TINA was once an acronym known by all. There Is No Alternative, otherwise known as Thatcherism. The problem is, no one has ever said, “You known what? There Is an Alternative.” We still live in a society in thrall to the miserable git that is TINA.
I was thinking about this earlier in the week when there was yet another Watch With Mother-style public service announcement from a so-called “regulator” gently cajoling us to switch our energy suppliers to prevent them from emptying our bank accounts with impunity. Why, wondered the kind gentleman and his friends in the political world, did the public refuse to do the obvious, and use the market to cut their costs?
My reply to this is that “markets” don’t belong in the world of energy supply. And anyone with a functioning synapse left in their skulls is not going to spend their free time on price comparison websites (themselves often in league with the suppliers) to speculate about whether a switch of supplier is going to cut their bills.
The fact is that markets are about choice, and basic utilities are about need. When I want a new coat, or a haircut, or to see a movie, I want a choice, and I’ll happily make it after browsing what’s available. When I want electricity, or water, I just want the stuff to be there in my plug socket or tap. Does it matter to me who supplies it? Would I pay a premium for Harvey Nichols Power, or water by Balenciaga? Of course not, because if people could be suckered into paying extra for posh branded utilities, they’d already have done it.
TINA stands over our society like those giant statues of Lenin used to loom over the public squares of Soviet cities, a reminder of a discredited dogma that doesn’t work. Utilities are natural monopolies, best run by the state, and charging people simply what the power or water costs, plus whatever extra is needed to maintain the system and invest in the future. Those who run those utilities should do so at fair salaries to reflect their skills, plus pride in their professionalism, and the quiet satisfaction of public service. They should stop pretending that they’re Virgin Atlantic, or ICI, and remember that Birmingham has a Gas Hall and a Water Hall because both utilities were once provided, very efficiently, by the city council.
As for all the other demands of the imperious TINA, I suggest that we chuck them out as well. For TINA was above all a cultural project to get us to distrust the motives of anything that was not for profit. Much of the Tory squealing over the hospitals in North Staffordshire was really a softening-up exercise to begin the big push to shake our pride in the NHS and to open it up to further privatisation. Virtually everything, from incarcerating prisoners to feeding schoolchildren, gets taken from the perfectly competent and professional state, and given to fast-buck merchants with an eye on nothing but the bottom line, or “shareholder value”, as it is called.
Well, I’m sick of it. From Grocer’s daughter, to Blair’s Babes, to today’s Bullingdon Bullies, I’ve had enough. TINA, it’s not me, it’s you. You’re not up to the job. Go away.