Socialist Worker

Does cutting back the state make us free?

Issue No. 2242

Listen to any Tory MP and they’ll tell you that their government is increasing people’s freedom.

Is there a service you desperately need? Set it up yourself. Are you a GP who’s sick of the bureaucrats holding the purse strings? Run your own finances. Are you a parent wanting more say over your child’s education? Start a free school.

David Cameron says he wants to end the state’s “monopoly” on services. He writes, “Instead of having to justify why it makes sense to introduce competition in individual public services—as we are now doing with schools and in the NHS—the state will have to justify why it should ever operate a monopoly.”

This is a huge assault. The aim isn’t to give ordinary people more freedom or to decentralise power—it’s to centralise more power in the hands of big business.

This also lies behind the obsession of the Tories, and the Labour government before them, with “choice”. Choice in education or healthcare by definition means that some schools and hospitals are better than others.

The rich have a range of resources, not least money, that allow them to choose the best. Meanwhile the majority of people are left with the worst, with no choice of anything better.

Socialists defend publicly-run services against privatisation. The ruling class doesn’t want state-run services because it is against ordinary people having any say in how things are run.


It pushes competition and the free market because these things allow businesses to make more money.

The state isn’t neutral. It is an instrument of class rule that one class uses to keep down another.

And real power doesn’t lie with elected governments—it lies with the rich. But that’s no argument to hand them even more power.

Under capitalism, elected governments represent the only smidgen of democratic control and accountability we have.

People can vote out a government that messes up the health service. They can’t vote out a multinational corporation.

Privatising public services means a massive transfer of wealth from the public sector to business. Privatising services hasn’t meant cutting government spending—but people who use the services see much less of it.

Instead, government money goes into the bosses’ pockets. Billions are handed over to subsidise businesses involved in PFI hospital projects and to firms that run academies.

The Tories’ version of freedom is freedom for the rich to turn services into profit-making enterprises. But freedom for ordinary people is limited.

The right wing would have us believe that everyone is born free, that people make choices, and this affects how their lives turn out. It’s not true.

If you’re born into a working class family, the chances are you’ll remain in that class. That affects every aspect of your life and every “choice” you make.

You will have to work—or face destitution on poverty benefits. You will live in a much lower standard of housing than those with more money.

If you get ill, you’ll be dependent on an underfunded NHS to take care of you. You can “choose” to go to university—but only if you’re prepared to accept thousands of pounds worth of debt.

This is not freedom or true choice.

Ideological and social factors also shape how people act. Women may be free to do no more housework than men. But women grow up being told that their role is to care for other people. This doesn’t determine how people behave but it does have an impact.

Black people are free to apply for jobs on the boards of top companies. But racism means that fewer black people will be in positions where they could feasibly apply for such posts.

And of that small group, fewer will apply because racism makes it less likely that they’ll be accepted.

And outside of our individual lives, there are many social things we aren’t given any choice about—such as what we produce, how we produce or whether to go to war.

The Tories say they stand for the freedom of the individual. But the individuals they are talking about are the rich.

Socialists are for collective freedom. The best defence of our services is workers’ action.

That has the potential to not only fend off attempts to let the profit motive dominate, but also to increase our democratic control of those services.

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Sat 12 Mar 2011, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2242
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