Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Will the Royal Mail debate damage Cameron and Clegg?
Two interesting articles today one in the Indy and one on Mike Smithson's Political Betting. The Indy points out that this is an issue splitting all the parties. Cameron has a dilemma, the best chance yet to see a Brown defeat and yet he is backing the idea that was an idea too far even for his great hero Margaret Thatcher. There is something totemic about "Royal" Mail in the psyche of our nation. Posties are universally loved (my brother is one so I understand why!), the idea of a universal service, that you can post a letter from anywhere to anywhere in the UK for the same price. But of course the danger with privatisation has to be that we will lose that, or alternatively see huge rises in the cost of the service.
The reason I was so vociferous in our own debate about this issue is very simple. Private companies are not altruistic charitable outfits. They really don't give a fig if Mrs Jack in the Outer Hebrides ends up paying through the nose for their service. In reality she won't have a choice. And secondly, private companies are there to make a profit. At the moment Royal Mail are in debt. So any private company interested in taking on this loss making business will have to include plans to massively hike costs. If you have to find the money just to clear debts that is one thing, but to make a profit too, is quite another.
In all this debate we seem to have lost sight of the fact that this is a public service - in the same vain as other public services that we subsidise through tax. For example, if the Police Service were subject to the same constraints as Royal Mail whatever mess would that be in now?
Nick Clegg has a similar dilemma to Cameron. Our current policy would make it difficult for him not to support Brown and I expect him to, but, as Mike Smithson observes concerning Cameron, it may turn out to be a mistake.