Dismembered:How the attack on the state harms us all by Polly Toynbee, David Walker

Dismembered:How the attack on the state harms us all
by Polly Toynbee, David Walker

It’s not too late; cuts and dislocation have not yet inflicted permanent damage. We can say that because the ‘public thing’ is in large measure the people who work for it and for us and their spirit has not been extinguished:

The UK state has been pulled apart, partially rebuilt, then deconstructed time and again during the past 30 years.

In the Thatcher and Major era, the Tories sold the family silver and privatised the state’s capacity to contribute directly to the economy in energy and the utilities, transport and communications.

They created ramshackle executive agencies as part of a programme to bring business into the heart of government.

From 2010, the cuts were accompanied by tinkering; austerity with administrative anarchy.

In the Cameron coalition and afterwards, Tory ministers let rip. Civil servants were ‘enemies of enterprise’, echoing dark Thatcherite invocations of the ‘enemy within’.

We need to push back this relentless denigration of government.

Successive reports by parliamentary committees show governmental incompetence related to inadequate resources and refusal to look ahead, and all of them are bound up with a philosophy that despises planning, activism and the mobilisation of collective resources.

The way forward isn’t ‘reform’ as preached by those who want to further weaken government by bringing in yet more consultants and private firms.

After 40 years of ideological assault, the state is in trouble.

Between 2010 and 2015 there was a 17 per cent rise in the number of children having to be looked after by statutory authorities in England. Old people die at home alone.

As charities buckle, there is no substitute for public provision.

In recent decades we have been more driven by ideologies than our neighbours in Europe.

Powerful theories have been propagated and imposed by ideas merchants and thinktankers in the pay of American business interests.

Why can’t government services be like Marks and Spencer, asked Margaret Thatcher.

The answer then and now is that the state is not selling knickers or sandwiches.

In commerce, all that matters is the bottom line; public services, on the other hand, have hosts of difficult, divergent objectives.

The public sector operates within a mutual social contract that relies on a wider conception of who ‘we’ are, beyond ‘me, me’.

Competitive free markets are figments of the imagination of ideologues and academics.

Only government keeps capitalism on the straight and narrow and prevents it from eating itself.

The Labour years were good for public services, both for staff and for those benefiting from them.

Labour increased the government workforce by 14 per cent, from 4.8 million to 5.4 million: more doctors, nurses, teaching and healthcare assistants; civil service numbers went up 2 per cent.

Labour was inheriting 18 years of public neglect: some schools still had outside toilets, some hospitals still used wartime Nissen huts.

Blair–Brown missed a great opportunity to win acceptance of the higher taxation those services relied on.

Labour allowed their successors to use the financial crisis as an excuse to uproot and roll back much of what they had achieved.

In 2010, Osborne jammed on the brakes and ever since we have been living through ‘the most prolonged period of spending restraint since the Second World War’.

Conservatives saw ‘fiscal consolidation as cover for an ideologically driven “small state” agenda’.

The state and public services have been under ideological siege for decades. Long before the Cameron coalition began the disastrous dissection of the NHS.

What constitutes ‘the state’? The list of components is loose.

Perhaps that’s why ‘the state’ won’t mean much to many people. For the Treasury it’s a set of allocations to departments – defence, intelligence, the Home Office, Scotland, justice, HMRC, arm’s-length bodies and so on.

For many, the state is the NHS. Its 2015–16 budget of £116.4bn paid for nearly 23 million A&E attendances.

Room on the canvas has to be found for local authorities, for they too are part of the sate.

It provides bin-emptying, courts, road surfaces, training, search-and-rescue helicopters, healthcare and park keepers.

The state is ubiquitous, though not always recognised.

The state comprises land, buildings, plant, ports and transport.

Councils in England own around £170bn worth of housing, land and buildings. Many of them are irreplaceable markers of place and identity.

Our sense of ourselves as a defined community existing in time depends on these state institutions.

Britain’s 27,000 public parks ‘provide places for people to play and to reconnect with nature and the seasons, as well as with each other’.

But with the number of park staff cut, park managers fear for the future

Without the state we are going to get sicker quicker. Another way to get ill is to eat food in dodgy restaurants when they are not inspected sufficiently by environmental health officers.

