What sort of society demonises people who work in schools and hospitals, put out fires or police our streets?
The way a crisis caused by the banks has been changed into one caused by public spending has been political genius. This year, bankers got away with awarding themselves nearly £14bn of bonuses with barely a word of complaint.
Meanwhile, the image of a public sector workforce made up of idle, pampered pen-pushers who can easily be disposed of is promoted. The nurses, teachers, firefighter, soldiers and police officers that society depends on to function have been written off as a bunch of parasites leaching off the taxpayer.
Ask yourself do you really believe that? Are all soldiers, teachers, nurses, firefighters and police officers lazy and useless? Would things really be better if they were all privatised? Should we put profit first and people second?
David Cameron didn’t always talk like this. He had kind and caring words of praise when in opposition.
“Public service, the concept of working for the good of the community, is a high ideal,” said Cameron back in 2006. “Yet this is rarely, if ever, acknowledged.”
After over a year in charge he has certainly changed that tune. Oliver Letwin declares public sector workers need “some real discipline and some fear”. Unless they produced the best results, “some will not survive; it is an inevitable and intended consequence of what we are talking about”.
Portraying public sector workers as inefficient layabouts is being used to build the case for privatisation of those services. It’s a dogma triumphing over the facts, contracting out services actually hits productivity. Clear examples like the collapse of the Southern Cross care homes and everyone’s experience with privatised energy companies show how painful privatisation can be.
Putting profit first means you will pay more for that service, once for the service and once again for the profits.
The public sector and productivity isn’t like making cars or TVs. It’s impossible to put a value on everything public services do. If spending on cancer treatment went up by 10 per cent and cancer deaths went down by 5 per cent, then that’s not a good return on your investment. No Dragon in a Den would declare themselves in, unless they are one of the cancer survivors.
It’s that sort of selfish me first approach that’s the problem. Public service is about doing good for us all. You have to put others first and think of the greater good.
You might pay for a service you never use or need but you help build a society worth living in.