Heseltine on Privatisation

From Socialism to Popular Capitalism: ‘the revolution where everyone is a winner’.  The destruction of both British industry and council housing was a deliberate policy to get away from what Thatcher and Heseltine saw as socialism, the excessive influence of the state on the economy.  They saw this as their crowning achievement.

Extracts from:    Where there’s a Will, by Michael Heseltine. Published by Bloomsbury Reader, London. 1987.

From: Chapter 3.

Privatisation: From Tentative Steps to Irreversible Achievement.

“By 1977 “The Right Approach to the Economy” was describing the Conservatives’ long-term aim as being ‘to widen the basis of ownership in our community’ as well as to reduce the preponderance of State ownership, This was the first suggestion that denationalisation, as well as promoting efficiency, might also serve the cause of popular capitalism. But the 1979 manifesto did not echo this theme. In retrospect it looks extraordinarily unambitious. We promised to sell off, as circumstances allow, the Government’s temporary shareholdings in BP and other companies which were vested in the National Enterprise Board, and to interfere less with the running of those industries which remained nationalized. We also offered to sell back to private ownership the aircraft and shipbuilding businesses which had been taken two years before. Beyond that, the National Freight Corporation was the only State company in which we said we would offer shares to the public.

By 1983 there was no longer any doubt among Conservative politicians and our supporters that the best way to make the management of nationalised industries more effective was to require them to satisfy their customers. Our manifesto that year included a roll-call of shareholdings already sold – often to their employees – in Cable and Wireless, Associated British Ports, British Aerospace, Britoil, British Rail Hotels, Amersham International and the National Freight Corporation. There was a new confidence in the promise to go further, with Rolls-Royce, British Airways, British Shipbuilders, British Leyland and British Gas.

These changes of tone between 1976 and 1983 in the language coming out of Conservative Central Office record an historic change in the political development of the British people. We began slowly, and have moved further forward with growing public support only as we proved the effectiveness of our methods. The million new owners of their former council homes, the 3 million new share owners, the 400,000 who now hold shares in the former State businesses which employ them, are enjoying the fruits of a profound and wholly benign revolution in which there are no losers.

Only Socialism had been hurt. It is indeed a fundamental shift of wealth, and it has only just begun. The strength of this Conservative revolution is that, unlike Labour’s compulsion towards nationalisation, it is not driven by dogma. It is hard to believe that Socialism in Britain will ever again be as assertive as it was between 1945 and 1979 – not, at least, if it hopes to earn a hearing from the electors. Equally I do not believe that the Tory Party will ever again be timid in proclaiming its belief in popular capitalism.”

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