Despite 20 years of low brow debate and frankly little protest in the past year the UK Government has announced the sale, almost apologetically, of the 500-year-old Royal Mail.
Equally timid will be the advertising to shift the state service onto the London Stock Exchange – in hasty November.
The unions have also been lacklustre, mustering up a London double decker bus to circle Twickenham and Teddington on August 31. A sunny day but no one looked up or took seriously the message of privatisation.
David Cameron desperately needs a big ticket item if he wants to win the next election.
But this privatisation won’t make the errors of the Busby BT campaign in 1984 or the “Tell Sid” TV commercials for British Gas in 1986.
As I wrote in my student days in the NUS magazine in 1989, GBP1bn of gross receipts of GBP3bn was wasted from the British Telecom sale on advertising, consultants, PR, lawyers and underwriters.
Those sales motivated me to write a column called the Matlock Factor which drafted a more efficient means to privatise industry in the UK. Soon afterwards the Berlin Wall came down and I saw my ideas put partly into practice east of the River Oder.
The sale of Royal Mail will be more like those trial run sales in 1981 of Britain’s Enterprise Oil and Amersham International. Those tenders came after years of Margaret Thatcher-Keith Joseph ideology about selling off companies the state doesn’t need and which may be profitable on a commercial basis anyway.
Those were sold before then premier Thatcher reinvented privatisation not to be merely about rolling back the frontiers of the state or improving state balance sheets but to become enfranchising populist policies to win electoral votes.
So Cameron is merely approving the sleepy selloff rather than the razzmatazz for a Big Election Winner.
The Evening Standard today was all full of praise for the policy of discarding companies, written by an author who may barely have been born when the general public was torn over the idea of “selling the family silver”.
And that is the key point. The real owners of the Royal Mail, the electorate and the consumers, have not been consulted.
The idea has been imposed and sweeteners about rising dividends used to buy their votes.
Far from worrying about the unions – as much a vested interest as the City’s underwriters – we should be asking Joe Public what they think of the idea. How will it affect them?
The public’s resolve has been worn down by decades of neglect and post office closures and few understand that it’s not Post Office Counters Ltd which will be flogged off, but the messenger Royal Mail which delivers letters and parcels.
So called experts say RM will cash in on parcel deliveries from online shopping where extortionate postage stamp costs have driven the public to email.
Hmmm. The problem is…only during a recession will online retailers shoulder Free Postage. And when they start charging the public again….where will the dividends come from?
Expect more shoppers back in the high street.