EDITOR'S LETTERMerryn Somerset Webb
Royal Mail: Another botched sell-off
In the late 1970s, the word ‘privatisation’ didn’t really exist. If anyone ever spoke of listing the UK’s many nationalised firms (they generally didn’t), they used the word ‘denationalisation’. That changed fast.
‘Privatisation’ – seen as a more positive description – was first brought to public attention in a Financial Times article in July 1979, says John Littlewood in his book The Stock Market: 50 Years of Capitalism at Work. It didn’t take long to grab the public imagination.
By November, 5% of BP had been sold into the market. By 1981, pretty much everything was seen as up for grabs: stakes in Ferranti, British Aerospace, Cable & Wireless, and the National Freight Corporation had all been sold.
However, it was in 1982 when the state – for the first time – attempted a full privatisation. Not just a sale of its holding in a company (it owned only 51% of BP in the first place), but of a whole company.
• Read the full editor’s letter here: Royal Mail: Another botched sell-off