitely up there with the amount of services that have been privatised, this is mostly from back in the 80s, the Reagan and Thatcher era, that ideology that the private sector is more efficient and just, sort of, hasn’t been challenged for the last 30-odd years, which has lead to this complete decimation of our public services, basically.
TD: That’s got to be changed, hasn’t it? I mean, nationalisation is constantly a popular issue. I regularly see that the public want things to be renationalised, especially when we look at the railways, which has been in the news again recently, but the public always want that to be renationalised. It’s weird that that opinion is so constantly ignored.
EL: Yes. So, for the figures, you’ve got 76% of the public want rail in public ownership, 84% want healthcare, 81% for schools and 83% for water. These figures have been consistently high. I think the level of support for public ownership of water when it was privatised was around 70%. I don’t really have an explanation for this but I feel like the successive governments since Thatcher has bought into this ideology that private is better and more efficient, that’s a myth that’s never really been proven, and it’s starting to be challenged now with the new Labour manifesto.
TD: Also, that was the thing, when Chris Grayling renationalised the East Coast rail line, which Labour took a lot of credit for, but Chris Grayling has already said that he hopes to have it reprivatised within a couple of years. Do you think that we could get the railway line renationalised? Do you think that it’s likely that it’s more going to be that this is a temporary measure? How do you feel about it?
EL: The thing with that renationalisation, that decision, and about Chris Grayling really, is that he’s especially ideological, from what I’ve heard. He’s quite a stubborn person and he really did not want to take that option. So, we campaigned quite hard because we knew that there were 2 options for the East Coast line, it was either bring it into public control or handing the franchise straight back to Stagecoach. So, we did a 3-month long campaign at least to get him to choose this option and backed him into a corner. Obviously a lot of different factors affected his decision but I personally don’t think he would have made that decision if he’d had any other option, and he did couch that announcement in talk about his new plan for 2020 and to have it reprivatised. The fact is that there are still private companies involved in this new franchise arrangement, the London and North Eastern Railway, it will be run within the Department for Transport but companies like Arup, Ernst & Young and something called SNC-Lavalin will be involved in actually running the functions.
TD: So it’s not really being renationalised at all, in the broader sense of it anyway?
EL: I wouldn’t call it renationalised without qualifying that in some way. I think you could say it’s in the public control, but this is a good step in the right direction. I think, from here, we can show that the Department for Transport has the capacity to run a railway, which was a worry for a while that it just had lost that completely. It’s an easier step now to start taking other failing franchises back in house. We’ve been talking today about Thameslink and Northern losing their franchise because of their failures to implement the new timetable. So I think there are definitely opportunities.
END OF INTERVIEW PART 1
And we’ll be back with Ellen in a minute:
Schadefraude is a beautiful thing, and while it’s been the UK’s greatest export for the last two years, and something we should really charge for as many other countries can gloat and point ‘hahaha look at the mess they’re in’, it is nice to occasionally import a little bit back. This week to save you from dwelling on the fact that the UK is currently being run by the first government who are likely eligible for a collective Darwin Award, here is a bit of info on recent events in Italy:
PARTY GLOBAL BROADCAST
If you remember back in episode 92 in February, I spoke to correspondent for the Economist John Hooper just prior to the Italian Elections, and he said that the results were going to be unpredictable. He wasn’t wrong and what’s happened after those results has been even more so. No party outright won the elections on March 4th but the two largest winners were the Five Star Movement, a populist mostly left wing environmental party with weirdly right wing views on immigration and Lega, who are super far right with worse views on immigration and everything else. Five Star is lead by Luigi Di Maio, a man who looks like a stock photo model for office pranks, and Lega by Matteo Salvini who is a big Trump and Putin fan and looks like he makes a loud noise every time he sits down or picks anything up. Both groups are hugely anti-establishment, which is problematic when you become the establishment and also weren’t really up for working together, which is problematic when you have to. As you can see, there were loads of problems. But like all good buddy movies, despite their differences, the Riggs and Murtaugh of politics, Five Star being Riggs because they’re a bit unhinged and Lega being Murtaugh because all their policies should retire, finally managed to work together. It took nearly 90 days but they chose Giuseppe Conte as Prime minister, a 53 year old law professor no one had really heard of. Including me. I still have no idea who he is.
