For example, I have never favoured privatising the railways because there are only one set of lines and there are huge advantages in planning and in the coherence of the service if you have one single supplier. It is a natural monopoly and at least there is some chance of democratic control over a government run service and we don't have to pay extra to provide dividends for shareholders to inject the benefits of entirely fictional competition.
By contrast I have never believed that the state is very good at picking which way the computer industry is going to go next. Small flexible and very lightly controlled software companies are much more likely to get it right and the best thing the state can do is get out of their way and help them by setting up excellent training of graduates and technicians to ensure that the right skills are out there to enable the industry to move forward.
When it comes to information services I also think we have to be careful. Anyone who listened to the radio in the 1960s or watched TV when there was only one channel has strong memories of how utterly boring the output can be from a BBC service that is not subject to any competition. It is impossible to express the mind numbing awfulness of being forced to listen to "Sing Something Simple" because there was literally nothing else available on the radio. The arrival of free enterprise pirate radio was like a release from a musical prison. It had every bit as much to do with the explosion of British music in the 60s as the Beatles because it meant you could actually hear something interesting.
At the moment, however, there is not a lot of danger of state monopoly supply of information in the UK. It is even proving very hard to enforce in China, Russia and Iran. The internet makes this particular risk seriously unnecessary to worry about. What is much more difficult in the internet age is to get access to high quality information that has been fact checked and makes some kind of attempt to be unbiased.
The BBC internet supplies that need really well. It is a free, easily available service that gives good quality information on everything from sport to the weather. Within the UK this makes it one of the best services that we get from a nationalised industry and a strong example of the huge benefits you can get from providing some services collectively via the state.
Which is why the Conservatives absolutely hate it.
The BBC has been told to curb the imperial ambitions of its website. What this means is that it has been told to stop being so bloody good at its job that the competition struggles to charge for its services. Newspapers are finding it really hard to charge us for their information because the BBC is already supplying it very well indeed. For Mr. Murdoch this is something of a tragedy. For the rest of us it means we get what we need quickly easily and efficiently from a source that cannot be bullied by one rich individual. So the Conservatives are trying to ensure that the BBC is bullied by one newly elected government with a strong mandate from .... um ... 30% or so of the electorate.
What they should really be doing is trying to build up and strengthen the BBC as a powerful influence across the world. If we really want to fight terrorism then let's make sure BBC news is the preferred choice for information for as many people across the world as possible. If we want to spread the values of freedom of speech and democracy it is a lot cheaper to make sure we have the one of the most powerful and reliable information websites in the world than send bombers. It also tends to make people rather more amenable to listening to what you have to say. The BBC is ideally placed to do this. We should be encouraging it to have global ambitions and to be publishing in more languages not telling it that it must cut back on this service in case it makes it harder for the Murdoch corporations to muscle in and become so powerful that they can determine who wins elections. If it was the "Sun Wot Won It" then we don't want to move into an era where it is the Murdoch website that wins it every time.
In the latest budget the BBC has been told that it must take on the responsibility for providing a free licence fee for the over 75s. Very few people have been fooled by this. What the BBC is really being told is that their budget is being cut by over 20% and if they complain they will be cut even more. They are being punished for daring to ask difficult questions of politicians and for holding them to account. They are being reminded who has the power.
This needs fighting. Of all the cuts that have been made in the budget this one has the potential to be the most dangerous. What the Conservatives are attempting is to have a BBC that is reduced in size and is scared of stepping out of line alongside an empire of information coming from an extraordinarily rich and powerful individual with some very nasty views. There are times when nationalised industries need an injection of competition to keep them on their toes. There are other times when they need strong protection against ideological driven people who think everything will always be done best by companies who are out to make a profit. This is one of the times when we need to protect one of our best public services. The BBC is worth fighting for.