Search Results for : Railway privatisation


Renationalise the Railways 115

Railways are a natural monopoly. There is no genuine competition between providers. For many people, the privately owned railway service is the only practical way to get to work. We have the most expensive passenger fares in the world, and a negligible amount of freight sent by rail, despite absolutely astonishing subsides pair to the private railway companies – and mostly ejected straight out again as shareholders’ profits. I was hoping to give you a figure for the total subsidies private rail companies have received since the crazed system was set up, but I can’t find a reliable series of figures anywhere – can anyone help?

We also still have a rubbish service. Some nominal punctuality improvement has been made, largely by the ruse of making timetables themselves unambitious. A member of staff at Ramsgate station told me recently of an HS1 service which left Ramsgate 18 minutes late, but reached St Pancras on time. On 27 December I left Brussels 11 minutes late on a Eurostar and made Ashford one minute late. Giving a talk in Cardiff recently, the train from Paddington spent in total almost 20 minutes standing in stations to await shceduled departure. Many timetables, particularly around London, have in fact been worsened – the ordinary commuter service from Gravesend to Charing Cross for example is now scheduled to be eight minutes longer than it was when I used to get it every day in 1986. In other cases track, rolling stock and signalling improvements that make quicker journeys possible are ignored in the timetable, all to give that margin of leeway and avoid punctuality fines and refunds.

The last five railway journeys I have been on (excluding Eurostar) all had people standing or squatting in corridors.

We have a train service which is the most expensive in the world but is still arguably the least pleasant to use among developed nations, and is very slow when you compare similar journeys with our European counterparts. It is impossible credibly to argue that the crazed multiple contact privatisation model has worked.

Rail needs to be renationalised immediately.

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That Leaked Labour Party Report 452

I have now read my way through all 851 pages of the suppressed and leaked Labour Party report on its handling of anti-semitism complaints. It is an important document, that is fundamental to understanding a major turning point in UK history, where Northern European social democracy failed to re-establish itself in the UK.

If whoever leaked the document still has access to the vast amount of original source material on which it is based, this is documentation of immense historical value. I would strongly urge them to send the original thousands of emails, texts and messages to Wikileaks to ensure that this is preserved for the public record.

More mundanely, the report is of obvious value as evidence to the Equality and Human Rights Commission as part of its investigation into anti-semitism in the Labour Party. The fact that it has not been officially adopted by the Labour Party does not make any difference to its value as evidence; nor does its status as regards copyright or data protection law.

If, for example, I were to discover evidence of blatant racism, and send that to the EHRC, the EHRC would not refuse to look at that evidence on the grounds it breached the racists’ copyright or rights under the Data Protection Act. These excuses for suppression of the report are just that. I am accordingly myself sending a copy on to the EHRC making just that point. I find it rather troubling that Keir Starmer seems more interested in suppressing this report than acting on its alarming findings – and I say that as someone who is not initially hostile to Starmer.

What are the key points we learn from the report? Well, firstly that there did exist among Labour Party members examples of genuinely shocking and indisputable anti-semitism. It is also true that in many cases the processes of dealing with these individuals did drag on for months or even years. Much of the report is concerned with precisely whose fault that was within the Labour Party.

The report does conclusively refute the accusation that delays were occasioned by Jeremy Corbyn or his office, or that his office displayed any sympathy for anti-semitism. In fact, the opposite is the case. Corbyn’s office showed a proper hatred of anti-semitism, but also an alarming willingness to throw good people under the bus on very flimsy allegations of anti-semitism. pp306-7 The report shows a serious inability to distinguish between real, nasty anti-semitism and opposition to the policies of Israel. Furthermore, this is the attitude of the authors of the report themselves who in many scores of examples take for granted that the accusations of anti-semitism are sufficient to consider the case proven, and accept a number of specified opinions as proof of anti-semitism which are anything but.

The headlines of course have been grabbed by the report’s stunning exposure of the fact that Labour HQ was staffed by right wingers so vehemently anti-Corbyn that they actively wanted the Conservatives to win elections. I think it is important to understand just how right wing they really are. Senior members of staff were messaging each other opposing any increase in corporation tax and opposing re-nationalisation of the railways as “Trot” policies.