Huntingdonshire District Council has lost a third of its environmental health officers in the past 5 years.

Pollution comes from every direction, fumes and smoke and noise … from neighbours, dogs and industry. Officers no longer follow up most complaints.

Since 2010, the downwards trend in injury and ill health has come to a halt.

Inspection visits to factories and workplaces have decreased.

Police service cuts have been deep: 17,000 or 12 per cent fewer police officers in 2015 compared with 2010.

As the rest of the public services shrink, the police spend more of their time picking up the pieces in safety nets full of gaping holes.

Dealing with mental health problems overwhelms their daily work, accounting for 60 per cent of all those they take into custody.

Using the police is an extravagant way to plug the gaps left by inadequate mental health, social work and youth services.

They stand in the front line, between us and anarchy.

Push the state back and no one tries to hold the ring and sort out the destructive dysfunctions of commercial competition.

With the end of the Post Office and Royal Mail the state retreats.

The public probably does not realise search and rescue is no longer provided by the state – the Cameron government kept the transfer quiet.

For nearly 30 years, the public sector has been in the throes of dismemberment.

Between 1980 and 2015, 2.8 million publicly owned dwellings were sold off under the ‘right to buy’.

The Tory refusal to reinvest the proceeds or to allow councils to replace lost stock helps explain today’s housing crisis.

Four out of ten Right to Buy properties have been transferred back to private landlords.

British people never signed up to a process that has degraded our national life.

Tony Blair.. accelerated the fracturing of the NHS, the ultimate symbol of state-guaranteed solidarity.

Thatcherites rightly viewed the NHS as the state in action, delivering a kind of socialism.

Thatcher determined to make the NHS into a market.

That period..saw the strong commitment of the Tory core to subvert the ‘Soviet’ NHS from within.

Since 2010, the NHS has suffered its toughest financial squeeze since it was founded, with budgets simply not matching growing costs.

It Since 2010, the NHS has suffered its toughest financial squeeze since it was founded, with budgets simply not matching growing costs with swathes of additional bureaucracy.

Talking about the latter-day NHS, we are aware of just how baffling the structure is, and how little known to the public.

The NHS implosion has been so catastrophic that even with the Tories in power, efforts are being made to bind fragments together.

Meanwhile the people on whom healthcare depends – the cleaners, managers, clinicians and therapists – are stupefied.

***

The story of English schools runs parallel to health. The Thatcherites were tempted to abandon public provision altogether, to follow free market dogma.

Under Cameron, it was decreed that all schools, everywhere, would be academised, whatever the wishes of parents and governors.

Under Theresa May a bid to revivify selective secondary schools, a prime consequence of which is inevitably the channelling of the majority into second-class education.

***

The recession stalled growth in incomes, which have struggled to return to pre-crash levels.

Then followed the cuts, capricious and precipitate.

Tory leadership could have adjusted taxes and spending fairly. Instead, lacking knowledge and modesty, the Cameron government struck out for grandiose schemes such as Universal Credit and HS2, while draining core services.

Tory ministers appoint business pals, party donors and ideological fellow travellers to boards, commissions and high places, undermining functions and alienating civil servants.

The austerity decreed by George Osborne in 2010 cut spending savagely.

If Osborne had meant it when he said we’re all in it together he would have spread austerity fairly and proportionately.

They cut according to what they could get away with, not what would cause least pain.

It was the families on benefits, children, disabled people and old people at home lacking care who suffered. Ministers themselves have been surprised by how far they could go without provoking rebellion.

Ministers cut whatever might make least noise and failed to rein in extravagant ‘reform’ projects.

Local government spending per person in England fell by 23 per cent between 2010 and 2015. Full-time headcount for councils dropped by 350,000 employees.

Real terms spending cuts have been close to zero in Surrey and Hants, but 45 per cent in Salford.

In Manchester, spending on adult social care is being cut by £27m between 2016 and 2019.

Manchester had to cut its workforce by a huge 40 per cent.

Contrary to claims about ‘Big Society’, volunteers won’t pick up those pieces. Grants to voluntary bodies have also been cut by two thirds.

