Since Margaret Thatcher came to power, 10% of the area of Britain has left public ownership. No wonder there’s a housing crisis.
Over the past 12 months, the issue of privatisation has surged back into the news and the public consciousness in Britain. Driven by mounting concerns about profiteering and mismanagement at privatised enterprises, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has made the renationalisation of key utilities and the railways a central plank of its agenda for a future Labour administration. And then, of course, there is Carillion, a stark, rotting symbol of everything that has gone wrong with the privatisation of local public services, and which has prompted Corbyn’s recent call for a rebirth of municipal socialism.
Yet in all the proliferating discussion about the rights and wrongs of the history of privatisation in Britain – both from those determined to row back against the neoliberal tide and those convinced that renationalisation is the wrong answer – Britain’s biggest privatisation of all never merits a mention. This is partly because so few people are aware that it has even taken place, and partly because it has never been properly studied. What is this mega-privatisation? The privatisation of land.