Published by Daily Mail
It was right to privatise British Rail, Coal, Gas, Petroleum, Steel, Telecom, Airways and Shipbuilders, along with Electricity, Cable & Wireless, Britoil, Jaguar and Rolls Royce. Removing these moribund monoliths from public ownership injected some free-market discipline and Hayekian economic stimulation into the industrial sclerosis which had bedevilled the country throughout the 1970s.
Denastionalisation led to a transformation of industrial working culture and unimaginable efficiencies in productivity. Thatcherism was the people’s capitalism, and The Lady was to be greatly admired.
But forgive me, in the case of Royal Mail, if I don’t rejoice with my fellow capitalists and wave the true blue Tory flag with my political compatriots. There was a reason that Margaret Thatcher never went so far as auctioning off the Royal Mail, and it had nothing to do with bloated inefficiencies, chronic losses or impenetrable union power.
Margaret Thatcher would no more have privatised the Royal Mail than she would have abolished the Monarchy or disestablished the Church of England. This the Crown, and Royal Mail is royal. The Lady was a Tory who understood the importance of conserving all that is good in the Constitution, along with the preservation of those institutions which engender social cohesion, help to forge the common good and perpetuate a sense of national identity.
Contrary to the popular myths, Thatcherism was not all about neoliberal economics and the dog-eat-dog pursuit of personal wealth: it had an acute moral purpose informed by a constitutional conscience.
The Royal Mail has a long and distinguished history going back to 1516, when Henry VIII established a Master of the Posts. It has been in public ownership since 1635, and its Royal Charter is symbolic of its national importance and cultural significance. After five centuries of tradition, almost four centuries of state control and 173 years of stamps featuring the head of the Sovereign, Royal Mail is a cherished and valued national institution.
It may not be universally loved or unanimously respected. It may at times be exasperatingly myopic and poor in responding to its customers’ needs. But folk in the Outer Hebrides and in all far-flung rural communities appreciate its commitment to universality. It belongs to the nation: it unifies the Kingdom. And the Monarch’s head upon its postage stamps is symbolic of that contract.
There was a time when the head of Caesar was symbolic of sovereign political authority. Thanks to our rejection of the euro, the Queen’s head on British coins and notes remains an authentic expression of economic and fiscal sovereignty. Her Majesty’s head upon postage stamps will soon become a complete façade, if not a humiliating farce.
This sell-off may raise £3bn, but let us not pretend that universal provision will not eventually be eroded by aggressive cost-cutting strategies and Teutonic efficiency drives. Yes, the Government may be assuring us that this will not happen: according to Business Minister Michael Fallon, it is ‘scandalous scaremongering’ even to suggest that it may eventually cost more to deliver to some of the UK’s 29 million homes than it does to others; or that six-day delivery may, in some areas, become five-day collection.
But the (secret) dinners in Downing Street and (declared) holidays on Necker Island will happen, and political pressure will be applied in the lobbying of ministers for a ‘relaxation’ of uniform pricing and ‘flexibility’ on the six-day delivery.
Of course, none of this will happen overnight: like all EU-inspired conspiracies against our national sovereignty, it will be covert, incremental salami-slicing; it will be, as with ever-closer-everything-else, almost imperceptible.
But it will come.
No doubt Business Secretary Vince Cable will ensure restrictions on postal advertising to protect the Monarch’s image. But these will gradually diminish with each statutory amendment in order to keep the private companies on-board and the capital injections flowing.
The prospect of the Queen’s head juxtaposed with Virgin ought to offend all who care about her dignity, title, style and honour. And I’m not talking about the Mother of Christ, who has happily coexisted with the Queen on numerous Christmas stamps over the decades. The issue is the myriad of regional delivery networks which will sprout up as Royal Mail is fractured and fragmented into a plethora of local providers. These will undoubtedly include Virgin Mail, which would be licensed to sell its own postage stamps bearing the Queen’s head as part of its contractual entitlements.
Effectively, each private company that delivers letters to your door would be granted Royal Appointment. I can see Lord Branson now, ascending to the clouds in a glimmering gold and pillar-box-red hot-air balloon, proudly displaying his new logo of the Virgin Queen.
If all private postal companies are obliged by statute to incorporate the Queen’s head on their stamps in perpetuation of some façade of unifying patronage, foreign companies will also be given access to the most famous of royal imprimaturs. HM Government will trade Her Majesty’s image with Deutsche Post and the Netherlands TNT, giving the Germans and the Dutch free licence to unite the European family of nations by Europost.
And it is to the EU dimension of this privatisation to which we must turn if we are to understand why Labour began the process in 2007; why a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are completing it in 2013; and why Vince Cable said in Parliament that this privatisation was ‘an irreversible course’.
The European Postal Services Directive (97/67/EC amended by 2002/39/EU as amended by 2008/06/EC) forces the liberalisation of postal markets across the EU to permit member states to compete in trans-national mail markets. The European Commission decreed that this will improve the quality of service, in particular in terms of delivery performance. We are told: ‘The Commission monitors and ensures the correct implementation of the regulatory framework and, where appropriate, proposes changes to this framework in order to achieve the Community’s postal policy objectives.’
So, the European Commission demanded Royal Mail liberalisation, and HM Government has responded with privatisation. The parties are united because there is no option to be divided. The resulting regional networks of postal operators will henceforth be scrutinised and monitored at a European level. And the Queen’s head will be the means of deception, the façade of falsehood, and the mechanism of national betrayal.