During the election both parties sounded pretty Eurosceptic, with Five Star at one point wanting a referendum to leave the Eurozone, which they then backtracked on. The League also talked about leaving the Euro but some of the top members rejected that idea. As a result, none of them campaigned on that policy. But in their negotiations about working together, they proposed a finance minister called Paolo Savona who looks like an angry Penfold and is so Euroskeptic that he said the Euro is just designed to help Germany and that Italians have not benefitted in anyway from 20 years of having the currency. Alright mate, but harsh. Not in anyway at all? Not even in not having to change your money at the airport when visiting other Euro countries? Not even in that the lira has silly silly denominations so you’d keep thinking you had loads of money but you definitely didn’t? I mean, there was a 1000 lira coin. You could be a millionaire and still have shit clothes. Savona said the Euro was a German cage which isn’t right as it can’t really keep anything in not having any bars or visible entrance which is probably how the Germans responded. He warned that if Italy stayed in the EU, it was going to go like Greece, aka screwed in a way even the ancient Greeks didn’t enjoy.
Anyway Savona’s chat got the credit agencies scared who threatened that if Savona was the finance minister and this proposed government is the government then they will ruin Italy moneywise, and the President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, a man who looks disturbingly like if Dr Strangelove had survived, approved all the proposed ministers except Savona. This is not because the President has entirely ever ruled out Italy leaving the Euro, but that he wants, as he said, an open and deep debate about it, rather than Savona’s open plans to just drop it while saying the Germans are Nazis. I mean, come on, you want a slightly more tactful minister than that right? Where do they think they are? America?
That meant the Five Star Movement and The League got even more angry about the establishment and the EU than they were before. Luigi Di Maio, the leader of Five Star has already complained about what the point of going to vote is, if the credit agencies and the EU pick your government anyway. He then demanded Mattarella was impeached and posted a picture on Facebook of him eating a pizza saying it was the sort of pizza a certain EU official could only dream of. An odd form of taunting, especially when your country is the one in need of dough.
The president then went a former International Monetary Fund exec director, Carlo Cotterelli about perhaps leading a technocratic government even though they had one of those from 2011 to 2013 lead by Mario Monti who was an economist and not a politician and the whole experience lead to Five Star becoming a lot more popular in the first place. So that could’ve lead to another election which would likely have lead to further gains from The League and Five Star, leading to even more of this mayhem. However, by threatening to go to Cotterelli, President Mattarella forced the parties to look for another finance minister and you sort of think, damn that President was smart and if this was a sitcom there’d be some moral message right now while Mattarella gave a knowing look to camera. Giovanni Tria was named finance minister on June 1st and while he has many policies that are in alignment with Lega he does want Italy to stick with the euro, which has calmed the credit agencies a tad. Five Star leader, which sounds like he’s been rated well on TripAdvisor but hasn’t, Di Maio also apologised to the President for calling him a traitor but still no news on whether German officials can have pizza or not.
So there is now a government in Italy and it’s probably the most nationalistic populist one in Europe right now. Their economic outlook is hugely wobbly and there are serious issues with employment, inequality, the refugee crisis and growing sexism so whether or not two parties who can barely work together is yet to be seen, unless Gary Busey shows up then I bet they’d ruin him. And the Italian government’s ideas of EU reform are very different to Merkal and Macron’s which may lead to some serious clashes. Either way for now they remain stuck inside the German cage, which incidentally, is the name of my horror novel. Good luck Italy! If nothing else by default you have a government in the Five Star League which sounds great for tourists. Although judging by their immigration stances, it probably isn’t so much.
INTERVIEW PART 2:
TD: I’ve heard about quite a few local councils, particularly Preston, and local communities that have started their own. You mentioned the water and places taking that back into local control. Do you think that’s the best way forward at the moment until we have some sort of change of government or change of ideology overall? Is that the best way for people to renationalise things?
