Clive Lewis, Shadow Business Secretary, has sparked criticism following his statement “public good, private bad” with regard to Labour’s approach to state-controlled assets.
The statement arose as Mr Lewis called on the government to delay its £2 billion privatisation of the Green Investment Bank, amid fears of assest stripping.
Mr Lewis said, ” If it is a success story, however, why are they selling it off? Is it simply a case of public good, private bad? That is what we think on the Opposition Benches, but Conservatives think it is “private good, public bad.””
Conservative spokesperson for Norwich South Andrew Wiltshire said he was “astounded” by the Shadow Business Secretary’s comments. Commenting on the criticism, Wiltshire said, “As I would hope Mr Lewis knows, the economy thrives when the public and private sector work together, when there is healthy competition between businesses, good productivity and aspiration.
“Undoubtedly there are ‘bad’ examples in both the public and the private sector but writing off anything that is not state-run or state-controlled as ‘bad’ is incredulous.”
Labour MPs have been encouraging the government to exercise hesitation with the privatisation of the bank, citing concerns that GIB’s preferred buyer, the Australian bank Macquarie, could sell most of its current projects.
“I am telling the House, quite simply, that from the assessment of Macquarie and what we have seen of it, we see that it has a history of asset stripping, so how exactly will the Minister protect this valuable public institution from having its assets sold off?”
Mr Lewis, MP for Norwich South, said that thousands of jobs depend on the local ‘green economy.’ He added, “Here in our city we have a university, research centres and a science park with an abundance of world class innovation and exportable skills.”
Nick Huud, Conservative MP for Ruislip Northwood and Pinner responded saying, “I will pass over the bizarre claim that the GIB is a Labour success story by virtue of its simply being mentioned in a 2010 manifesto, with nothing done for 13 years in government prior to that.”
Mr Lewis’s comment prompted disquiet among Labour MPs who fear that it plays into the cliché of their party wanting to nationalise all industry. One former minister called it an “immature and dogmatic view.”
Mr Lewis is a Jeremy Corbyn loyalist, having supported the party leader since 2015. He formerly occupied the position of Shadow Defence Minister, but was moved following his support for Trident during the last Labour conference.
A spokesperson for Clive Lewis told Concrete the comment had been taken out of context. They said, “Clive believes strongly that the GIB is better off in the public sector – where it was set-up by the last Labour government – than in the private sector. It clearly was not a comment on the entire private sector being in some way always inferior to the public sector.”