The case of the horrible and very right wing John McTernan is instructive. McTernan had taken to writing articles in the Daily Telegraph praising the Tories and attacking Labour, but the Governance and Legal Unit of Party HQ refused to take action against him. They finally took action when he wrote an article urging the Tories to “crush the rail unions” for hampering the operations of private railway companies; but the action taken was to suspend a member who called McTernan out on his Tory support. p.140

John McTernan, meanwhile, formerly involved in New Labour and a delegate to 2016 party conference, was repeatedly reported from 25 July onwards for abusive language on Twitter and elsewhere, including describing Labour MPs who nominated Corbyn as “morons”; tweeting twice that Corbyn was a “traitor”; describing “Corbynistas” as racist; telling an SNP MP that he should “Come down to Peckham and try saying that, mate”; calling Corbyn a “Putin-hugging, terrorist-loving, Trident-hater”; and writing in the Daily Telegraph that all of Corbyn’s supporters were “online trolls”.368

No action was taken, and McTernan received the staff decision “No action – removed at referral”. On 18 August, however, Dan Hogan did report a member of McTernan’s CLP, Omar Baggili, who – in response to an article by McTernan in “The Telegraph” urging the Conservative government to “crush the rail unions once and for all” – tweeted at him “seriously John why haven’t you got yourself a Tory membership card. They’re anti unions & pro privatisation like you.”369 Baggili was suspended for “abuse”.

This is by no means an isolated example. One of my favourites is the case of Andy Bigham (pp538-45), who initially came to the attention of the Governance and Legal Unit for suggesting Corbyn was a traitor and Diane Abbot should be “locked in a box”. This was considered insufficient for action to be taken against him, and incredibly this stance was still maintained even when he subsequently posted that he had voted Conservative, urged others to vote Conservative and became the administrator of a Conservative Party Facebook Group.

Meanwhile left wingers were being thrown out of the party for having advocated a Green vote years before they joined, or for calling MPs who supported the Iraq war “warmonger”. The report makes an overwhelming case that the Governance and Legal Unit of the Labour Party failed to take action on accusations of anti-semitism because it was devoting all of its energies to a factional effort to remove Corbyn supporters from the party.

These right wing staff were hoping for Labour electoral defeats in order to get rid of Corbyn. Senior Labour staff were actually hoping Labour would lose its seat in the Manchester Gorton by-election.

27/02/2017, 16:53 – Patrick Heneghan: Just had discussion at strategy meeting We will meet Steve and Andy next Monday – we are looking at all 3 in May but select in Gorton within 4 weeks Katy will speak to you/Iain
27/02/2017, 16:53 – Patrick Heneghan: From karie
27/02/2017, 16:54 – Patrick Heneghan: They didn’t include us in the discussion.
27/02/2017, 16:54 – Patrick Heneghan: Well let’s hope the lib dems can do it….113

It has long been known that there was tension between Corbyn and Labour HQ staff over allocation of resources to key marginals in the 2017 general election. What I had not known prior to this report is that HQ staff set up another organisation (p.92), based in another building, to divert party funds and secretly channel them to the campaigns of their favoured right wing MPs. On p.103 is detailed the horror expressed by Labour Party HQ staff at the Labour Party’s good performance in the 2017 election. People were “sickened” by the exit poll showing the Tories losing their majority.

The emails and messages quoted throughout the report are a tiny percentage of those available and are, of course, the selection of the authors of the report. That is why I call on them to dump the whole cache, which they say is many tens of thousands, to Wikileaks. One theme which continually crops up in the selected passages for quotation, but a theme on which the authors of the report scarcely comment, is that support for British military attacks abroad appeared to be the touchstone issue for who was “in” and who was “out” with Labour Party HQ staff.