EL: Yes. In terms of changing the ownership of things, I think Preston is mostly based on cooperatives, as far as I know, which, from our position, cooperatives are a fantastic alternative to privatisation and work really well in the private sector. But I think, for public services, it can be better to have local government or national government control rather than a group of workers or a group of citizens just to ensure that you have that universal accountability to everyone through democratic mechanisms and things like that. So, there are examples of things like Nottingham City Transport, which is local council-owned bus network, they’ve also got Robin Hood Energy, and then Bristol has Bristol Energy. So, there are examples of local councils creating their own companies and competing with private companies to provide services for local people.
TD: How does that work cost-wise? One of the arguments always used against nationalisation is that the cost of now renationalising things is going to be too much, that’s one of the things that’s always thrown at Labour, for example, when they bring it up. I mean, how’s that working for those councils? Starting up their own energy companies must have been really tough.
EL: Yes. I mean, it’s different for every service and how to make it financially viable. I think Robin Hood Energy had a long-term plan that involved them not being profitable for the first few years. If you think about it like investing in an asset, like any other asset, you put some money in and over the years you get that money back through energy bills and things like this. I’d much rather be paying my energy bill to a local council who will keep my bills down and prioritise renewable energy sources and maybe cross-subsidise households who can’t afford their own energy.
TD: Absolutely, definitely. In the way that these local councils have done it, can people do it themselves? If the listeners listening to this want to campaign for renationalising certain services in their area, is there something that they can do? Is there a way to start your own localisation schemes?
EL: If you want to follow the Preston model, there are plenty of ways to start cooperatives and things but that’s not really my area of expertise. I think, for public services, the best thing to do would be to get involved with your local council. So, we just ran a campaign before the local elections to get councillors to sign our pledge to end privatisation in their communities, and we’ve now got a list of councillors who’ve been elected who signed the pledge and we’re going to ask them to send us stories about the things that they managed to bring back in-house or if they managed to stop something being outsourced. I think that’s the way to go at the moment, it’s to, sort of, increase the capacity of local councils who have been forced to outsource, pretty much, since the financial crash and since austerity was imposed because they just haven’t had control over the size of their own budgets. Now the worry is that they don’t have the capacity to run those services anymore, so I think it’s really important that local people get involved with their councils and tell them that it’s very important to them that, you know, we own and control our own services.
TD: I know you’ve been working on the idea of renationalising the water supplies, how would that work? Again, is that something that’s actually plausible to do in the UK?
EL: Yes. So, the UK water industry is actually unique in the world, no other country has the privatised water system that we do. Other privatised water systems are more like long-term contracts whereas we just sold off everything, the land, the pipes, everything, but we can take it back. This would involve basically buying back the water companies, which people have worried would be very expensive and there have been all sorts of scary reports from think tanks telling us that it would cost billions of pounds. In truth, the government can decide how much to compensate shareholders for their shares in these companies and they don’t have to compensate them at the market value, they can compensate them at the value that the shares were bought for in the first place if they decide that that’s reasonable. Then, if you take into account the debt that was wiped at the beginning when the companies were bought in the first place.
TD: So that’s quite a lot of money that would take off the cost? That does make it sound a lot more affordable when you put it like that.
EL: Yes. If you think about it like a simple investment in an asset, it would be a wise investment that would bring in about £2.3 billion every year just through water bills, so it would pay for itself within about 10 years, so it’s really not as expensive as some people are making it out to seem.
TD: No, that makes it sound incredible plausible. On a similar thing, would renationalising the railways therefore have a similar-, is there a similar route to that, like you would with the waterways as well?
EL: Renationalising the railways is actually even easier because the railways were never sold entirely, they’re run on a franchise system. So, all we have to do is wait for the franchises to come to an end and bring them back in-house at the end, which would cost no money at all. Network Rail already runs the track and the stations so we just have to, one by one, bring the franchises back in-house to be run by the Department for Transport, which would gradually increase its capacity as it picked up more franchises.
TD: Also, what a horribly shallow thing to ask but it’s what’s in a lot of people’s minds, were the rail service to be renationalised, would that mean ticket prices, in theory, could come down?