The Asphalt Industry Alliance valued outstanding road repairs in England at £12bn and stated it would take 14 years to fill all potholes.

Some 600 youth centres have been shut since 2010 and 139,000 places on schemes for young people have gone.

There is a link between youth work and reducing mental illness and crime.

One in five babies in England has not been seen by health visitors by the time the infant reaches 15 months.

Only 2,600 school nurses look after 8.4 million school-age children in England.

Staffing is a matter of great concern in jails.

The budget has been cut but no effort made to reduce inmate numbers.

Alongside the significant rise in prison suicides, the cuts have resulted in an epidemic of drug misuse.

Magistrates’ courts have shut, affecting the speed and fairness with which cases are handled.

Increased fees have choked off applications to industrial tribunals. Claims have fallen by nearly 70 per cent, which may have been the intention.

Road traffic deaths in 2015 were 6 per cent up on 2010.

Cuts also make an already bad situation worse. The result is widespread hardship and downright waste of human potential.

Universities are currently fighting against proposals carried over from Cameron to May to allow more private sector universities to set up.

Universities have aped the private sector in worsening conditions for many of their staff.

More that half of staff are employed on temporary or non-permanent short-term contracts.

Vce chancellors’ average salaries have risen 14 per cent during austerity years and some are now paid hugely inflated sums.

The bonanza comes from the £9,000-plus now paid by all students in yearly tuition fees. Their aggregate debt will reach £100bn in 2018.

The state has been edged out, resulting in young people burdening themselves to pay interest on the glitzy buildings in which they were once taught.

***

There’s more to dismemberment than securing financial gains for friends and political allies. Cuts, privatisation, the willed disorganisation of government, all relate to a body of beliefs.

A key phrase was ‘any qualified provider’: when public sector work was up for grabs, private companies should be first in line to bid and win.

Entrepreneurs are usually unsuited by temperament and skills to conduct the business of government.

The mantras that markets are competitive and that competition drives progress were drummed into public managers’ brains.

New Labour ministers were enthusiastic adepts. Blair’s mantra was ‘reform’: what he meant was bringing in private companies.

The Cameron 2012 Health Act, shamefully supported by the Liberal Democrats, showed the theory in all its malign simplicity.

People are rarely asked about their sense of the fairness of arrangements or how services broadly serve an area or community.

The truth is that public services can never just be about ‘you’. They are about distributing benefits on the basis of need.

Begun for a variety of reasons contracting has triumphed, hollowing public services.

In 2014–15, the public sector spent £242bn a year with private and voluntary sector suppliers, considerably more than it did on its own staff (£194bn).

In its 2017 plan, NHS Improvement states that the NHS has underutilised the private sector, and it wants to see more independent sector providers.

The value of outsourcing contracts signed by UK local authorities in the first half of 2016 increased by 84 percent.

Contracting on today’s scale involves profound changes in the nature of the public realm.

The ‘right to contract’ – asserted by Tory ministers and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) – runs parallel to the right to buy council houses: it too is a means of shifting state assets and revenue into private hands.

***

Contracts have to be complex because competitive free enterprise literally has no place for trust, let alone for an ethos of public service.

Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is a form of contracting that relieves a firm of competition.

PFI deals are almost by definition worse value.

In March 2015 £150bn was outstanding in PFI payments, with many payments stretching far into the future

A profit-seeking firm will be motivated, according to the logic of markets, to minimise costs, cut corners, fulfil only the minimum contract terms.

Contracting has made the provision of public services more not less complex.

Try and write ‘cooperation’ into a commercial contract and see how far you get.

The repeated claim that private contractors are cheaper is in fact dubious.

Public service depends on trust and often unseen performance above and beyond duty; private companies only pay for exactly what is specified.

A scathing report in December 2016 from HM Inspectorate of Probation found MTC Novo’s privately run probation service in London had 20 per cent staff vacancies

Some offenders had not been seen for months and the public was being put at undue risk.

First Labour then coalition ministers bought the unevidenced argument that private firms could do better at chivvying people on benefits into jobs.

But the NAO found that the Work Programme accomplished no more than its state-run predecessors; it found jobs for just one in six and was twice as successful in the south as the north, showing that the state of the labour market, not the programme, was key.

