Thinking For The Individual

Formerly known as 'Thinking For The People', this site offers some reflections on the state of British society and her people from the perspective of a libertarian Conservative with a passionate belief in the pillars of freedom and responsibility.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

'Re-Privatisation'

It is commonly assumed that the privatisation of coal under Margaret Thatcher did nothing to reverse the decline of the industry. Of course, very few of us in Britain have any problem finding and acquiring our energy. And yes, manufacturing and extractive industries alike were in decline trhroughout most of the twentieth century. And yes, the British economy is moving - perhaps inexorably - towards the new quaternary, high-tech industries of information technology or finance. And yes, now that our economy is more internationalised than ever before, heavy industry can find a much better place to locate than the regulated, taxing modern British economy. Maybe the decline of the coal industry is of no problem to a supposedly affluent and prosperous society like ours.

Unfortunately, I just can't accept this. In the past, conservatives have accused me of either sentimentalism or bad economics because of my belief in the importance of the great industries of yesteryear: the trades which built our nation's economic strength and which made us the foremost power in the world.

Most conservatives agree that private enterprise works. Free markets will always work more effectively - for businesses, for workers and for consumers - than the socialist concepts of collective, centralised planning. The general economic legacy of Thatcherism has been a success, even if its effects still remain barely felt in many parts of our country. As a northerner and a Conservative, I often find myself distancing my position and my philosophy from Margaret Thatcher and her government, not just because my own philosophy is much more libertarian than her actions were, but also because her government did not achieve as much for the long-depressed counties of the north of England, south Wales and the great cities of Scotland as it did for the prosperous pockets of the south. However, the fundamental belief that I and Margaret Thatcher share in private enterprise is something I have no wish to gloss over.

The only problem with Thatcherite privatisation was that, too often, it replaced one State monopoly with a private monopoly. This was probably never more true than in the coal industry.

Back in the Victorian era - to which libertarians and conservatives hark back with glee, for better or worse - coal was a thriving industry. It was of fundamental importance to the modern and exciting railways. It was an important export. The black stuff was what made us great. Of course, coal is undoubtedly a less important resource to our national prosperity today than it was then. But it is still an important commodity, and the lack of evidence of a decline in the industry in other major western economies shows that the typical Tory apology for the decline of coal is flawed.

So coal is still important. If we take for granted that a stronger coal industry in Britain would be a good thing for the nation, and for the individual workers in communities which used to rely on coal, then we can take a trip into the question of how we would boost coal mining in Britain.

UK Coal is the name of the company which controls most of what is left of the remaining industry in Britain. One big, national corporation, looking after all that remains. That's not private enterprise to me. In the Victorian era, coal mines were usually run by a local entrepreneur or a consortium, or a factory owner who wished to diversify for the economic interest of his firm. Despite the onset of globalisation, and the growth of the multinational, I feel that local, independent, private ownership of industry is still possible, and in the best interest of businesses, workers and consumers.

And that is the idea I put forward, in this great debate on our economy: that the government come to an agreement with UK Coal which would dismantle the entire company, and which would put every coal mine in Britain up for sale - even all those which have been left in a disused state for decades. Local entrepreneurs, consortiums and national or international businesses alike will be invited to make offers for whichever coal mine takes their interest. And when all those mines which have been left to rot are back up and running, that will be when we can say we have achieved.

It may not work. It may just be another of those pie-in-the-sky, well-intention but really very fatuous ideas that, I readily admit, men like me are famed for!!!

But it worked in the past. Yes, the British economy was very different when our economy was based on the principles of that independent, localised, entrepreneurial free enterprise. But in our modern era, the manufacturing and extractive industries have been in terminal decline for so long that by now it is fair to say that they are extinct. That is not a good thing for those communities throughout Britain which have been destroyed by this desperate trend. And it is for all those young men who are in need of work, for those communities who are in despair, and for the interest of the nation, that I propose this 're-privatisation'.

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