David Cameron is into balls and chains. He also wants to flog you a bar of gold. "The change we offer is from big government to big society," the Tory leader gushes in his manifesto foreword. But the document's message is clear. "The change we offer is handing government to business." There's an old fraudsters' scam called "goldbricking." It originally meant conning people into buying "gold" which is really gold-coated lead. Produced in hardback and weighing in at 131 pages the Tory programme is their own goldbricking scam. Beneath the golden sub-Obama prose lies toxic lead. From the pay in our pockets to the services we rely on, the Conservatives represent a clear and present threat. "We believe there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state," writes Cameron, his agenda illustrated by a crude retro propaganda image - the state a ball and chain dragging us down, society a balloon lifting us up. But this isn't just hot air. Conservative policies at local government level offer a chilling glimpse of the "society" they'd force us to live in. Tory-controlled Barnet Council in north London has become notorious for planning to turn itself into what the media has dubbed an "easyCouncil," with people able to pick and choose the services they pay for. However this has diverted attention away from the plan's true target. "The future council should be strategic rather than operational," the project's authors state. A study commissioned by local trade unions put it more bluntly. "The plan is to hive off almost all council functions and staff." Like a helium-filled balloon disappearing into the skies, in a Tory society democratic control would shrink until it disappeared completely. Local services and the workers who provide them would be sold on to private providers obsessed with profit margins rather than delivering quality. It's here that Cameron's recent conversion to co-ops comes in.
Trumpeting their proposals as a "significant shift in power from the state to working people" since the failed sell-off of council houses, the Tories pledge support for employee "co-operatives and mutualisation" to take over services they run and be "their own boss." It is Britain's bus network - or lack of one - which puts Cameron's plans for public services into sharp focus. In 1985 the Thatcher government pushed a new Transport Act through Parliament that deregulated Britain's buses. Anybody could now own a bus company and the era of cheap transport provided as a service by local authorities was at an end. The Act created a free-for-all where unprofitable routes were left to wither. Profitable ones were leapt upon by private firms which fought like jackals over the spoils. Whole swathes of the countryside became no-go areas without a car. But it's the way bus deregulation unfolded that betrays Cameron's plans. Publicly run companies were snapped up in management buyouts - precisely what the goldbricking Tories have in mind for public services when they speak of "employee-led co-operatives" and "mutualisation." The early winners from deregulation cashed in their profits and sold their operations on to larger predators. Today three firms - First, Stagecoach and Arriva - run nearly all of Britain's bus routes. For them and their City backers deregulation was a success. For ordinary people it has been a complete failure. The service ethic has gone, the young and elderly in the countryside have lost an essential lifeline and ticket prices have risen sharply. The Tory plan condemns our democratically controlled services to the same fate. Councils, health services, education, prisons, rehabilitation - all would be passed to profiteers. Even the unemployed would be turned into a profitable commodity for the private sector through the Tory forced Work Programme. It took some years for the big three to emerge in buses, but there are already huge City-backed players waiting in the wings to gobble up our public sector. Serco is among the firms that have grown fat on the privatisations started in the Thatcher era. Today it sells itself as a one-stop shop for public-sector outsourcing. Among other things it operates prisons, welfare to work programmes, GP services and hospital management. To ordinary folk cuts sound like a bad thing. To the people behind Serco they're a business opportunity. It even funds a think tank, the Serco Institute, which helpfully promotes the outsourcing of public services - a market currently worth £80 billion, 13 per cent of government spending. It's expected to spiral as a result of the bankers' bail-out. Serco is part of a long list including the likes of Capita, VT Group and Siemens hoping to hitch a ride on the Tories' rising balloon.