The Work Programme found jobs for just one in 20 disabled people.

Atos feared profits were endangered and walked away from its contract.

Public services are universal and baseline: schools, hospitals, security have to be provided. This means the state has to have backup.

Thurrock is turning back the tide of outsourcing. The Thameside local authority is not some leftist haven; a minority Tory group runs the council.

Chief executive Lyn Carpenter is blunt. ‘It was a disaster. ‘The contract was costing us £19m a year. They were taking £3.6m out as profit. That’s £3.6m not being spent in Thurrock, and money we can now keep as an immediate saving.’

The state needs to keep in-house expertise, or be forever at the mercy of its contractors.

Ironically, austerity has made councils look harder at their outsourced contracts.

When these contracts are frequently found wanting, councils are bringing their services back in-house at better value.

This is hardly what Tory chancellors expected in their more-for-less budgeting.

What is needed is always a balance between the state and the market.

The state has to be solid when markets fail.


***

The fiscal crisis of 2009–10 that served as the pretext for George Osborne’s austerity was not caused by Labour overspending but by the bank bailout.

The banks had gambled that in the event of a collapse the state would see them right – and they were correct: the taxpayers absorbed their risk.

Government intervention is a major part of the explanation for the historical success of economies as different as the US and South Korea.

Right or wrong, government is inextricably involved with markets and trading: let’s stop parroting tired slogans about the impossibility of bucking the market.

The Thatcherite privatisers of the 1980s held that markets would automatically sort things out. That fantasy has now run its course.

The ultimate indicator of the failure and the absurdity of privatising was the arrival of the French state to take over our energy supplies, in the shape of its company EDF.

Going ahead with the new Hinkley Point nuclear plant will push up bills for decades to come.

Osborne once promised a ‘march of the makers’, he soon created a march of destruction, ideologically anti-green.

The government allocated some £530m to rural broadband, in what became a vast welfare programme for BT, which took the money but hasn’t yet supplied the goods.

The Tory model has become one where the state does the digging and building, with the aim of privatising later, at a discount.

It’s not that market capitalism doesn’t work, but it can’t be relied upon without supervision, planning and direct state involvement – above all in transport and energy.

Most ministers are inept managers and haven’t a clue what departments and arm’s-length bodies actually do. Yet we persist with the assumption that civil servants only ever act in the politicians’ names.

Under Thatcher, certain prominent civil servants and utility regulators became shills for radical downsizing of government, later finding jobs with banks and consultancies.

A senior official in the transport department says his purpose is to ‘smash’ the rail unions.

The government pushed through the Deregulation Act 2015, which forbade local planning authorities from considering construction and layout of new dwellings in emerging plans.

Under Theresa May there are proposals on the table allowing developers to avoid seeking planning permission from councils.

Public services are for the most part the province of people with expert knowledge, backed by training.

Local authority cuts of 40 per cent mean we have fewer finance officers and auditors, making staff more prone to corruption, especially as they have had no pay rises.

The disappearance of the Audit Commission may have put a relatively clean public sector in jeopardy, just when organised crime has become more sophisticated and online fraud is growing.

Private Finance Initiative was in large measure about the covert way in which deals were refinanced and profits hidden from public view. Secrecy is the private sector way.

‘For over half a century, Whitehall has conspicuously failed to develop the commercial, financial and project management skills necessary to run a modern state.’

A smart state needs well-paid, well-respected staff and should be led by ministers who believe in public purposes realised by well-financed government.

***

Tax should be fairer. Those who have more should pay more.

Big companies that trade overseas should no longer be allowed to evade and avoid taxation.

The state could be much more effective in collecting money owed. HM Revenue and Customs should be one of the principal governmental departments, not a backwater.

Paying for decent public services means raising tax.

The alternative to tax is barbarism: in how we treat the disadvantaged, the sick and children. Tax is the price we pay for a civilised society.

Alongside an honest approach to raising revenue, more work needs to be done to collect what is already owing. As of March 2015, an estimated £24bn was outstanding,

The state’s problem with tax begins and ends with HMRC.

HMRC was ordered to cut staff by 5,000 a year, which was daft when for years it could show that each extra tax official brought in substantial sums.