EL: Yes, definitely. I have a number for this as well. If our railway was run by public ownership, we’d save around £1.2 billion per year, which would fund an 18% cut in rail fares if we choose to use the money that way. That’s because we wouldn’t be paying shareholders and we’d save a lot of money on the fragmentation of the railways. So, at the moment, the fact that we’ve got these 16 different franchise operators who are all trying to talk to Network Rail and sort out their signal failures and their track replacements, it’s a really inefficient system and it’s the reason that Network Rail sometimes has issues with getting things done on time because they’re trying to cooperate with 16 competing companies essentially. That fragmentation would be cleared up if everything was run under one roof and would save a lot of money.
TD: When you put it like that, it just makes no sense that the government aren’t planning to do that, considering we’ve heard all the stuff about how we need to save money and we’ve had years of austerity. Something like this would’ve given us a load of money back very quickly.
EL: Yes, that’s the thing, austerity has always been a political choice and they tried to sell it to us as a necessity, but it’s a choice between letting citizens, sort of, figure things out for themselves and having private companies running our services and being sensible about the way that we use public money.
TD: It’s strange, isn’t it, that that was an ideology but also David Cameron’s early part of austerity was ‘We’re all in this together’ and Big Society but, actually, nationalising something is proper Big Society in a very sensible way of doing it.
EL: Yes, definitely. I think there’s so much opportunity with public ownership of services to really get citizens involved in their services, especially locally. So it doesn’t have to be this big scary state machine that nobody can influence, we can deliberately make it more democratic and more accountable and cooperative.
TD: Sounds great. One last question that’s something that I ask all the guests, apart from We Own It, what other campaign groups, journalists or websites or whatever would you recommend that listeners check out if they’d like to find out more about the dangers of privatisation and the benefits of public ownership?
EL: So many. I’ll do a really quick cheeky plug that’s specifically on the dangers of privatisation, we have a section of our website called ‘Privatisation Fails’ where we try and catalogue the failures of different private companies in different sectors. In terms of other people, Open Democracy has a fantastic section on public services, especially the NHS. Left Foot Forward is an online newspaper that has a public services section. We’ve used the reports by Corporate Watch on social care and on water in our few of our things, which have been really useful. I mentioned earlier David Hall at the University of Greenwich Public Services International Research Unit, he’s done some fantastic stuff on water and energy. We’ve got People vs. PFI, which is a campaign group against the private finance initiatives that We Own It doesn’t really touch on. Neon does some great reports, New Economic Organisers’ Network, and the New Economics Foundation’s connected, I think. The Transnational Institute is the organisation that published the report on all of the waves of re-municipalisations the sort of bringing things back into local public ownership around the world.
END OF INTERVIEW PART 2
And now, back to Ellen:
INTERVIEW PART 2
Thank you to Ellen for that chat. We Own It can be found at weownit.org.uk where they have a lot of handy guides such as 10 reasons to end privatisation, and lists of all the publicly owned services in the UK. It’s well worth a look. They are also on Twitter at @We_OwnIt too and they are on facebook as well at WeOwnItCampaign. All the other links Ellen recommends will be up on the website page for the episode at partlypoliticalbroadcast.co.uk at some point soonish.
As always if you have someone you’d like me to interview or a subject you think I should interview someone about, please holla at me on the @parpolbro Twitter, the Partly Political Broadcast Facebook group that I never update, firstname.lastname@example.org or the contact page on the website. The only way it’d be easier to contact me is if I got 40ft high antenna surgically attached to my head for you to directly beam recommendations and requests for me to download into my brain and I’m not doing that as it’d make wearing a cap really hard and probably ruin my Freeview TV. So please think of my headgear choice limitation and just email.
And that’s all for this week’s Partly Political Broadcast podcast. Thank you once again for subscribing, downloading, listening or just accidentally catching part of it because the person next to you on the bus has their phone turned up way too loud. Please do review the show on all of your favourite pod apps and if you can, donate to the Patreon – lets get to $200! – or to the ko-fi.com/parpolbro. Every penny helps. Which isn’t true. Pennies are pretty useless in today’s world, aside from putting them in your eyes and scaring children and you only need two for that. If you’ve been using more than two, you don’t need the pennies to scare children. Fact.
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