The Manchester terror attack occurred in the middle of the 2017 General Election campaign. Corbyn bravely, and correctly, stated something that had been unsayable in mainstream UK political discourse – that British invasions abroad provoke terrorism at home. Labour Party HQ staff hoped and believed this would sink Corbyn and were actively wishing Labour to fall in the polls. pp 96-7

Jo Greening 09:12: and I shall tell you why it is a peak and the polling was done after the Manchester attack so with a bit of luck this speech will show a clear polling decline and we shall all be able to point to how disgusting they truly are
(now obviously we know it was never real – but that isnt the point in politics!)
Francis Grove-White 09:13: Yeah I’m sure that’s right
Francis Grove-White 09:16: My fears are that: a) the speech won’t go down as badly as it deserves to thanks to the large groundswell of ill-informed opposition to all western interventions. And b) they will use that poll to claim they were on course to win and then Manchester happened. And whether or not JC goes, lots of the membership will buy that argument. Like after the referendum when they distorted the polling and claimed we had overtaken the Tories before the “coup” happpened
Jo Greening 09:17: if this speech gets cut through – as I think it may – it will harden normal people against us definitely in the face of a terror attack normal people do not blame foreign intervention they blame immigration whats more – all they will hear is we dont want to respond strongly we want peace with ISIS it all plays into a bigger picture of how they see corbyn so I have a feeling this will cut through you are right on the second point it has to be up to the MPs though to demonstrate how toxic he is on the doorstep throughout but that this speech particularly was toxic and Manchester had happened when that poll was in the field on the supporters I personally think we are going to do very badly in deed and I think it will shock a lot of them how badly we do including JC so everyone has to be ready when he is in shock it has to be clean and brutal and not involve the party at all in my opinion those crazy people who now make up our membership never want us to win in anycase they are communists and green supporters even if Manchester hadnt happened and we got smashed they would have never changed their minds
Francis Grove-White 09:23: Yeah that’s true

My emphasis added to show just how right wing thinking is at Labour Party HQ.

To return to the failure to deal with cases of anti-semitism, a great deal of the problem appears to have arisen from sheer incompetence of staff. The Labour HQ staff had been inherited from the Blair years, and factional loyalty and a history of right wing political activity related to the Progress agenda were much more important in employment decisions than qualifications or competence. The Governance and Legal Unit, which handled the complaints of anti-semitism, was staffed by vehemently anti-Corbyn right wingers and was a bad actor; but it was also just useless.

The most basic systems were not in place, like a log of complaints/allegations – there was no log at all, let alone by category – and there was therefore no system for tracking the progress of individual cases. Emails went unanswered or even unread for many months, sometimes in email boxes which nobody attended. The epicentre of this incompetence was Sam Matthews, who was to be the star of the BBC’s Panorama programme “Is Labour Anti-Semitic” and the primary source of the allegations that Corbyn’s office was preventing action and protecting anti-semites.

It is impossible to read this report – and I have ploughed through all 851 pages – without coming to the conclusion that Matthews himself was responsible for a great deal of inertia. The report hints throughout that the failure to deal with anti-semitic Labour Party members was a deliberate act by party HQ staff in order to make Corbyn look bad. This evidence does not make that case conclusively, though it certainly does nothing to undermine it. The report expresses the suspicion most clearly in a passage on a period where Sam Matthews started inundating Corbyn’s office with requests for input on anti-semitism cases only later to produce the replies to him as evidence of unhelpful interference. This is a key passage of the Report (LOTO = Corbyn’s office):

However, Matthews’ emails reveal that he was the person who initiated a process of asking LOTO for their views on cases, on the basis that he was asking for their “help”, explicitly saying “it’s really helpful to have your input”. Matthews has also asserted:

“I had been privy to emails where Jeremy Corbyn’s Chief of Staff, Karie Murphy, was responding on a case by case basis on antisemitism in order to not suspend someone who they all knew damn well should be suspended.

I thought I just can’t countenance this.”1290

Matthews’ assertions about Murphy are also untrue. Murphy responded to GLU-GSO on just one case, Craig Allaker, agreeing with Emilie Oldknow’s suggestion of a membership rejection. Murphy’s other emails indicate that she did not want GLU involving LOTO in disciplinary cases and she questioned why Matthews had suddenly started involving them.

