Certainly one of the most interesting and thoughtful critiques of Murder in Samarkand has been posted by Harry Barnes on his blog. For those who don’t know, Harry is a recently retired, long-serving Labour MP. He represents strongly the origins of that party as an organisation dedicated to improving the lot of working people, both in the UK and worldwide. His perspective casts new light across several aspects of the book, including this extract:
In particular, I found Craig’s description of Claire Short’s visit to Tashkent when she went to Chair a conference of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development to be highly revealing.
Claire did a fine job in standing up for human rights against the Uzbek regime. As soon as she returned home she resigned her post as Secretary of State of Overseas Development over the Government’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq.
I had been amongst those who criticized Claire for not resigning earlier when Robin Cook went. Yet what she stood out for in Uzbekistan was of great importance and is a justification in itself for the delayed resignation. Her period at Overseas Development was also one of the limited avenues of achievement of the Blair Government.
A comment on a couple of Harry’s points. yes, of course I oppose political violence by state and other terrorists. I am not a closet al-Qaida supporter, or even al-Qaida denier.
Secondly, I am indeed no socialist. But I am only “the strongest possible advocate of privatisation” in the context of Uzbekistan, where state ownership of pretty well everything is a device used ruthlessly by the elite to exploit an enslaved population. In a developed economy like ours, I believe that natural monopolies should be in public hands, as should essential services like health and education.
Direct observation has convinced me that public services are best delivered by public organisations. The so-called efficiencies of privatised provision of public services are a myth, with any beneficial effect more than outweighed by the removal of public resources as private profit, and the skimping and shoddiness on the service designed to increase those profits.
In developing economies, I am completely opposed, for example, to IFI pressure to privatise and charge for water and other essential human needs. But I think purely commerial activity is best conducted by individuals and companies in market conditions, and there should be plenty of space for it..