Everything was made worse by contracting.

HMRC was so embarrassed by the catalogue of failure that it cancelled the contract.

HMRC spending is to fall by a fifth by 2020. Offices are being shut, with 137 out of 170 offices closing by 2020–21.

In its crown dependencies and territories the UK supports many tax havens.

MPs of all parties have been pressing the government to tighten the status of the UK’s 14 overseas territories, one of the UK state’s guiltiest secrets.

More than 2,000 Britons who live in Monaco are costing the UK economy £1bn a year in revenue,

The HMRC has to have more bodies. ‘The means are not there to deliver.’ ‘We simply do not have the judicial capacity.’

***

A tide is flowing towards more not less government, towards rethinking and remaking the capability of state to provide more not less.

Few skills are more obviously necessary than those of doctors, nurses, radiotherapists and other clinicians, and it is the job of Health Education England (HEE) to allocate training places each year.

Training places were cut despite the growing demand for staff, forcing trusts to hire agency and interim staff at exorbitant rates and recruit from abroad.

By 2015, Health Education England was training 3,100 fewer nurses than a decade ago, a 19 per cent cut. As of September 2017, bursaries for trainee nurses are being abolished

The UK population is projected to increase to 81.2 million in 2065 and we are not preparing for that demographic fact.

In 2016, 2.4 per cent of the UK population was aged over 85. By 2065 that proportion will be 7 per cent.

Standing on your own two feet is harder when you need a Zimmer frame.

There is one certainty: the UK cannot deal with age except through state action.

In reality, it’s only the state that can hold things together in a fragmenting, fissiparous world.

One of the most short-sighted moves by the coalition was drastically to scale back the Sure Start children’s centres that it inherited from Labour.

Everywhere there is less prevention, leaving the state to cope with severe crises that could have been avoided.

Needless to say, leaving it to the market is the same as doing nothing.

Families are simply not able to save enough from their income during a working life in order to pay for their own care in older age.

Four in five UK local authorities offer insufficient care, according to the Family and Childcare Trust – that’s 6.4 million people aged 65-plus living in inadequately served areas.

The housing crisis shows no sign of solution without a radical change in direction.

Poor quality housing is already adding to the costs of the NHS by £2.5bn a year.

Home ownership fell drastically, to just 51 per cent of tenures in December 2016

Most ministers are inept managers and haven’t a clue what departments and arm’s-length bodies actually do. Yet we persist with the assumption that civil servants only ever act in the politicians’ names.

Under Thatcher, certain prominent civil servants and utility regulators became shills for radical downsizing of government, later finding jobs with banks and consultancies.

A senior official in the transport department says his purpose is to ‘smash’ the rail unions.

The government pushed through the Deregulation Act 2015, which forbade local planning authorities from considering construction and layout of new dwellings in emerging plans.

Under Theresa May there are proposals on the table allowing developers to avoid seeking planning permission from councils

***

Public services are for the most part the province of people with expert knowledge, backed by training.

Local authority cuts of 40 per cent mean we have fewer finance officers and auditors, making staff more prone to corruption, especially as they have had no pay rises.

The disappearance of the Audit Commission may have put a relatively clean public sector in jeopardy, just when organised crime has become more sophisticated and online fraud is growing.

Private Finance Initiative was in large measure about the covert way in which deals were refinanced and profits hidden from public view. Secrecy is the private sector way.

‘For over half a century, Whitehall has conspicuously failed to develop the commercial, financial and project management skills necessary to run a modern state.’

A smart state needs well-paid, well-respected staff and should be led by ministers who believe in public purposes realised by well-financed government.

Tax should be fairer. Those who have more should pay more.

Big companies that trade overseas should no longer be allowed to evade and avoid taxation.

The state could be much more effective in collecting money owed

HM Revenue and Customs should be one of the principal governmental departments, not a backwater.

Paying for decent public services means raising tax. The alternative to tax is barbarism: in how we treat the disadvantaged, the sick and children. Tax is the price we pay for a civilised society.

Alongside an honest approach to raising revenue, more work needs to be done to collect what is already owing. As of March 2015, an estimated £24bn was outstanding,

The state’s problem with tax begins and ends with HMRC.

