Public ownership is fashionable again. Turning over Britain’s public assets, lock, stock and barrel into private ownership and relying only on light-touch regulation to ensure they were managed to deliver a wider public interest was always a risky bet. And that bet has not paid off.
Recent polls show an astonishing 83% in favour of nationalising water, 77% in favour of electricity and gas and 76% in favour of rail. It is not just that this represents a general fall in trust in business. The privatised utilities are felt to be in a different category: they are public services. But there is a widespread view that demanding profit targets have overridden public service obligations. And the public is right.
At the beginning of last year I wrote a blog for the New Statesman setting out why 2017 should be the year we realised we had been doing the internet wrong, the year we started putting tech power in the hands of (non-techie) people.
And there are some signs that is what happened.
The European Commission’s €2.4 billion fine of Google signalled a determination to hold the tech giants accountable and Germany’s recent ruling that Facebook’s collection of data is anti-competitive showed at least one regulatory authority was waking up to the role of data in markets. Transport for London’s insistence that Uber needed to improve their safety practices recognised that it is a taxi firm under its tech cloak and whilst Twitter and Facebook are still far from inclusive spaces their senior leadership at least acknowledges some responsibility. More and more commentators and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are waking up to the challenges of tech omniscience, algorithmic rule, market consolidation and regulatory incapacity.
This year’s Fabian New Year conference takes place as we watch an increasingly incompetent and deeply damaging Conservative government lurch from crisis to disaster. It reminds me of the Major years, the constant litany of mistake and misjudgement. Nonetheless, Major held grimly on for a full five-year term, before losing to the Labour landslide of 1997. This time, while the sight of another Tory government unable to reverse the tide of its own failures feels all too familiar, we need to be sure to push the Tories out of office much more quickly.
The government’s much-delayed industrial strategy was finally launched last month. It’s short on detail, with large font and glossy pictures padding out a 255-page document with few new ideas.
But one of its headline announcements was that an “Industrial Strategy Council” will set the direction of the strategy and hold the government to account. Its members will be drawn from various walks of life, including investors, entrepreneurs, economists, scientists… but not, as far as we can tell, ordinary workers.
When our servicemen and women join the armed forces, they sign a contract vowing to serve and protect our country. In return the Government ought to provide them with adequate pay, decent accommodation and the professional and personal support that they need.
It is increasingly clear that under this Government that contract has been broken. Whether it is the deepening cuts to the defence budget, the public sector pay cap or the poorly maintained military housing, this Government is letting down our armed forces.
The half a million people of Barnsley and Doncaster are now entering the final few days of a community consultation on the future of Yorkshire devolution. They are voting on whether they want to be part of a Sheffield City Region, or to further explore the possibility of a larger, more powerful ‘One Yorkshire’ deal.
As it stands the Government is planning to impose the narrower Sheffield City Region deal. This is despite the fact that the majority of local councils in Yorkshire agree that the best way to unlock Yorkshire’s potential is through the wider ‘One Yorkshire’ deal.
The Government will this week announce their plans for police funding. It is a critical moment after a punishing year for the service and with the police under more pressure than ever before. It is no exaggeration to say the future capability of the service is at stake.
Successive Governments of all political colours recognised that it was reckless to slash the police but this Government have torn up that rule book and our communities are now paying a heavy price.
Today Labour will be challenging the government on its finance bill; arguing that the £4.7bn currently set aside for bankers is best spent protecting vulnerable children.
The last Labour government invested in early intervention because we knew how important it was. We knew that in order to give every child a fair chance to succeed, we needed to give them the best possible start in life. But seven years of funding cuts have pushed the services that we built in government – there to spot signs of abuse and neglect before children are put at risk – into a state of crisis.
It was a heartbreaking read. The Christmas Day story of seven-year-old Lucy hiding under a bed from her alcoholic parents while she listened to a fairytale stuck especially in my mind.
Cold, alone and with no presents, the helpline was the only comfort for that little girl.
As Labour’s health chief, I have nothing but praise for Nacoa, the charity which provides that helpline.
In the battle for votes, cyberspace is now almost as important as the doorstep as the place where elections are won. And that’s why it’s become a hunting ground for the trolls and election-winning cyber-specialists like Cambridge Analytica.
So it’s time for the digital democrats to get their act together and step up the work harnessing the online world to open up democracy. To help, I’m launching the People’s Plan for Digital. It’s a simple innovation, a new platform to harness some of the techniques pioneered by Geoff Mulgan at Nesta, new parties and city governments around the world, to help Parliament get digital policy right.