After weeks of discussion this week saw the release of Royal Mail shares. On Friday, the first day of selling, 225 million were traded at 330p each. 10 million were sold in the first 30 seconds alone, and by close-of-play prices had increased to 455p each – a rise of 38%.
Billy Hayes, head of the Communication Workers Union, called the sale a “tragedy” and it was claimed that the organisation had been put on the market for £700 million too little – something which Friday’s explosion in share prices appeared to corroborate.
The BBC’s Robert Peston framed the privatisation as a short-term boon for the Coalition Government. He conceded that – as a purely political calculation – allowing 690,000 people to profit made sense for both Vince Cable and Michael Fallon’s parties, but wrote that “the government may well in time be found guilty of having privatised the company too cheaply.”
When words like “frenzy” and “stampede” are being used it is usually safe to assume that not everyone is thinking straight. In the 1980s and early 1990s we saw populist privatisations in rail, housing and energy. These decisions were much vaunted at the time, for helping ordinary people ‘get on’. Now though, with consumer prices spiralling and all three sectors characterised by cartels rather than proper competition, privatisation looks to have been badly thought out.
I will therefore be supporting the CWU strike when it happens, and will encourage others to help Save Our Royal Mail. We mustn’t allow a 500 year old organisation to be destroyed for the sake of a quick political buck.
Earlier in the week, meanwhile, David Cameron and Ed Miliband both conducted reshuffles. The Conservatives’ aggressive policies towards women and families mean they’re now polling 13% behind Labour among female voters. Much was made of Cameron’s efforts to redress this through personnel changes, with promotions to Minister of State positions for women Esther McVey, Nicky Morgan and Jane Ellison.
Labour’s reshuffle, meanwhile, saw more senior roles for Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds and Gloria de Piero (who becomes the new Shadow Equalities Minister). The changes mean Labour’s Shadow Cabinet is now 44% female – compared to just 18% of the Coalition Cabinet.
For me this is a vindication of Labour’s proactive approach to opening up politics to women. We began the policy of all-women shortlists before the 1997 Election. It was a clear and decisive measure, which allowed the number of Labour women in parliament to increase rapidly compared to Conservatives and Lib Dems. It is now starting to bear fruit at the very top level. The other two main parties – whose laissez-faire philosophies are reflected in their selection processes – have never had the same success.
Cameron is keen to detoxify, and some have criticised his efforts to promote women as purely cosmetic. I myself try not to be too cynical, and welcome the advancement of women across all the political parties. However, to create genuine gender parity among MPs both the Tories and the Lib Dems will have to adopt a more serious, long-term policy – starting at grass roots level. If they do not then both parties’ top teams will, in fifteen or twenty years’ time, be undergoing exactly the same struggle to make themselves look modern.