HMRC was ordered to cut staff by 5,000 a year, which was daft when for years it could show that each extra tax official brought in substantial sums.

Everything was made worse by contracting.

HMRC was so embarrassed by the catalogue of failure that it cancelled the contract.

HMRC spending is to fall by a fifth by 2020. Offices are being shut, with 137 out of 170 offices closing by 2020–21.

In its crown dependencies and territories the UK supports many tax havens.

MPs of all parties have been pressing the government to tighten the status of the UK’s 14 overseas territories, one of the UK state’s guiltiest secrets.

More than 2,000 Britons who live in Monaco are costing the UK economy £1bn a year in revenue, the HMRC has to have more bodies. ‘The means are not there to deliver.’ ‘We simply do not have the judicial capacity.’


***

A tide is flowing towards more not less government, towards rethinking and remaking the capability of state to provide more not less.

Few skills are more obviously necessary than those of doctors, nurses, radiotherapists and other clinicians, and it is the job of Health Education England (HEE) to allocate training places each year.

Training places were cut despite the growing demand for staff, forcing trusts to hire agency and interim staff at exorbitant rates and recruit from abroad.

By 2015, Health Education England was training 3,100 fewer nurses than a decade ago, a 19 per cent cut.

As of September 2017, bursaries for trainee nurses are being abolished:

The UK population is projected to increase to 81.2 million in 2065 and we are not preparing for that demographic fact.

In 2016, 2.4 per cent of the UK population was aged over 85. By 2065 that proportion will be 7 per cent.

Standing on your own two feet is harder when you need a Zimmer frame.

There is one certainty: the UK cannot deal with age except through state action.

In reality, it’s only the state that can hold things together in a fragmenting, fissiparous world.

One of the most short-sighted moves by the coalition was drastically to scale back the Sure Start children’s centres that it inherited from Labour.

Everywhere there is less prevention, leaving the state to cope with severe crises that could have been avoided.

Needless to say, leaving it to the market is the same as doing nothing:

Four in five UK local authorities offer insufficient care, according to the Family and Childcare Trust – that’s 6.4 million people aged 65-plus living in inadequately served areas.

The housing crisis shows no sign of solution without a radical change in direction.

Poor quality housing is already adding to the costs of the NHS by £2.5bn a year

Home ownership fell drastically, to just 51 per cent of tenures in December 2016

In 2015–16, only 32,000 so-called affordable homes were built in England, significantly fewer than the 58,000 constructed in 2009–10.

If the state can no longer plan, developers will seize the chance to build where they can turn a profit, flood plains included.

***

The UK has an economy-wide target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, from a 1990 baseline.

The May government removed the phrase ‘climate change’ from the ministry responsible for action.

Annual flood damage costs are rising, with the cost of the winter floods of 2015–16 up to £5.8bn.

A French worker produces in four days what it takes a British worker five days to do. German productivity is 35 per cent ahead.

The Office for National Statistics counted 5.6 million incidents of online fraud and computer misuse in England and Wales in the year ending June 2016; there were a mere 83 convictions.

The government’s National Cyber Security Strategy accepts that the state is the last resort, the last defence:

Yet police numbers have been significantly cut and the skills of traditionally trained officers may not be up to the new challenge: investment in retraining and new recruitment is needed.

Defence is the prime duty of the state – and that means sustaining companies that produce the aircraft, ships, communications systems and technologies of war.

This means disregarding market ideology. The bottom line is that only idealists and fools ignore defence and that only the state will shoulder the responsibility

By the end of 2016 there was a 拢8.5bn gap in the finance needed to maintain the UK defence barracks, buildings and land to a decent and effective level.

A future in which the state does not step up will be bleak indeed – for the elderly, for the young, for climate change, for productivity, for the security of the nation itself.

***

We’ve focused on where the anti-statists have mustered their firepower, attacking the public realm, using their media strength and ideological channels to poison the public mind against tax and against the idea of state activism.

But there is danger on the other side too. There lies the authoritarian state you can see it in Russia and emerging in Hungary and Poland.

State power without checks and balance tips into tyranny.

