Ideology alone doesn’t make real people’s lives better

Whether you believe that public ownership is the right way to go about things or that everything should be run by profit-intending companies, if you’re pursuing transforming one to the other across the board then you better have a bloody good reason.

There were murmurings of the ideology debate of public v private hanging about before the election in May, but with Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Turnham currently playing one-up on what they’d buy back it seems both are missing the point that it doesn’t really matter.

When Ed Miliband got involved in the energy market we all ended up paying more

Most people couldn’t care less how something happens, just that it does. Most people (including me) don’t mind private or public, as long as it achieves what it’s supposed to and the outcomes are the best they can be.

In the same way, most people don’t see why you’d change something that was working unless you had a way of making it much better. Humans are naturally lazy, we all know that, and so we’re also naturally suspicious or untrusting of people who aren’t.

We just need you to tell us what difference it’d make to us

Take that person at work who seems super-human: promoted every couple of weeks, gym at lunch, charity fun-run at the weekend and fosters 2 or 3 children. Oh, and they’ve baked a cake and popped it in the break room if you fancy a slice. We all wonder what they’re after, deep down, while smiling politely and eating their delicious cake.

So as much as we don’t like that guy, we’re not going to vote for someone who is going to throw the railways, energy companies and whatever else into the turmoil of nationalisation purely because they’re going to do that.

We need more – and that’s a problem because neither Burnham nor Corbyn have ever run a railway or an energy company, or a water company. They are, at best, ‘expert customers’, and history tells us that when politicians get involved in running things they know nothing about it starts to get messy.

Soundbite politics demands promises of x number of trains being run on certain lines, an increase of x number of seats or a cut of x per cent of ticket prices. All impossible or incredibly difficult to achieve. And when it doesn’t happen, blame is on the boss – forced to hand back a bonus and then step aside for the next one in line, despite never really having a chance.

Just look at how Network Rail gets treated when things go wrong, a series of problems that are ultimately down to a lack of historic investment in the track, trains and people (there’s not enough of any of them) and a lack of enough money right now.

Or when Ed Miliband got involved in the energy market with his pledge to cap the prices suppliers could charge for gas and electricity, even without being in power or realistically having much chance of getting any, and we all ended up paying more as a result.

Authenticity is great, but we do actually want you to make our lives better too

Changing things because you believe in them, because you don’t like them or because you think something else would just be intrinsically better is fine when you’re picking paint for the spare bedroom but I don’t think it’s wrong to demand more than “because ideology” from our elected officials.

You see, as much as the coverage of the first tranche of share sales in RBS drove me mad last week – with the fictional lost £1bn leading Labour’s criticism – it was a massive missed opportunity for ideology and reason to come together.

Imagine a world where instead of Barbara Keeley, the shadow treasury minister, appeared on the Today programme to chastise George Osborne for following advice from people who know things about how money works and for generally being a Conservative, Labour had instead campaigned during the election for full-nationalisation of RBS.

Given that most people currently hate, dislike or aren’t really all that fussed about bankers nationalising a bank seems like about the right thing to do especially with only 20% or so to go.

A nationalised RBS could’ve been home to a much stronger Help to Buy ISA to give people a real prospect of owning a home instead of a fake one, it could’ve offered cheaper car insurance for young people priced out of the market and all those small business loans that we need to give people jobs and grow the economy back to where it should be.

That would’ve done some good, ticked the ideology box (not that it matters to most) and not have sounded all that mad really.

Perhaps I’m not quite right in the head but regardless of whether it’s hard-left, hard-right or centre-ist ideology that they’re spouting, unless politicians can translate the why beyond their own beliefs and into something that’ll make things better for me, then I fail to see why they bother at all.

RBS Photo by Mark Ramsay. Gas Burner photo by Steven Depolo

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