Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why I believe in state owned industry

OK, so if you read the last post, you'll know why I'm a conservative. Even if you only read the post title you'll at least know I'm a conservative and proud of it even if you don't know the reasons why. It was a long and rather meandering post - for which I apologise - but it was necessary before I posted this one.

Because it will seem strange to some that a conservative believes that certain industries should be nationalised and remain state owned.

It's one of the post modern paradigms that only socialists believe in state owned monopolies and conservatives believe everything should be open to competition and free trade. But I don't agree with that nor do I believe that having state owned monopolies is against conservative principles.

As an example I cite the Royal Mail. No one will deny that the Victorian age was probably one of the most conservative eras of our times - yet they understood that for the postal service to work it had to be a state owned monopoly. Yes, I know the Royal Mail existed long before Queen Victoria came to the throne, but it was only in Victorian times and the advent of the penny post that it became a truly national service accessible to all and, therefore, a nationalised monopoly. I'd go as far as to suggest that the Royal Mail was every bit as much of a national institution to Victorians as the NHS is to many Britons today.

So I don't believe that a state owned monopoly is against conservative principles. If anything, as conservatives - in my opinion - should be nationalist, or at least have a very strong sense of national preservation, then the concept of state owned monopolies should be a core belief of conservatism.

For example, we are currently having a nationwide debate about energy policy. Forget all the argument about "global warming", "renewables" and "green" energy for a moment.

Energy is a vital and essential constituent of the economy. Without energy our economy will collapse. It doesn't matter about who sets interest rates or what level of corporation tax is levied, the simple truth is that if there isn't any energy there isn't any meaningful economy.

With something so vital it seems inconceivable to me that we allow our energy supply and provision to be managed by anything other than a state owned national monopoly or susceptible to the whims and interests of foreign powers and businesses. It seems ridiculous to think we sit on a thousand years worth of energy resource in the form of coal and yet prefer to rely on expensive imports of a resource with considerably more finite reserves from unstable regions and, frankly, deplorable regimes.

I would also argue that any government - conservative or otherwise - has a responsibility to ensure that the people it represents are, as much as possible, insulated from global upheavals. Apart from energy supply I believe there are two other areas where it is not just essential, but conservative, to use state power to provide that insulation.

Food and defence.

Once more these are things we can not do without if we are to preserve our existence as an independent nation.

When it comes to food I do not suggest a wholesale nationalisation of farming and agriculture, but I do believe that a truly conservative government will understand the need to protect and preserve our agriculture and food supply. This means regaining and protecting our national waters and fisheries and it means implementing trade barriers for food imports.

When it comes to defence it means having a military capability that is, as much as possible, equipped and supplied with British weapons and munitions. We should be wholly independent in all aspects of military capability - ships, missiles, aircraft, guns, ammunition - with full control over supply and design.

Again, this is where state owned industry comes in - because, in all honesty, we are woefully short in many aspects of an independent military. A truly conservative government would either encourage British private enterprise to fill the gap or, in the absence of any private enterprise stepping forward to fill that void, use government finance to set up the relevant industries with a view to selling that off to private enterprise at the earliest opportunity (with a provision that it remains an British business independent of foreign influence).

Not only does it guarantee jobs and security for workers, farmers and fishermen, not only does it ensure that we have national security in energy, food and defence, but it also has another less obvious benefit.


Industries like energy and defence require key skills - particularly engineering. Power supply requires engineers to design and build power stations. Coal mining requires people to develop new ways to extract coal and refine it's conversion to other uses such as diesel, petrol and aviation fuel (yep, we could use coal for that too - no more reliance on Saudi Arabia). Aircraft design requires aeronautical engineers, electronic engineers to design the avionics and skilled workers to assemble them. And so on.

All of these things would mean we would require high quality graduates in key competencies - and that means high standards of education. Fewer people are bothering to go into these areas these days as there is little opportunity for them in this country once they graduate. If we had those industries then more and more people would seek careers in them - so we'd get more and more people opting for engineering and fewer going into media studies. That means better infrastructure and less propaganda.

But aren't conservatives supposed to believe in free trade and private enterprise?

Yes, but not national suicide.


Patrick said...

Nice post Stan, I find myself in agreement with much of what you say in this and the previous post. One question, are you familiar with BNP policies because this sounds very much like them in regard to the subject matter covered?



Stan said...

I'm familiar with most of the BNP policies - some I like, some I don't. Like the maintstream parties they are fixated with a nationalised health industry which costs £100 billion in visible costs every year (and another £100 billion in hidden costs) and yet fails to produce better outcomes for people than the privately run health industries of other nations. Waste of money.