In the UK, the pendulum has swung too far in the anti-collective direction. We are trying to wrest it back, but that’s not to say we advocate an extreme alternative

After the dream of the Big Society faded away, as it quickly did, the Tories waged war on charities’ autonomy, legislating to impede their campaigns and even proposing to cut tax relief on donations.

The place to look for balance within the state ought to be the constitution, meaning the codes and conventions for how we govern ourselves.

What nonsense is our semi-theocracy, where 26 Church of England bishops in the House of Lords make our laws, and sometimes carry strong influence, as in denying the right to die legislation?

State funding of parties and a proportional voting system are a bare minimum of requirements to correct the grotesque distortions that tend to disenfranchise large numbers of voters, generating a lack of trust in the authenticity of whoever is in charge of the state.

Why not issue every citizen at birth or naturalisation with a free British passport, as a gift and an emblem of belonging, as a positive good?

Do you believe that Murdoch is upholding democracy? Or do you believe that he is maximising his own power and profit?

In the US, his Fox channel can claim to have made an American president, and no doubt will expect its pounds of flesh.

An independent press regulator would not stop the Daily Mail and the Murdoch titles from debauching good governance at Westminster, intimidating ministers or warping the public interest.

Rhetoric around the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act in January 2016 talks about freedom and local (state) activism. Yet austerity has relied on substantially reducing their grants while making local authorities take the pain and the blame for service cuts.

The Northern Powerhouse is an odd mixture: a vision of state entrepreneurship at regional level combined with dogma, leading to the insistence on the untried model of a directly elected mayor

The public has yet to get involved – in early 2016, two out of five adults in the north of England had never heard of the Northern Powerhouse.

These various moves amount to divide and rule, pitting regions against one another and further fragmenting the sense of common public commitment across the country.

The Tories have had nearly 40 years to shape the state. Mrs Thatcher took up her chainsaw;

Cameron and Osborne went at the task with renewed vigour, cleverly using the financial crash and recession as cover.

The welfare state has been subject to a malevolent propaganda campaign that branded benefit recipients, even the disabled, as shirkers.

That anti-state project has now lost some momentum.

Theresa May only added to the sense of exhaustion and the sheer incoherence of the project.

How do we want to live? What kind of country do we prefer – one in which the public realm is appreciated and supported or one where public service is denigrated and starved?

It’s time to remind people that what they buy in shops is worth so much less than those things they truly value in life – health, education, security, fine public spaces – and those things we all buy together.

The basic question remains willingness to pay. Related to it is: what is the appropriate size for the state?

England, and the other countries in the UK must step across the bridge between the cost of decent services and tax revenues.

People must share more of what they think of as their personal possessions in exchange for the wider social benefit they reap in return.

We’ve tried in this book to make a general case for re-enfranchising and re-invigorating our consciousness and appreciation of government.

Where Thatcher’s 40-year anti-state project may have scored its greatest victory is in reducing the self-belief and morale of public servants.

Using public services is not the same as super-market shopping and it never will be, however it is resourced.

The more people demand a public service, the more overstretched it becomes because public resources are inherently limited.

To use a public service is to take part in a shared endeavour: my child’s school, my ailment, my university fees, potholes in my street, bobbies on my beat – all these come at an opportunity cost to others.

In this book we have tracked the decline, the cracks and the breakages in the state under a decades-long ideological barrage, now cast as pragmatic austerity.

But the evidence from this brutal experiment says plainly that markets don’t and won’t fill the void.

What’s needed is a spirit of investment and national self-belief on a grand scale.

Self-belief, aspiration and celebration. Marketisers, outsourcers, asset-strippers and state-shrinkers are not patriots, they are surfing the world on seas of money.

Waving a union flag is a Tory convention, but until Thatcher’s project to destroy the state itself is buried, it’s all hollow humbug.

How much more effective the UK and its people could be if we called a halt to the antagonism and belittling of past decades and affirmed that government is good.

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Replies to This Discussion

 This ideology of the Tories and Blairites is called NeoLiberalism.The transfer of State assets ( our assets) to the private sector.This ensures we the people are enslaved, as captured rent paying serfs for our public utilities ,such as electricity,gas,water ,traqnsport ,telecoms, mail.

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