The Institute of Government held a 'policy reunion' last night for ministers, civil servants and others involved in the Thatcher privatisations. Talking to Andrew Gamble beforehand, we agreed that it all now seemed very long time ago. It was very difficult to convey to contemporary students just how nationalised industries had dominated the economic and political landscape.
Privatisation had been selected because it was a policy success selected in a survey of PSA members. The story told last night was a familar one: privatisation had not been a significant part of the Government's original plans, but had developed into a political and administrative programme. There were a variety of motivations: raising money; reducing the role of the state in the economy; curbing the trade unions; widening share ownership (although this did not really succeed in the longer run); building political support etc.
The general tone of those involved was rather self-congratulatory and they explained the failure of the programme to do enough to boost competition in terms at the pace at which decisions had to be taken and the influence exerted by the existing managements of the industry who did not want competition at any price. Breaking up an industry would have extended the time line for a privatisation from two to five years and would have meant that the key BT sale, which really started the process, would have not gone ahead.
While I did not obtain any major new insights, there were some interesting points of detail which I may deal with in a subsequent posting.