The conclusion of the Labour Party is that Matthews and possibly others in GLU-GSO instigated this process of consultation with LOTO, and proposed suspensions in some cases for conduct which GLU had previously not considered to merit any form of disciplinary action. This was later used by the same staff to accuse LOTO of involvement in antisemitism cases or of letting off antisemites, blaming LOTO and Jeremy Corbyn for GLU’s inaction on antisemitism complaints.. It may have been GLU and GSO’s intention to make this accusation when they initiated this process of consulting LOTO.

The report proves conclusively that Matthews’ allegations of unwarranted interference from Corbyn’s office to block anti-semitism action are malicious lies. It does not however conclusively show that his motive for asking for input from Corbyn’s office was to generate material to appear to substantiate his lies, not does it show conclusively that his incompetence and that of the Governance and Legal Unit in general was a deliberate ploy to make Corbyn look bad. These are not, however, unreasonable inferences.

What this report proves beyond any doubt is that the entire thrust of John Ware’s infamous Panorama episode, Is Labour Anti-Semitic, was simply wrong. Corbyn’s office was not responsible for lack of action over anti-semitism. The people responsible were the very people whom Ware chummed up with to make the allegations.

All involved were bad actors, including John Ware. He made no attempt to fairly assess or present the facts, or to hear the counter-arguments of those close to Jeremy Corbyn, and appears at the very best to have accepted an extremely selective presentation of written material from Matthews without proper question. But it is of course worse than that.

John Ware, a freelance journalist, was hired by the BBC to make that documentary despite a long history of anti-Muslim, and specifically anti-Palestinian, propaganda that had previously brought the BBC into disrepute and cost the license fee payer money.

In 2006 a John Ware produced Panorama programme Faith, Hate and Charity made deeply damaging false accusations about involvement with terrorism by Palestinian relief charity Interpal and caused the BBC to have to pay substantial damages to the director of another charity, Islamic Relief. Both Interpal and Islamic Relief have continually been targeted by the Israeli government.

John Ware has frequently been labeled an Islamophobe, including repeatedly by the Muslim Council of Britain. There is a double standard at play here. I suggest to you that it is simply the case that the BBC would never commission somebody denounced as “anti-semitic” by the Board of Deputies, more than once, to film a Panorama.

John Ware is proud of his activism for zionism. In 2016 Ware had a paid propaganda tour of Israel as part of a “Commitment Award” from the World Women’s International Zionist Organisation. Ware is perfectly entitled to write articles for the Jewish Chronicle attacking the BDS movement, and he is entitled to his views. But in the BBC Panorama Is Labour anti-Semitic? programme, Ware posed not as a strong pro-Israel propagandist, but as an independent journalist conducting unbiased investigation. In so doing, he allowed Sam Matthews and numerous other Labour staff members to put forward lie after lie after lie, which Ware appeared to validate, as is conclusively proven by this 851 page report.

I am not in a position to know whether John Ware knowingly connived in the lies, or whether he was so blinded by his deeply felt zionist ideology that he allowed himself to be taken in. I do know that today John Ware is engaged in fronting an attempt to takeover the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News, which has drawn criticism from within the Jewish community because the source of its finance is secret. It was plainly wrong for the BBC to hire somebody with the obvious axe to grind of John Ware to make a Panorama documentary on this subject.

Like the rest of the mainstream media, and like Keir Starmer, the BBC has taken the excuse of this Labour report “breaching the data protection act” to avoid reporting the contradiction of the lies the BBC spewed out for years. You wont find Nick Robinson, Laura Keunssberg or Andrew Neil tweeting enthusiastically about this story. Never have journalists been so united in refusing hard news information because of the dubious legal basis – though unquestioned first rate source and access – of the leak. The Guardian for four years ran up to twenty “Corbyn anti-semitism” stories and columns a week. Their only action on this report has been to denigrate it by reporting gleefully that the Labour Party may be sued for large sums under the Data Protection Act.

To turn to the report itself, it contains so many examples of Corbyn’s office pressing the Governance and Legal Unit to shove alleged anti-semites out of the party quickly, that I am not going to detail them here, but it includes all the high profile cases including Ken Livingstone, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker etc. It is plain from reading the report that the Governance and Legal Unit were both lackadaisical and incompetent – complaints against anti-semitism were a minority of complaints they received, and complaints of sexual harrassment were receiving even less action (p.264). But sporadically the party machinery appears more concerned to give a fair hearing than Corbyn’s office, who would just shoot anyone the Guardian requested.

