INDEPENDENT NEWS

Howard's End: Britain Shows Us The Third Way

Published: Wed 5 Sep 2001 11:40 AM
Tony Blair's "Third Way" Government has its traditional supporters fuming at plans to turn to the private sector to help deliver radical reform to schools, hospitals and transport. Doesn't New Zealand follow the "Third Way?" Maree Howard writes.
Government/Business partnership sounds benign. After all, why shouldn't the corporate sector take some responsibility for the social problems of the communities in which they operate?
But there is an old saying, "follow the money" which, in today's world, means that while the style of full privatisation of the people's assets might have ground to a halt, the Machiavellian style of privatisation by stealth is now coming to the fore.
Government/Business "partnerships" allow that and Helen Clark has already said that she favours Tony Blair's "Third Way" of governance.
Today, Britain's Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, will set her Government on a collision course with teacher unions when she publishes her Government's education White Paper outlining plans to allow the private sector a much greater role in state education.
Ms Morris's defiant stand has the full backing of British PM, Tony Blair, and he refuses to back down despite claims of "creeping privatisation" of schools, health and transport services.
Four years after Blair took power, classrooms are crammed, hospital waiting lists refuse to fall and the transport network is clogged.
Blair sees a transfer of the publicly owned schools, hospitals and transport into part ownership of the private sector as a way of shifting future blame from the Government while helping fiscal deficits.
But the only thing added to that equation is a need to increase costs for public services to produce a return on private-sector investment and a subsequent profit. Or to cut services to maintain profit and return.
The private sector will relish getting its hands on part ownership of public assets where the customers, income, and profits are almost guaranteed.
As Patrick Henry once said "The best of all business is politics, for a grant, franchise tax exemption or loan is worth more than the Kimberley or Comstock lode."
Blair looks set for a torrid time because despite being returned to power, many Labour MP's are now less inclined to slavishly support him come what may - something they were criticised for during Labour's first term.
British unions are also fuming but Downing Street is prepared for a showdown because some unions did not help fund the Labour Party whereas business did. It's now payback time for the business support during British Labour's pre-election bid.
However, Blair also faces a Trade Unions Congress in two weeks time and a full Labour Party annual conference on 30 September.
"We want to see him (Blair) saying that he will put an end to the privatisation of our nation's public services," warned John Edmonds of the powerful GMB union.
Today, unions are seen as arbiters of good sense as politicians’ ratings have plunged.
"We've seen what's happened on the railways. People certainly won't like the idea of the extension of the private sector in areas like education and health," said TUC secretary John Monks.
I'm betting that within just a few months our publicly owned education, health and transport services will follow those of Britain into part-ownership by the private sector.
Which leaves me wondering about the criteria laid down in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Services (GATS) where global business cannot be denied the opportunity to "invest" in our publicly owned services once our domestic private sector is involved.
Lock up the silver.

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