Tories back down on privatising post office

Issue 

Tories back down on privatising post office

By Max Anderson

LONDON — The credibility of Britain's limping Conservative government received a further blow on November 2, when it appeared that backbench Tory MPs had forced a complete climb-down on the plans of the president of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine, to privatise the post office.

Public anxiety about the effect on services and prices, especially in more isolated and rural areas, was effectively mobilised by a campaign to stop the privatisation.

Although it would be premature to announce the death of Thatcherite Tory radicalism, the defeat of this immodest proposal is another indication that public opinion is turning strongly against monetarist policies. Edward Leigh, a Thatcherite MP who was sacked from the government last year, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that "the Labour Party will have a field day if we drop this. They will say that we have run out of steam, and it's time for a new government."

Increasingly, the Conservative Party is finding itself between a rock and a hard place: does it persist with deeply unpopular policies, like the privatisation of the railways, or look to "consolidate", and risk the perception that it has indeed run out of steam?

This implosion of the new right's project, as the public increasingly comes to recognise that it has created insecurity, unemployment, rising crime, environmental destruction and mass poverty, offers an opportunity for the left to set out an agenda for the reconstruction of civil society.

While the Labour Party leadership has been disappointingly timid, a broad group organised around the Full Employment Forum and the Campaign to Defend the Welfare State has been putting a forceful case for a real alternative to Thatcherism. Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, wrote in a recent pamphlet, "We need to regenerate the same vision and commitment that the 1945 Labour Government brought to post-war Britain. This included a clear statement of values: a society of full employment, with health care free at the point of use, and a decent education system."