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Public ownership is ridiculously popular. Why does no one campaign for it?


'If a political party announced a plan to end the privatisation / contracting out of public services by default, and take more public services into public ownership, would that make you more or less likely to vote for that party, or would it have no effect?'

That was the question asked by Survation on behalf of the new campaign group “We Own It” in a new poll, released last week. And by 4:1, the answer was that such a policy would make a voter more likely to vote for a party.

Specifically, 46% of voters would be more likely to vote for a party promoting public ownership instead of outsourcing and privatisation. Only 11% would be less likely to do so, whilst 43% said it wouldn't make a difference. Despite this, there is no major party in England with this policy. Significantly, I haven't seen any speculation in the media that Ed Miliband – supposedly Labour's most left wing leader in decades – is likely to adopt such a position, despite its popularity. I think that this shows us three important things about British politics.

The first is the extent to which the elite have been captured by the indoctrinating forces of neo-liberal capitalism. Politicians aren't entirely cynical. They do have beliefs. If Ed Miliband wanted only to appeal to the electorate, it probably would be in his interests to do what this poll indicates. But if he believes – despite overwhelming evidence – that privatisation is key to the future of Britain's success, there has to be a pretty compelling electoral reason for him to announce such a policy.

The second thing is that this is a reminder that there is, in England, no such electoral or political imperative. Other than the odd English seat where there is a challenge to Labour from the left, they essentially face no such threat – it's no coincidence that the biggest group of people who oppose privatisation already vote Labour. In most English seats, there is no candidate with a different position with a serious chance of beating them. The old triangulation logic still applies – lots of Labour voters might like Labour more if they had this position. But that doesn't help them. And a few Tory and Lib Dem voters might like them a bit more, but there's not huge evidence that this would be enough for them to switch these votes.

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