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Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else Paperback – 2 Sep 2014

4.6 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Verso Books (2 Sept. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781682909
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781682906
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.9 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description



“James Meek’s superb book exposes the perversities, hypocrisies and failures of privatisation. Meek is a writer of fiction as well as a journalist, and it shows: he crafts beautiful and vivid passages that turn what could be a dry subject into a highly readable study.”
– Owen Jones, New Statesman

“James Meek's brilliant book, bracing in its detail and sweeping in its scope, makes clear just how central privatisation is to the story of contemporary Britain: some of it will make you sad, some of it will make you furious, but you are guaranteed to be left feeling that you understand this country much better.”
– John Lanchester, author of Capital and Whoops!

“Do yourself a favour: read Private Island and find out what has really happened in Britain over the past 20 years.”
– John Gray, Guardian

“One activity in which Britain leads the world is privatisation. From Thatcher to Cameron, prime minister after prime minister has flogged off our public assets at rock bottom prices to the private sector. The result has been massive returns for investors and middle men, poorer services for the public – and a downgrading of our entitlements as citizens. All this is detailed by James Meek in a book that stands as one of the most powerful critiques of the mess that is Britain’s economy.”
– Aditya Chakrabortty

“[A] devastating account of the privatisation dogma of the past 25 years... As demolition jobs go, this can hardly be bettered.”
– John Kampfner, Observer

“An energetic and colourfully told polemic against privatisation.”
– Financial Times

“If you have a taste for historical irony & absurdity, you'll love this book.”
– Francis Wheen, Mail on Sunday

“You don’t have to be…excessively sentimental about the public service ethos to find the story Meek tells here genuinely shocking.”
– Jonathan Derbyshire, Prospect

“One of the country’s finest writers.”
– GQ Magazine

“Entertaining, vastly intelligent.”
– New Yorker

“This is the definitive account of how so much has gone and continue to go wrong with Britain’s institutions. Don’t read it all at once – it’s too depressing.”
– Joan Bakewell, New Statesman (Books of the Year)

About the Author

James Meek is a Contributing Editor of the London Review of Books. He is the author of six novels published in the UK, US, France and Germany, including The People s Act of Love, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Ondaatje Prize and Scottish Arts Council Award. We Are Now Beginning Our Descent won the 2008 Le Prince Maurice Prize and The Heart Broke In was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Prize. In 2004 he was named the Foreign Correspondent of the Year by the British Press Awards and he contributes regularly to the Guardian, New York Times and International Herald Tribune. Website: www.jamesmeek.net

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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I agree with most of the 5star reviews ive read. What surprised me was that the Labour Gvts came out so badly. I finished up realising that they were the lesser of the 2 evils eg on page 162 on NHS "it was Blair and Brown that began the replacing the public components of the NHS with private ones", "it was Labour who loosened the screws". "It was labour who introduced Foundation Trusts, allowing hospital managers to borrow money and making it possible for state hospitals to go broke.It was labour who brought in CHOOSE AND BOOK, obliging patients to pick from a menu of NHS and private clinics when they needed to see a consultant.It was Labour that handed over millions of pounds to private companies to run specialist clinics that would treat NHS patients in the name of reducing waiting lists for procedures like hip operations........ and it was labour that started putting a national tariff on each procedure."
We are used to Tory ministers becoming directors on big companies and making fortunes for very little work. However on page 164 he names senior Labour members who left the cabinet and benefited in exactly the same way eg. Alan Milburn and Pat Hewitt.
I liked the way Meek uses a person's personal history to clarify how things have changed over the last 50 years eg. with Pat Quinn in the Housing section. This shows how things were for her parents and how they are now. It gives you a deeper understanding of developments over time. I think it was important to personalise things otherwise it would have been just loads of statistics and charts which would have been very dry and boring.
page 120 irony. Thatcher promised us a Britain with more independence from Europe, but her privatisation program has resulted in the opposite. eg.
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This book is an incisive guide to how the Thatcherite and post-Thatcher privatisations have gone catastrophically wrong - not just from a left perspective, but in the terms that they were intended initially by the conservative governments (predominantly) who put them into practice. Looking in depth at several specific privatisations, Meek shows how many sectors of previously nationalised industries have fallen into the hands of companies owned by the state in other countries - such as French government owned EDF in the gas and electricity sector, and are not owned by small private shareholders - indeed the number of people owning shares has actually gone down.

At first I felt that Meek was spending too much time looking in detail into specific small cases rather than taking a broader view, but by the time you've read the whole book, which is extremely readable, you have gained the big picture nonetheless, and much of the detail is important and interesting. His concept of the privatisation of taxation is interesting, and shows how we are all effectively financing the profits of private companies or public companies in other countries. Essential reading for anybody concerned about the corporate takeover of Britain.
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This is a stimulating and very readable analysis of a range of activities the ownership and control of which has moved, since the 1980's, from the state to private hands, offshore and otherwise. The author looks at post, rail transport, water, electricity, health and housing, at the intellectual theories which formed the basis of legislative and regulatory decisions, and at the consequences of political choices which were made and which led us to where we are now. It's an excellent book, albeit a depressing one, and ought to be read by those who now claim to have answers to the problems the UK faces in these areas
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This is certainly a necessary book to counter the lie that privatisation always works, but it's nowhere as good as it should be.

The book looks at six areas: the mail, the railways, the water utilities, the electricity utilities, the NHS and housing, and gives a detailed examination of each.

First the good parts: the chapters on the mail, electricity, water and housing are the most effective, but even these tend to get bogged down in too much detail. It's fine that Meek uses individual case studies to bring out the horrible reality of what privatisation is doing, but these do rather go on too much, giving you rather more detail than you really need. It's very much a journalistic approach - which is fair enough, considering that Meek is a journalist and not an academic, but you still have to wade through (and, in my case, skip read) too much detail. To take just one example, we get far too much on Pat Quinn and Doreen Kendall in the housing section, and although initially interesting, I found this rather tedious: do we really need to know that Ms Kendall is a fisherman's daughter who was brought up in Milford Haven who got her school leaver's certificate before moving from Pembrokeshire and so on and so on? This added nothing for me, and felt more like stuff added to pad out what's already a relatively slim volume at a little over 200 pages (for almost £13!) - and I think that's the real problem with the book.

Now the less good parts: the chapters on the rail privatisation and the NHS are much weaker than the other four.
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