Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Produced by ITV studios and available to stream on ITV+
Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Produced by ITV studios and available to stream on ITV+

Bosses prepared to ruin lives

Gary Clark, Recently retired secretary of CWU Scotland No.2 branch

Watching this very moving four-part drama on ITV, no one could fail to feel anger and sorrow for the subpostmasters in their fight against probably the worst case of misjustice over a period of almost 25 years. Potentially over 700 wrongful convictions have taken place, thousands of lives destroyed, four suicides taken place, and 33 former subpostmasters have died waiting on their convictions to be reversed. At present, only 93 have had their appeal heard and reversed.

The series shows the lengths that the Post Office and Fujitsu, the IT company behind the failed Horizon computer system, went to in covering up their corrupt failings, especially former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells. She resigned in 2019 and was awarded a CBE in 2020 for her work.

This provoked mass anger amongst Post Office workers at the time, and they will have huge support for their call for her CBE to be removed. Police investigations into fraud offences by Post Office management are under way.

Public ownership

It should be remembered that the Post Office is still nationalised. The scandal proves something we in the Socialist Party have always said – nationalisation in itself does not go far enough. The Post Office is run by management like a private company. Instead, workers’ control is vital.

The series also highlights the weakness of the National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP), which is not a trade union but a federation of small businesses which run Sub-Post Offices. These are different from the larger Crown post offices which are directly managed by the Post Office. The failings of the NFSP led to the formation of Justice for SubPostmasters Alliance (JSPA), led by Alan Bates, whose story the series focuses on. The JSPA took on 550 cases against not only the Post Office, but also the government.

The show highlights how far management will go in the interests of the capitalist class, including destroying peoples’ lives. More miscarriages of justice are now being reported since the programme has aired.

Dozens were jailed, many have been made bankrupt, seen their reputations ruined. The scandal has split families and seen people shunned by their communities, some being attacked in the streets, and labelled thieves and criminals. This will live with subpostmasters for the rest of their lives.

Fighting for justice

I would support the removal of the CBE from Paula Vennells, but it should not stop at that. The whole senior post office management team should be removed and face criminal charges for what they have done during the last 25 years, and questions need to asked about the government’s role too.

We should also be calling for all the post offices closed over the past number of years to be reopened, with workers – staff and subpostmasters – organised in trade unions such as the CWU.

After years of Tory inaction, the series has ramped up public pressure on the government which is now considering exonerating all convictions. This should be supported, along with compensation for all those effected. But these measures themselves won’t bring justice; the fight goes on against the bosses and their system prepared to ruin lives in pursuit of profit.