Tony Garnett • Blog Posts

So the penny has finally dropped, eh? Get with the programme, Dave Prentis! Privatisation of the NHS by stealth started with Blair.

They know it’s too popular to abolish it so they’re quietly replacing it. The moment will then come when nothing will be left of the NHS but the name. Every procedure, every building and every job will be in the gift of private capital. Then the coup de grace: everyone will need private insurance and the cost will no longer be a burden on the public purse. Every man for himself – and woman and child. Stand on your own two feet. Of course, those without insurance will have “public hospitals”. Like in the US. Good luck!

Market fundamentalism is an extreme religion. True believers cannot be reasoned with. Their ambition is to save society through extending their belief in the market into every detail of our lives. The market is not just a useful human device. It is the fundamental good.

Although there in plain sight, we don’t see what they’re up to. It proceeds by stealth, and they deny their true purpose. Perhaps we can’t believe anyone could be so fixated.

There was  a brief flirtation with co-operative enterprise, serving each other, not seeking private profit, after World War 2. We had seen it in action during the war, remembered the pain of the Thirties, and wanted to extend it. Our history since has been a tenacious, gradual pushing back from these reforms. The market economy is an insistent wasting disease, rather like a cancer, gradually increasing its grip, incapacitating the body politic so that it cannot function as a whole, co-operating organism.

One day we will wake up and find the NHS abolished. Fine for people like me, and maybe you, comfortably off enough to enjoy what expensive private medicine can buy. Tragedy for those who can’t. It will be another gross step into the desert of individualism, diminishing all of us.

Something similar is happening at the BBC. It, too, occupies potentially very profitable territory and none of it is making a profit! That is a tragedy for the privateers. What a waste! But, again, it’s too popular, even with Tory voters, so outright abolition is not electorally feasible. So it has to be privatised by stealth.

I played no part in the fight for so called independent production. I admired many of the producers involved and respected their reasons. The broadcasting authorities were bureaucratic and stifling. But they picked the wrong fight and William Whitelaw couldn’t believe his luck. Of course the Tories  created hundreds of companies, all run by people suffering from petit bourgeois illusions. The imposed pressures of the market led good people, as well as the spivs and hustlers, into cutting pay and conditions for their colleagues. Everyone was freelance and vulnerable, living from gig to gig.

It also inevitably led to a Trojan horse infiltration of the BBC.

This was at a time when the internal market and other Birt led reforms were fashionable New Labour mantras. It had become an uncreative environment, so I worked from the outside, too. I had no illusions or love for it, any more than I liked working for ITV, where my productions were there merely to deliver audiences to advertisers.

I’ve always lived in the real world and I saw the true reason for it all. Producers wanted to use public money to finance their shows in order to make their companies valuable. It was all about a capital gain. Forget the ideals you had coming into this world, savour the fat profit.

Now the BBC is putting most of its production into a separate entity, which is not yet a private company: but it is nicely wrapped up for an auction. The BBC is walking backwards into being just a buyer, not a cohesive team where the producer and the programmes were the keys to its existence. Its internal market, the degradation of its Controllers into mere purchasers of content and the risk averse repetition of shows just because they “deliver”, mark the end of a great creative experiment in British cultural life.

But, eh, so what? Everything must be tailored to the world marketplace. Become American or die. No one wants to engage in a national conversation. People’s  complex provincial  lives don’t sell.

The future model for the NHS is you’ll get what you pay for, not what you need.

The future model for the BBC is you’ll get McDonalds, to hell with respecting your own culture.

Get used to it.

Or get off your asses and stop the bastards!


See Neena Modi in today’s Guardian for facts.

And my blog “Sick to Death” – The Aneurin Bevan Memorial Lecture


5 Responses so far.

  1. CCChris Lovett says:
    Tony, I am really enjoying your blogs/commentaries. Much appreciated, thanks.
    (Chris Lovett – at 70 becoming more annoyed and active day by day)
  2. Yana Stajno says:
    Terrific posts. Thanks Tony. Yana
  3. Vicky Ryder says:
    Hello Tony,
    Everything we fought for being leached away to line the pockets of the soulless, but we mustn’t give up or lose heart.
    Anyway, being a Villa supporter, you’re used to hardship!
  4. John Manix says:
    I admire your direct style and pointing out the great pitfalls we are so near. Thank you .

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