There are horrific examples of anti-semitism within the report, but also instances where I would query the categorisation as anti-semitism not only of Labour HQ at the time, but of this report.

At p.214 a case is given of somebody deemed an anti-semite for quoting the Rothschild involvement in Genie Energy fracking in the Golan Heights. Now I claim to be the person who first broke this story to a wider audience, (after finding it in the trade press), and it is completely true. Here is Genie Energy’s own press release.

Mineral exploitation of the occupied Syrian Global Heights by the occupying power is illegal in international law. Shale gas drilling is highly problematic environmentally. It is Genie Energy’s own company press release which led with the involvement of Jacob Rothschild (and Rupert Murdoch).

Claude Pupkin, CEO of Genie Oil and Gas, commented, “Genie’s success will ultimately depend, in part, on access to the expertise of the oil and gas industry and to the financial markets. Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch are extremely well regarded by and connected to leaders in these sectors. Their guidance and participation will prove invaluable.”

“I am grateful to Howard Jonas and IDT for the opportunity to invest in this important initiative,” Lord Rothschild said. “Rupert Murdoch’s extraordinary achievements speak for themselves and we are very pleased he has agreed to be our partner. Genie Energy is making good technological progress to tap the world’s substantial oil shale deposits which could transform the future prospects of Israel, the Middle East and our allies around the world.”

I perfectly accept that there is a fundamental strain of anti-semitism that accuses the Rothschilds and other “Jewish bankers” of controlling world capitalism, and that this is dangerous and harmful nonsense beloved of the Nazis. The Labour report actually gives some examples of precisely that. But you cannot move from there to the position that any criticism of any specific action of the Rothschild family is therefore anti-semitism. To criticise their involvement in illegally fracking on the occupied Golan Heights is perfectly legitimate journalism. It is not an anti-semitic trope.

Similarly it is cited repeatedly (eg p.461) as “anti-semitism” to claim Israeli involvement with ISIS. Why is that? Nobody seriously disputes that the most important diplomatic change in the Middle East of the last decade has been the de facto alliance of Israel and Saudi Arabia (together with most of the GCC), aimed squarely at Iran. Nobody seriously disputes that ISIS, Daesh and Al Nusra have all been enabled at a fundamental level by Saudi and GCC funding and supplies. Some, but very few, analysts genuinely deny western assistance to those jihadi factions when operating against Syria. Nobody disputes the hostility between Isis/Daesh/Al Nusra and not only Hezbollah but also Hamas.

ISIS/Daesh/Al Nusra are the allies of Israel’s allies and the enemies of Israel’s enemies. It is not in the least irrational, nor anti-semitic, to posit possible cooperation. Personally I doubt there has been much – the Israelis are not as foolhardy as the Americans. The odd supportive air strike at Saudi urging, or targeted aid, or intelligence feed perhaps. There may be more. But the idea that it is anti-semitic to suggest Israeli aid to ISIS is wrong, and brings inyo play the question of the use of accusations of anti-semitism to chill legitimate analysis and criticism of Israel.

On Ken Livingstone, I do not think in the least that Ken is an anti-semite. I do however think he is wrong. I have always found the discourse around Nazi/Zionist links disturbing and generally anti-semitic in motivation. Of course there may have been contact at some early stage between Nazis who wished to eradicate Jews from Europe, and Zionists who wished Jews to move to Israel. But what purpose is there in pointing that out? The Jew-hatred of the Nazis is indisputable, and any misguided Zionist who tried to deal with them was not therefore a Nazi supporter. It is a pointless discussion with highly unpleasant undertones. How Ken was entrapped into it I struggle to understand.

The report is desperate to be seen as approving Labour’s now toughness on anti-semitism, and therefore endorses the characterisation of people as anti-semites whom I know not to be. Several instances are given of quoting or linking to Gilad Atzmon as evidence of anti-semitism, seemingly with no need felt to analyse the particular Atzmon article being quoted. Atzmon is of course an Israeli Jew of controversial views particularly on Jewish identity, but it ought not to be axiomatic that to refer to Atzmon is anti-semitic.

