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Privatization worked

There will be much said positively and negatively about the late Margaret Thatcher over the next few days. But whatever your opinion of her policies and what they did for or to the country I have to say that, from the inside, the impact of privatization on at least one company was wonderful.

I joined British Airways when it was a nationalised industry. It wasn't an unpleasant place to work - far from it - but, frankly, it was fairly low energy. I had an interesting job and I enjoyed it, but the overall feeling was of a company that had little unity and more interest in the status quo (down to the separate 'officers' mess' style management canteen) than, for instance, its customers. In the entire time I was working for a nationalized company I only saw a board member once, and that was in the run up to privitization.

Privatization changed everything. There was a dramatic new energy - it really felt like somewhere exciting to be working. More to the point, the majority of people working there went from being enthusiastic about planes or technology to being proud of working for British Airways. There was a dramatic new focus on customer service - suddenly, customers mattered to everyone. I got significantly more exposure to board members, apart from anything because they were spending considerable amounts of time with the staff, rather than squirrelled away in Buckingham Palace Road in London. Without any doubt whatsoever, the airline became a much better place to work, and provided a much better experience to the flying public. I honestly believe that this could never have happened without privatization.

I'm not saying it was perfect, and those who still work for the airline may well say it isn't now what it was back then. But those who look back at a golden age of nationalized companies are living in cloud cuckoo land. Privatization was right for BA - there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind.

If you are a supporter of Mrs Thatcher's work, don't take this as wholehearted praise. There were other things her government did that were disastrously handled or simply misguided. But if you are of the demonizing camp, frankly you do your intelligence a disservice. Everything the Thatcher government did was certainly not bad, as I can testify. Back then, you might well have had reason to see things through rosy tinted spectacles or coloured by the flames of hatred. But now we have the chance to employ 20:20 hindsight and should accept that both bad and good things came out of that period.

Image from Wikipedia


  1. I always preferred to use the word "Privatisation" probably because the word British suggested it - however I understand there is a move amongst publishers to standardize (sic) on the -ize ending, whenever possible.

    Is that why you've gone American?

  2. Funnily, Ian, it's a common misunderstanding that 'ise' is the British version and 'ize' the American. 'ize' endings have always been preferred by many British style guides, and is the form used by the OED.

  3. Thought you'd say that with your publishing experience; I did look up my argument before commenting and attach one of my guru's comments from World Wide Words (

    His take is that "-ise" is the preferred anglicised form used nowadays by newspapers and magazines, whereas it's only a few publishers such as The OUP, that insist on "-ize"; - presumably to avoid having separate US and UK editions.

    "Privatisation of BA" has 7.7m hits on Google whereas there are only 1.3m for the "-ize" version.

    Being a balanced person I should add that the OUP's explanation for their house style favouring -ize is that it's the form that the first OED used and subsequently favoured as it's closer to the greek endings. However they go on to say ( "In British English, it doesn’t matter which spelling convention is chosen: neither is right or wrong, and neither is ‘more right’ than the other. The important thing is that, whichever form you choose, you should use it consistently within a piece of writing."

    A politician would say "the -ise have it".


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