Monday, 18 November 2019

Universal services really aren't safe in their hands

There are those for whom the words ‘communist’ and ‘Marxist’ are words which have no meaning other than as insults to be hurled against political opponents in the belief that they will spark all sorts of associations with the old Soviet Union.  So when Boris Johnson refers to Labour’s plans for a full fibre internet service to every home as a “crazed communist scheme”, it’s more than possible that he is giving little thought to the detail and is just seizing on another opportunity to paint Corbyn as an unreconstructed pro-Soviet socialist from the past.
It’s also possible, though, that even if that was the limit of his intention, the use of the word does reveal the way he thinks, because he’s far from being the only person on the political ‘right’ who believes that all services should be provided by private companies in a free market, and that universal provision by the state is indeed a step towards communism.  It’s a belief which underlies health politics in the US – a standard element of opposition to all attempts to extend public health care is that a universal service is a ‘socialist’ idea, and therefore inherently bad.  His comments on Labour’s broadband plans suggest that Johnson and his followers hold a similar belief that universal provision is ‘socialist’, and the only reason that they are reluctant to apply the same criterion to health care is that they know it would be a step too far for public opinion.
The basic idea behind Labour’s proposal – that a broadband service of a particular standard should be seen as something available to all – is one which makes a lot of sense in the world as it stands today; digital exclusion is an increasingly serious divide in society.  Whether the best way of achieving that is by nationalising the provider is another question entirely, and had the Tories come forward with an alternative proposal for achieving the same thing, one might be able to believe that they want to do something about that divide.  Dismissing the end because they oppose the means serves only to suggest that they are basically happy with the increasing divide.

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