Labour’s re-nationalisation of key infrastructure can put the UK back on the world map

Labour’s recent policy announcement of nationalising part of BT and taxing tech giants in order to provide free fibre broadband to every household in the country has resulted in the usual displeasure from the right wing commentariat, as well as various Tory and Liberal Democrat figures implying it to be some sort of communistic experiment. Considering, though that BT was in public ownership up until 1984, this is a testament to how far the Overton window has shifted rightward as a result of the neoliberal economic orthodoxy.

The good news is that Labour is effectively challenging this at the upcoming election, as it has been doing since 2017. The pledges to nationalise rail, water, Royal Mail and telecommunications will allow for a new era of economic prosperity to be shared by the many, and are necessary to ending the post-Thatcherite consensus that has held so much back.

Firstly, Labour’s policy to bring about free broadband has already been shown to be hugely popular. YouGov’s snap poll has shown that 66% are in favour of this policy and only 22% oppose it. This follows the trend for polling other forms of nationalisation. Having the rail, water, and mail services in public ownership all seem to have more than the majority in favour.

The Tories economic policies of simply more of the status quo are clearly out of touch with a public which is lethargic of more expensive and inefficient services provided by private monopolies and oligopolies. The economic data seems to back up the public’s perceptions. For example, water prices have risen by 40% since privatisation. More than 12,000 jobs have been lost since Royal Mail was sold off by the coalition government, whilst its boss has gained a pay rise of £100,000 to his salary. These issues are inherent to private ownership, especially of natural monopolies such as rail and water, since any sort of competition is highly limited. When profit for the owners and maximisation of shareholder values become the only goals, fairness and a good service for consumers come last. This is evident in the public perception throughout the previous years.

Critics of such policies, and the large scale nationalisation and spending plans that Labour are proposing ignore the widespread need for such investment into our economy. With the case of broadband in particular the UK is in great need of investment and improvement. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) statistics show that Britain ranks 35th out of 37 countries assessed for the proportion of fibre in its broadband. Furthermore, Britain has fallen from 8th to 10th in the EU for levels of connectivity. Whereas South Korea has 97% of its country covered by broadband (number one on the list by the OECD), with a much more active state involvement in developing the infrastructure needed to roll it out, and indeed with implementing it, compared to only 8-10% for the UK.

Labour’s £20 billion investment goes further than this, it will provide broadband for free, which will save ordinary families hundreds of pounds per year, and bringing the many benefits of fast communication through broadband to every household, which is especially lacking in rural regions. Finally, this policy will be paid for by large tech giants, going some way to address the inadequacy of the tax they pay to the UK exchequer, for example Amazon, which paid only £1.7 million in taxes in 2017, despite profits of £72.3 million. This policy is effective on two fronts. The first, allowing for improvements in fibre broadband coverage in the UK. Second, for its cost burden to fall on those large corporations which are yet to pay their fair share of taxes, as opposed to ordinary workers and consumers. 

Trusting corporate interests to deliver essential services has seemed to be a policy that can no longer be relied upon. Labour’s policy to bring these into public ownership is to be encouraged if we hope to build an economy which serves the public’s interest as opposed to private monopolies who have few incentives to change the current arrangements, catering to their ability to profit off such services as opposed to investing into those services for the good of the public.

The Left should stop entertaining the idea of a second referendum.

A brief glance at the history of the Eurosceptic movement sees a deep rooted connection to the Labour Party and the left wing movements in Britain. This was no doubt evident in the 1975 Common Market Referendum in which the ‘Leave’ campaign was spearheaded by major Labour politicians such as Michael Foot and Tony Benn, who claimed the European Commission caused the ‘decapitation of British democracy without any countervailing advantage’, a democratic deficit which still exists today.

Despite Labour’s official Remain stance in the 2016 referendum, the party’s voters were highly divided. The politicians may not have been though and merely 7 Labour MPs backed the Leave campaign. This showed the prominence of the remain wing in Labour, especially in recent years, as Tony Blair sought to drive Britain to the heart of Europe. But after Britain voted to leave the European Union, the party has once more become disunited, with some accepting the result of the referendum and wishing to implement it and others wanting a second referendum. The answer though, is clear – as a democratic socialist party, as stated in Clause IV of our manifesto we should reject calls for a so called ‘People’s Vote’, and respect the will of the people as manifested by the referendum, not only because the People’s Vote campaign cannot produce any worthy argument for what the impetus for repeating a vote is, but that Labour itself would be much more free to pursue its manifesto pledges outside the EU.

There are several reasons why many want to repeat the referendum, but they boil down to two main arguments: that the first campaign was based off misinformation and lies, and secondly that after people know how Brexit has turned out, their will should be confirmed in a second vote. In both scenarios, they advocate wishes for Britain to remain in the EU, but disguises it through the allure of wanting the people to have a chance to put forward their opinion.

Firstly, to say that misinformation, or spin is not a large part of every political campaign would be dishonest. The very people who are advocating for a second referendum, and indeed the Remain campaign spread misinformation in the 2016 referendum campaign. Remainers claimed that an immediate recession would follow a vote to leave the European Union, something which has not yet been manifested. In fact, the economy has seen strong growth in 2018. George Osbourne threatened us with a ‘punishment budget’ with further spending cuts and tax rises. Something which again never occurred. Remainers denied and mocked Leavers for suggesting that a European Army could emerge, yet key figures in the EU such as Emmanuel Macron are now endorsing plans for one. Thus, it is incorrect to say that misinformation was confined to the Leave campaign- and indeed that misinformation would not take place in the event of a second referendum. As regrettable as it may be, it is inevitable there will be a degree of spin in a political campaign, but a free press and democracy means we must put our faith in the people to make the right choice, something that those pressing for a second vote often forget.

The second argument, that people didn’t know which type of Brexit they were voting for, does not mean that the result should be reversed. No matter what type of Brexit people wanted we can be sure of at least one thing; more than half of them wanted to Leave in the largest democratic exercise in the UK since the 1992 General Election. Citing polls to show that the will for Brexit has dissolved is again invalided by the fact that most polls are within the margin of error, and that the sample size of any poll taken is several hundred times smaller than the turnout of the referendum. Regardless of what type of Brexit people want, our system relies on parliamentary democracy, not constant referendums to weed out the exact will of the people. Parliament should be the arbiters of the type of Brexit that people want. There is indeed a certain irony that the people who opposed the referendum on the European question in the first place now call for another one

Finally, those on the left should know that leaving the European Union will provide a new opportunity for a Labour government to be ever more radical. Regardless of one’s views on the European question, it cannot be denied that it is a representation of the neoliberal ideology, placing restrictions on state aid and opening up one’s borders to unlimited trade – while at the same time removing power away from our elected representatives in Westminster and giving it to unelected bureaucrats in the European Commission. Are these not things that can and should be changed by a Corbyn led Labour government post Brexit, by nationalising our industries, utilising state aid, and reversing the industrial decline that Britain has faced? It would be wrong to say leaving the EU is not a risk, but with risk there is opportunity –
Britain has taken a decision, reversing that will plunge us into further political, (if not economic) uncertainty, and unleash the divisions of the first referendum. Let’s pursue a jobs first Brexit, and make the most of what opportunities leaving the European Union can bring.