REPUBLICAN PARTY NEWSLETTER
For a Civic and Constitutional Republic
Issue No 35 Friday 08 May 2009
· Why We Are Right To Feel Attached To State Run Post Offices And The Royal Mail.
Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican view, particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.
· Why We Are Right To Feel Attached To State Run Post Offices And The Royal Mail.
What is really going on with the Royal Mail? We read that the government is to sell off 30% of its 100% holdings of the company to the private sector and that the reason for this is that it needs to the money to make the Royal Mail viable. The Royal Mail was in fact in profit last year but then there is the matter of its pension liabilities that are variously estimated at between 5 and 8 billion pounds.
This takes place against background of probably the biggest banking crisis in history where the government is committing hundreds of billions to propping up some of the biggest banks. Is not the money needed to sort out the Royal Mail small beer by comparison? So why risk a Labour back bench revolt to get this measure through? Why is the government allowing itself to get into bed with the Conservatives and the LibDems to achieve its goal?
Of course, no one believes that the sell off of the 30% will be the end of the matter. Since coming to power New Labour has been set on eroding the position of the Royal Mail and the Post Offices as an established institution belonging to the nation. Even the arch-privatiser, Margaret Thatcher, baulked at selling off the Royal Mail. The sticking point for her seemed to reside in the word “royal”. She said she could not bring herself to selling the “Royal Mail” with the deliberate, heavy emphasis on “Royal” as if this somehow made her sentimental about letting to go the pubic ownership of it that did not apply to merely “British” companies like British Telecom or British Gas.
This could be interpreted as a manifestation of her affection for the monarchy but there is perhaps more to it than that. The Royal Mail is called Royal, whereas other public utilities are not, because it has, or had, a special function in the running of the country. The word royal is a way of describing, within a monarchical system as we have, that the service belongs to the government and is the responsibility of the government. Although always called the Royal Mail the service has included for a very long time the Post Office network and it is the latter that perhaps people have always felt more strongly about. However, to put it mildly, this network is but a pale shadow of its former self as under New Labour the number of post offices has been decimated.
Post Offices were, and are, divided into Crown Post Offices and Sub Post Offices. The former were, and are, fully owned by Royal Mail, that is, the government - you and I. When New Labour took office is 1997 there were thousands of Crown Post Offices. Now there remain less than a hundred and even these are under threat. The Sub Post Offices, which are privately owned and usually incorporated into a local community shop, have for a long time formed an important part of the network although, thanks to changes in the services they can offer, these are becoming less and less viable leading to closure after closure.
What the Labour government has lost sight of in all this, that Margaret Thatcher even in her most strident privatizing mode seems to have been aware of, is that the post office network of crown and sub post offices provided a service to the public by the government that had an importance that far transcended the actual business it enacted. The government, through the network, had a physical presence giving a unique service in every locality of any size or concentration thereby demonstrating a tangible commitment to every community. In theory we can all rely on private operations, like banks or supermarkets, to supply pensions, vehicle licenses, passports and so on, but this practice will not automatically always prove so easy. The state owned post office was an affirmation that the state would always be there to see these essentially administrative services were provided.
Of course, this sort of viewpoint would now be dismissed by many as mere sentimental nonsense. After all in the new world of stripped down, leaner and fitter, hard headed business that we are supposed inhabit, where is the place for relicts of now defunct communities and public services to them?
Historically public services have invariably been a key element of republican governments since the latter first arrived on the scene. The ancient Roman Republican invested in providing public services to the population to an extent that was previously unheard of. The provision of aqueducts to supply a constant supply of fresh water to the cities and public baths open to all citizens were just conspicuous examples of this.
Although the Royal Mail had already been founded before, it was Oliver Cromwell in 1654 during the first British Republic who made it an exclusive public service in England. And so it remained until New Labour took office. The principle of the government providing public services is something that New Labour and the other main parties are distinctly uncomfortable with. It is within this context of this mentality that the present partial sell off of Royal Mail is being contemplated. But there is another contributory factor in all this that comes from beyond our own shores – the European Union.
One of the great disbenefits of being in the EU (there may be benefits as well) is that it tends to enshrine decades old thinking in its rulings and agreements that then become ossified into permanent treaties by which we are bound. An example is the attempt to impose liberalisation and privatisation of the state industries in the interests of opening them up to foreign competition. The takeover by foreign companies will be an effect of the 30% sell off of Royal Mail as it is almost certain that it will be bought by the Dutch company TNT which already has a foothold in the British mail market.
Paolo Andruccioli, an Italian economist has written (www.spectrezine.org)
A major problem facing Europe at present is the Bolkestein directive on the liberalisation of services. It was the latest of a series of directives that flowed from the European single market. The earlier directives were aimed at specific sectors - telecoms, energy, rail transport, waste and postal services - and required all EU members states to commit to a deregulation timetable to open up public networks to private operators.
Bolkestein aimed at complete liberalisation of service industries, creating a common European market. The way the law was formulated meant an attack on [employment] rights because it enabled a company from any EU member state to recruit [employees] in other EU countries on the basis of less favourable employment laws in its own 'country of origin'.
France, a country where almost every town over 1000 inhabitants can at present be guaranteed to have a post office, is being made subject to this directive from Brussels. So the government in France, as in Britain, plans to sell of a 30% stake in “La Poste” to private institutions and individuals. The threat that this poses to the post office network does not need to be spelt out to the French people and protests are being made against the move. Of course, the French postal service does not make a profit any more than the French national rail network does. But that is not the point. In France there is a powerful sense that these services provided by the government are part of what binds the nation and the people together. This a civic republican sentiment to be sure but it is also a patriotic sentiment – the feeling that in the end these things represent what the country is.
Critics of the state run services like the French postal service usually point to supposed inefficiencies in their operation, overstaffing and overgenerous staff benefits. What they seldom consider is the effect on efficiency of private companies when the state services are reduced or cut out altogether.
The Brown government is targeting the Royal Mail and its Postal services as part of the usual “cannot afford” message that has been voiced more and more loudly ever since the Thatcher era. At the same time (at least until 2 years ago) we were continually told how well off and prosperous our society has become, although even then the process of dismantling the service was well advanced.
All the existing parties are showing that they have little time for the public services. This will not change until we have a republican government that is informed by the great republican principles of public service and public need and that will make such services a point of pride for the nation.
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……. …….until next week
*It is not that Republics can’t change should the long term will of the people desire it, but that on fundamental constitutional issues such as this they only change gradually. Republicans are conservatives (with a small “c”).
*This practice has lead over the last few years to an intense crisis for the bank buying the "security" often did not know how well the loan was secured. In a huge number of cases this has been not very well and so the banks who bought the "securities" were taken for billions, such is the level of their incompetence and greed.
*See P25 The Grip Of Death by Michael Rowbotham published 1997.And up to date figures for April 2008 show HBoS holds just 6% capital against debt "assets". The figure for Barclays is a measly 5.1%. (Moneyweek 2 May 2008. p.4). Exactly how much of this "capital" represents solid "non-toxic" capital assets is a question many would want to ask. The banks themselves are unlikely to know.