The Conservative party conference attacked Red Ed’s (Miliband) socialist leanings. The Daily Mail joined in the McCarthyism, attacking Miliband’s late father and crashing his uncle’s memorial service. In the meantime, George Osborne was arranging to negotiate with communist China and socialist-run France to sell our vital future energy interests to their own nationalised companies.
While the UK’s ownership of foreign assets is considerable and the openness of our economy to inward investment is to be welcomed, some assets should probably not be for sale, especially those of strategic national interest and where transparency and safety are vital, such as nuclear power. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, anyone?
Electricité de France (EDF) is owned by the French state. A partial privatisation in 2005 left 85% of the shares in government hands. But the British like the French these days. Most of the time. Well, as much as they like us.
China’s state capitalism means all strategic assets are state-owned or subject to total oversight by the Communist party. Transparency International declared Chinese companies the least transparent and most at risk from corruption of any they investigated.
It seems that for George Osborne, state ownership is just fine, as long as it is any state other than the UK’s, and preferably a left-wing one at that. It is strange that a Conservative student of modern history should be so naive about such a strategically shortsighted development.
UK plc has been for sale for years, but now it seems that our vital strategic interests are for sale, too.
We’ve gone from a nation where the vast majority of strategic British assets were effectively owned by the British people through the state, to a nation where a dwindling bunch of small-scale privatisation investors have been eclipsed by pension funds, corporations and sovereign funds – many of them foreign, who have little concern for the British or our long-term national interests.
This is fine in theory if the regulatory framework, regulators and government see serving the public as their sole focus, and stand up to foreign and corporate interests. Sadly, this is not the case.
The revolving door between senior civil servants, regulators and ministers, coupled with the significant sums of corporate money paid into party coffers and the access it secures, means the private, domestic citizen comes very low in the priorities of government decisions. If that money is a foreign governments’, then who exactly is the British government working for?
British governments love wrapping themselves in the union flag, while attacking our teachers, doctors, nurses and the many hardworking, underpaid people in the public sector and selling our national assets to carpet baggers, profiteering cartels and other governments.
Far from being more of a shareholding democracy than we were in 1979, we are now a foreign owned plutocracy.
In September, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that 53% of UK share ownership was foreign. Meanwhile private share ownership recovered only slightly to 10.2% from its historic low of just over 10%.
Once you have declared that everything that generates a profit is for sale to the highest bidder, or that the provision of public services will be given to the lowest bidder, with all gruesome details hidden from public scrutiny behind commercial confidentiality agreement, you have created a toxic mix of ingredients that acts against the interests of the citizen, society as a whole, our long-term economic stability and the environment.
This stuff really matters
The fifth domain of warfare is in the technology or digital arena. The first four being land, sea, air and space.
It is alleged this covert technological war has been going on since 1982 when then CIA sabotaged the trans-Siberian pipeline in Soviet Russia through the supply of faulty turbines and technology in retaliation for the theft of Canadian technology. The US is alleged to have developed the computer worm Stuxnet, to do the same to Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities in 2010.
In a similar worry about their enemies’ cyber warfare, the US has raised doubts about Huawei, the giant Chinese telecoms company, participating in US technology projects. Despite strong warnings from our own Houses of Parliament, we have welcomed them with open arms, as we have with Chinese Investment Corporations’ stake in Thames Water and the Thames super sewer, Canary Wharf and London Heathrow.
Does anyone think it is a good idea to give access to such strategic and dangerous assets such as nuclear power plants to the People’s Republic of China? Keen students of geopolitics will see selling such vital infrastructure to an undemocratic, secretive, totalitarian state (China, not France), as naive to the point of reckless.
Richard Nixon was right and brave to openly engage with China. Collaboration with China is in our national interests. But the country’s history and social, political and economic interests may diverge with our own and we should proceed with extreme caution.
The Observer’s Will Hutton described Osborne in China as “wide-eyed, innocent and deeply ignorant”. We fear for Britain that in the not too distant future, he will be proved horribly right.