Firstly, just to clear some ground, let me say I simply didn’t know that Heartfield was an ex-RCP/Institute of Ideas/Furedi groupie/Astroturf merchant type when I first read the piece. Generally, I find their analysis a bit ...well, silly, in its single minded downplaying of climate change risks and bigging up of technological ‘progress’ as an unqualified good. But even if, as a commentator on my initial post said, it is just a case of a stopped clock being right twice a day I did find lots to agree with in his post. In particular it exposed the whole ‘public sector bad private sector good’ type arguments for what they are: ideology. A large part of the British public sector spending is actually a form of outdoor relief for the private sector, and quite a lot of the New Labour programme of public sector ‘modernisation’ (consumer ‘choice’ , contestability, marketisation and so forth)has actually been a way of shifting resources from delivery to people – however well or poorly done - into propping up this system of private sector relief.
One part of Heartfield’s explanation for this is, essentially, that British Capital is basically pants. It has lost the will to innovate. It expresses all its strategies in terms of risk, and especially risk minimisation – a language borrowed, in essence, from finance. The bastard off spring of actuaries who price the ‘lifespan’ of profit now rule the roost. The hero-innovators of Marx’s day – those who constantly remade the world - are long gone; their great grandchildren need the succour of a State which appears ever less separate from their own interests. They’ve lost their will to do big things, so they need the rest of the world to be remade in their own image by statutory decree.
Rick sees things differently. But then, to be fair, he’s a manager, not a politico, so he would. He sees the problem as one of public sector managers being more hidebound than their private sector counterparts, and much more trapped in rule bound systems of employee relations. So the public sector needs to call in the private sector for help. I think he just means that unions are stronger in the public than the private sector – though, of course, they’re pale shadows of what they were when Rick and I were growing up.
Of course there are difficult employees. But you can’t change the world on the basis that all employees are difficult. You have to give the people you work for and with something to believe in. And this is where a purely managerial perspective will never penetrate. The greatest weapon – at an operational managerial level – that social democracy ever had was the idea of public service, which grew out of the political ideas of community and mutuality and solidarity. What we’ve got in its place, in my view, bears a passing resemblance to the ‘Old Corruption’ of the eighteenth century : endless initiatives and restructurings and cost cutting done by ‘consultants’, a euphemism, in general, for large multinational firms. A teat which constantly feeds the private sector. No wonder there is workforce resistance.
& now the establishment call for cuts to be made – and to an extent they’re right, even if they exaggerate the immediacy of the necessary decisions, ignore the potential for offsetting tax rises and embellish the potential for ‘protecting frontline services’ whilst doing so. But nowhere, or almost nowhere, is there an alternative vision. If I had to generalise, I'd say it is this blindness which the public sector has imported from the private sector, not 'efficiency'.