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The sale of the century
January 10, 2013 4:38 AM   Subscribe

How We Happened to Sell Off Our Electricity is James Meek's dissection of the systematic re-privatisation of the UK power industry.
Are you an enemy of liberal principles if you question the fact that, when local electrical engineers dig up the roads in London, they’re working for East Asia’s richest man, the Hong Kong-based Li Ka-shing? In north-east England, they work for Warren Buffett; in Birmingham, Cardiff and Plymouth, the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company; in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool, Iberdrola; in Manchester, a consortium of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and a J.P. Morgan investment fund.
posted by scruss (20 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Power privatisation has been a pressing (almost governent destroying) issue in my neck of the woods.
Fantastic article.
posted by Mezentian at 4:51 AM on January 10, 2013


In my dreams you could vote for a party which would renationalise everything important on punitive terms, thereby ensuring future privatisations became prohibitively risky to prospective buyers.

In reality I can vote for Tory, Tory Lite, Tory low-cal, or Tory Rich Old Fruitcake.
posted by Segundus at 4:58 AM on January 10, 2013 [19 favorites]


So that'd be "Tory Ground Up Bones in Thin Broth" which I would absolutely dine on.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:00 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


You forgot: I Can't Believe It's Not Tory!
posted by Mezentian at 5:00 AM on January 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


You also forgot "too right wing for the Tories Tory"
posted by jaduncan at 5:36 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait until he finds out the name Windsor is a hasty PR camouflage patch over the name Saxe-Coburg and Gotha!
posted by srboisvert at 5:55 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


You forgot Discrimina-Tory
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 6:13 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Greatest Tory Ever Sold.
posted by dubold at 7:01 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tory Tory Tory.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:23 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's worth pointing out that not all the electricity the UK uses is even produced in the UK. We rely on the 2000 MW Cross Channel cable from Calais and the 1000 MW BritNed cable from Rotterdam. They're both bi-directional cables, but if you look at the data from the National Grid we import a lot more than we export.
posted by alby at 7:48 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Suppose a tory.
posted by No Robots at 7:51 AM on January 10, 2013


Great article, but is the walkaway point that the privatization in and of itself was a mistake? Or was it just poorly executed?

Maybe if the French had been privatized too, then all those neat theories would have worked out?
posted by cacofonie at 11:02 AM on January 10, 2013


There are some nice quotes in this article :

‘When London Electricity was privatised, we adopted a policy of returning it to public ownership, and I’m pleased to think I delivered on that,’ Thomson said. ‘Obviously to the wrong nation, but you can’t be too picky.’

In 1943, in an analysis of Hitler’s programme in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the word ‘privatisation’ entered the academic literature for the first time. The author, Sidney Merlin, wrote that the Nazi Party ‘facilitates the accumulation of private fortunes and industrial empires by its foremost members and collaborators through “privatisation” and other measures, thereby intensifying centralisation of economic affairs and government in an increasingly narrow group that may for all practical purposes be termed the national socialist elite’.

posted by jeffburdges at 1:32 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also I'd disagree that CEGB's death "[cost] Britain .. the skills to design and build nuclear power stations," that decline should be blamed on Britain's education system. In fact, EDF owning them should help considerably since France still produces engineers.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:53 PM on January 10, 2013


Honestly, damn neoliberalism and damn greedy, short-term governments. There is a rich and varied record of the follies of privatizing government assets now, but revenue-hungry govts continue to do it because it lets them shirk accountability and steal money from the public.

The public, everywhere, is always against it, privatisation agendas are deeply anti-democratic. It's been shown - a million times - that it's a terrible deal, and additionally privatizing natural monopolies requires so much legislative jiggery pokery to stop the corporations from doing what they are meant to do - make tonnes of money off the public - they rarely work out. It pisses me off so much.
posted by smoke at 4:57 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's worth pointing out that not all the electricity the UK uses is even produced in the UK. We rely on the 2000 MW Cross Channel cable from Calais and the 1000 MW BritNed cable from Rotterdam. They're both bi-directional cables, but if you look at the data from the National Grid we import a lot more than we export.

Such interdependency is generally a good thing; self-sufficiency is a pretty poor end in itself.

And it'd be surprising to say the least if the UK was a net exporter of electricity to France. France has a surplus of electricity production, due to their advanced nuclear power programme. The reason that most glassware in English pubs (and elsewhere in the world; you see Arcoroc glasses in Australia) is made in France is due to the melting of sand into glass being extremely energy-intensive, and France's surplus of nuclear electricity making it an economical place to make glass.
posted by acb at 5:13 PM on January 10, 2013


Great article, thanks for posting.

Are PPPs the new(ish) privatisation. Can a private/public partnership hit a sweet spot in terms of public good and private efficiency?

It also seems a pity that A British company could not bid for a contract to decommission/dismantle Germany's unwanted nuclear reactors and recommission/rebuild them in the UK. I doubt that this is in any way economically (or even technically) feasible.
posted by guy72277 at 3:03 AM on January 11, 2013


Whereas UK's privatisation drive was voluntary, Greece is currently under pressure to privatise its utilities to pay off its debt. A short term solution with long term consequences?

Russians line up for Greek gas sale
posted by guy72277 at 4:55 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


> The public, everywhere, is always against it, privatisation agendas are deeply anti-democratic.

That's why there was some extremely clever advertising at the time to make the public think it was a good idea. You were (wrongly) made to feel that you — the individual — would be part of something controlling the company. You were not to realise that the “loadsamoney” you'd make when selling the shares meant that you'd be selling off that control to a multinational. As the friend who originally sent me the link quoted: "what is being sold is not infrastructure, but bill paying citizens and what is being privatized is not electricity but taxation".
posted by scruss at 5:49 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the second time in as many days that I've been tempted to subscribe to the LRB. Great piece of writing...
posted by pascal at 8:07 AM on January 11, 2013


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