Old Labour’s nationalisation policy was based on public ownership of the “commanding heights” of the economy. It was a deliberate attempt to ensure that major parts of the economy were owned by all of us through the state, and that all of us – rather than merely the owners of capital – benefited from the success of those industries.
It wasn’t an overly successful policy. That wasn’t – as the Tories and New Labour claim – because state ownership is inherently doomed to failure; but it was certainly true that central control and bureaucracy didn’t produce successful enterprises. It was, however, a way of implementing an ideological commitment to common ownership and control; a commitment finally and totally abandoned under Blair.
It was the Heath government which put the concept of nationalisation on rather a different footing. Rolls Royce was nationalised not because it was one of the “commanding heights”, but because it was failing. Under capitalist control, it was going broke; state ownership was the only way of saving it.
That philosophy – the state as backstop for failing capitalist enterprises, and as the ultimate guarantor of risk in the event of failure whilst the capitalists take the rewards of success – is essentially and clearly a Tory policy rather than an Old Labour one, even if polished and built upon by the capitalist-supporting New Labour.
So, when I look at the proposed purchase of Cardiff Airport, do I see it motivated by a desire to bring the assets of Wales under common ownership – or do I see it motivated by a need to deal with a capitalist enterprise which is failing? It’s not hard to come to a conclusion that Carwyn Jones’ proposal owes more to the Tory stance than to any ideological commitment of Old Labour.
That doesn’t mean that it’s the wrong thing to do – we just shouldn’t let the Tories (or Labour, come to that) get away with pretending that it has anything to do with ideology.