I have just got back from the House of Commons after the debate on the Government's Bill to privatise the Probation Service and Prisons. 23 Labour MPs voted against the Government and about 33 abstained. Nevertheless the Government's proposals were voted through the Commons with majority of 25 and now go on to the Lords.
Gordon Brown intervened personally to get the privatisation bill through the Commons by calling in individual Labour MPs to meetings with him in order to persuade them and indeed threaten them to vote for the privatisation.
In opposition when the Tories started the process of privatising our prisons both Jack Straw and Tony Blair described the use of the private sector in the process of imprisoning our fellow citizens as immoral.
To justify this privatisation policy John Reid and his junior minister Gerry Sutcliffe did the usual dressing up of the privatisation as just another way of allowing the voluntary and charitable sector to play a wider role in providing probation and prison related services.
The reality is that the probation service and prisons will be packaged up into sizeable contracts which will be bid for by a near monopoly grouping of transnational corporations like Securicor. Huge profits will then be made at the expense of cuts in the wages, conditions and pensions of the workforce and by reductions in the quality of service to clients and inmates. The government will eventually claim that it has invested vast sums in both services but just like the NHS tax payers this taxpayers' money will have been laundered into private profits.
Without any flicker of conscience Labour MPs trotted dutifully through the lobbies to vote for this handing over of yet another section of our welfare state.
Gordon Brown urged us all last year to be advocates for globalisation. New Labour MPs have obviously taken this to heart. We saw tonight globalisation at work. After a long but very powerful and effective lobbying campaign transnational corporations have effectively used a New Labour Government to prise open this vital element of the British welfare state for profiteering.
Some concessions were forced out of Reid such as a 3 year delay in the implementation of some elements of the privatisation process and that the existing probation officers will be allowed to compete against the private and voluntary sector for their own jobs. However I somehow doubt whether this will send the thousands who work in this service and their families off to the polls at the next election with a song in their hearts determined to vote Labour.
We will now do our best to defeat and, failing that, amend further this legislation in the Lords but the privatisation feeding frenzy under New Labour goes on apace. Last week I discovered that the Government is privatising the CoastGuard Service in a contract worth about £3 to £5 billion.
There are times when you feel ashamed of what this Government is doing in the name of our party.
Tonight was one of those times.