Thursday, June 25, 2009

Managed Neoliberalism

Some examples of what Aneurin Bevan once described as 'private enterprise sucking on the teats of the state'. First, a belated link to a story in Inside Housing that I was planning to write about a little while ago, but the link mysteriously disappeared: 'How the Homes and Communities Agency spent £2.8 billion in four months'. The HCA, an entity I've mentioned before, is a quango set up from the amalgamation of the former Regeneration sponsors English Partnerships and the former regulator of Housing Associations, the Housing Corporation. Although there has been much talk about a return to council housing, the fact that the person they appointed to head this body was former Sheffield Council boss Sir Bob Kerslake, whose enthusiasm for 'Pathfinder' demolition schemes raised Sheffield's council waiting list from around 15,000 in 2001 to as much as 90,000 today, in a city which once had half of its population as council tenants, implies that this was not a serious aim. As does the fact that the HCA had obviously been given the green light to indulge in a sort of mini-bailout of property developers, with the knowledge that this would pass largely unnoticed in the context of the colossal bailout of the banks. And of course, given their role in stripping and gentrifying Sheffield's most famous building, Urban Splash got £3.8 million of the money. They're the only developers on the list who are only offering units for sale rather than rent, though even the 'social' housing here is mostly 'affordable', which is meaningless, or at best rented from profit-making housing associations who charge more than municipal councils.

This was rattling around in my head when reading a 'Metronet Special' in this week's Private Eye, which makes clear that not only is Boris Johnson's administration likely to continue a hugely discredited privatisation which led to Metronet itself going bust after only four years, but that similar methods are being used in the building of Crossrail. What links these two things, and this story about the remarkably swift return of enormous bonuses and lordly arrogance to the now state-owned banks, is the common thread that the unrestrained capitalism of the last 30 years isn't dying at all, but morphing into something else entirely, into a sort of Managed Neoliberalism to go along with the Managed Democracies of Italy or Russia, an economic innovation where banks and property developers are the recipients of welfare while provision for the unemployed or disabled is ruthlessly cut back. Though as an RCP libertarian James Heartfield would clearly prefer a productivist capitalism without all those nasty financiers, his State Capitalism in Britain provides a sharp, coherent diagnosis of the situation, concentrating on the weird grey area of almost entirely state funded private companies - 'arms length management organisations', PFI specialists like Capita and QinetiQ - embodiments of the phase of neoliberalism described by Mark Fisher among others as Market Stalinism. This, unless we actually stand in the way of it, seems the most likely final upshot of the financial crisis.

(also, for more HCA co-operation with gentrification, philistinism and all manner of badness in Poplar, read this.)


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