Team Cameron has found a new use for the ball and chain - Britain's six million public-sector workers. These workers may know they face an attack on their pensions. They may know the Tories are going to freeze their pay for at least two years. But that is only the beginning. The "society" set out in the Tory manifesto means people will be passed to privateers renowned for cost-cutting. Pay, pensions and jobs will all be in the firing line. The Telegraph complained a few months ago that the public sector paid £2,000 more a year on average than the private sector. Read these figures the other way round and the price that Cameron and his City friends want to extract from public-sector employees and their families is clear. No single corner of the public sector will be safe and few people in Britain will remain unaffected by the knock-on effects. "We want to pass power down to people - to individuals where we can," the Tories pledge in their manifesto. Cameron certainly does want to remove power from elected bodies, but you can be sure the individuals who get it won't include you.
Inside Cameron's blue book...
• Freeze public sector pay affecting 5 million people and their families
• Drag pensions down to the level of people employed in the private sector
• "Increase diversity of provision" to "raise public-sector productivity" - ie hand control of services to private business and the City
• Enable corporations to make a profit running public services under the guise of "co-operatives" and "mutualisation"
• Social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups to be handed a "leading role" in delivering public services
• Reward business corporation tax cuts
• Freeze council tax for two years. While by no means a progressive tax, a freeze forces savings to come from council services, leading to privatisation and cuts.
• No revaluation of council tax values. A revaluation would place a fairer share of the tax burden onto wealthier people in areas which have become more valuable since properties were last assessed in 1991.
• Axe planned National Insurance rise in 2011 - a relatively progressive tax that divides the burden between individual taxpayers earning over £20,000 and businesses
• Reward the rich by raising inheritance tax threshold to £1million.
• Reward the City by returning, "when resources allow," the tax credit on share dividends paid into pension funds - inflating the stock market
• Tamper with "controlled foreign companies" rules which crack down on tax avoidance by businesses with a British interest
• Proud of "industrial relations laws" introduced by last Conservative government. Threat to "build on them if necessary."
• Seek cross-party consensus to cap donations to political parties from unions
• All current claimants for incapacity benefit reassessed. Those found "fit" to be transferred to lower jobseeker's allowance.
• Jobseeker's allowance stripped from people who refuse to enter new cheap labour scheme Work Programme.
• Punish single parents and unmarried partners by raising benefits for married couples
• Hand corporations a bigger role in running the nursery sector
• Cut access to Sure Start scheme that helps parents to care for their children. Focus service on "disadvantaged and dysfunctional" families.
• National Citizen Service for 16-year-olds
• Retain ASBOs.
• Allow police to hand out grounding orders and other instant sanctions
• Slash rules governing on-the-spot police stop and search
• Privateers to run youth justice on a payment by results basis
• All unemployed people entered into cheap labour Work Programme scheme run by the private and "voluntary" sector on a "payment by results" basis.
• People who refuse "reasonable" job offers face losing benefits for three years
• Private sector to be handed control of rehabilitation on a payment by results basis
• Expand private sector control of prisons as part of its crusade against democratic accountability
• Sell off the publicly owned stakes in banks cheaply, mimicking the cut-price flogging off of public assets such as electricity, gas and water under the last Tory government which handed literally instant profits to the City at a huge loss to taxpayers
• Offer management at every level of the NHS to profit-making private businesses
• Hand the private sector a growing share of income from NHS medical work
• Encourage patients to exercise the "choice" to choose any provider, draining funding from the NHS and passing it to private health firms
• Personal health records as in the US designed to be accessed by a range of providers
• GPs (increasingly run by private health firms) to be given greater power over commissioning and budgets
• All NHS "providers" to become foundation trusts
• Invite profit-making private sector to take over schools system along the US model
• Remove colleges from democratic control
• Keep SATs (currently opposed by most education professionals) and make league tables "more rigorous"
• Increase in retirement age to 66 by 2016 for men, 2020 for women
• "Address growing disparity" between public sector and private pensions - meaning cut the public sector ones
• Renew Trident nuclear WMD system
• Commitment to Nato alliance as "the ultimate guarantor" of Europe
• Political alliance with unionists in Northern Ireland, threatening peace there
• "Stand for open markets" and strong relationship with US
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.