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Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else Paperback – 2 Sep 2014
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WINNER OF THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR BOOKS 2015
“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
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A brilliant analysis of the simplistic Thatcherite faith in the magic of "the market" and how that vision fell far short through unintended consequences. A failure to realise that modern industries are run by cartels, who seek to, collectively, "stitch-up" the consumer, rather than compete on price for more market share. No different to how Lucky Luciano organised the 5 crime families of New York to operate, after realising how catastrophic (and unprofitable) inter-gang wars could be.
One can fairly evaluate that publically owned institutions especially utilities and those with large assets essentially represent huge wealth in stock form that is difficult for bankers, asset strippers, hedge funds, carpetbaggers, and financial houses to access and exploit to Privatisation allows such potential wealth to be transformed to actual, or 'flowing' wealth; it is wealth in that form that others can cut off a "slice" for themselves. If the privatisation process of deliberately 'stealing' publically assets is not clearly understood then Meek's display of specific case histories will help enlighten. The sadness is that reversing this wealth dissipation has now gone too far to hope reversal is possible.
Meek does an excellent job of demonstrating how privatisation created actual wealth which was exploited of lesser value than the original potential wealth to create 'flows' of wealth that asset strippers, or should we call them 'carpetbaggers', the difference being that an asset stripper may choose to 'stay' and maximise wealth potential in the longer term, while a carpetbagger never has any intention to stay after he has exploited a 'play' to his usually short-term advantage? E F Schumacher opined that the larger an organisation the less important it became who owned it.
Private Island very definitely progresses the understanding of privatisation leaving may questions unanswered.
The book is written in seven chapters, the first six chapters, take one area of privatisation and examine it in detail. We are taken on a journey from before privatisation, ( sometimes long before ), up to now, who's running it, who owns it and who benefits from it. It is very clear that we the ordinary people are the ones who have lost out, it's also ironic that in some cases large parts of our privatised networks have been nationalised by other countries - notably France with electricity. The author uses many examples of how these changes have affected real people over time.
The book ends with a fabulous dissection of Thanet - just prior to Farage trying to win the seat for South Thanet in the general election- and the author's ideas on how the situation could be improved. It is important to add that the book is really well written, and very entertaining, I rattled through it in a couple of days. On top of all that I learnt a huge amount, and it exploded what I perceive to be are many commonly held views on privatisation.
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.