Some of this is troubling. We are all more aware nowadays of historic involvement in the slave trade. The BBC recently did some excellent programmes on Scotland and the slave trade. Yet the report contains an analysis by the Community Security Trust p.363 that states that to discuss Jewish involvement in the slave trade (in the instance in question, it was a Jewish person discussing) is an anti-semitic trope. The dangers of this approach are obvious. I have not studied it, and I doubt that Jewish involvement in the slave trade was as bad as Scottish. But I do not doubt it existed, and it ought to be equally as open as Scottish involvement to investigation and comment. You cannot dismiss just everything that may show any group of Jewish people in a bad light as “an anti-semitic trope”.

In short, in my view the report correctly identifies the existence of genuine antisemitism from a small minority of Labour Party members. It correctly identifies that the Labour Party machinery was highly incompetent in dealing with the vast majority of complaints of anti-semitism. It identifies that almost all input from Corbyn’s office was demanding tougher and firmer action. But it makes the error, in its desire to clear the Labour Party of any taint of anti-semitism, of enthusiastically endorsing definitions of anti-semitic behaviour which are so wide as to chill legitimate free speech.

So what conclusions can we form? Well, the first is that Corbyn failed to be sufficiently ruthless in clearing out the quite extraordinarily right wing Blairites that he had inherited as Labour Party HQ staff. The Labour Party is a horribly complex institution, with elected committees, and powerful unions to appease who control the purse strings. But Blair and Brown had managed to create a machine in their own right wing image, and it is hard to read this report without concluding that Corbyn lacked the ruthlessness required in a leader to spot enemies and be rid of them.

But then, his not being a ruthless bastard is why so many people flocked to support Corbyn in the first place.

The second point is that Corbyn’s tactic of constantly attempting to appease the media on anti-semitism was never going to work. The right wing press and TV had no genuine interest in anti-racism, other than as a tool to prevent the possible election of a European style social democratic government. Neither the media nor the Blairites were ever going to reconcile to Corbyn. We will never know what would have happened if he had come out and denounced the witch-hunt as an attempt to stifle supporters of the Palestinians, and spoken openly of Israel’s move to apartheid. He had the nerve to take on the establishment narrative when he stated that British military invasions cause terrorist blowback at home, and won public support. Whether a firm line on Palestine and calling out the witch-hunt would have had a better result than giving way before ten thousand unfair attacks, we can never know.

There are more general points therefore to consider about the nature of power and of political parties. I intend to address these in a further article – including some very worrying similarities with the staff and orientation of SNP HQ.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.

This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

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The Right to Stand in First Class 310

For every one mile one passenger travels, the British taxpayer pays an average 8 pence subsidy to the train operating company. That is an average of 8p per mile subsidy for every single journey for every single passenger. That is, of course, in addition to your train fare.

The train fare system in the UK is ridiculously complicated, so much so that it makes comparison to other countries difficult in searching for like for like fares. The simple methodology adopted by this site linked to finds the UK has the second most expensive train fares in Europe. This further site linked to finds Britain has the most expensive commuter fares of eight expensive comparators. This Sky News investigation found some stunning examples of comparable British tickets being around three to four times more expensive than comparable fares in France and Germany.

Since privatisation, taxpayers have paid much more money in real terms to the rail network that they gave to British Rail, as shown by official government statistics.

Much of that taxpayer money has simply gone to the profits of the subsidised train operating companies – which peculiarly are for the most part foreign state-owned railway companies. As trains get ever more filthy and overcrowded, the promised privatisation benefits of passenger experience remain elusive.

I attended a family funeral in Norfolk just before Easter. as such events are necessarily unplanned, and I would have to come home on Good Friday when trains are very busy, I bought a first class ticket from Peterborough to Edinburgh at great expense, but ended up standing from Peterborough to Berwick. My ticket was, from memory, £210. On arrival at Edinburgh I went to Virgin customer services to ask if I might have some refund. I was told that as I had an open ticket and no reservation, I was not guaranteed a seat. I pointed out that I had received no food and no drink, as entitled by a first class ticket. The lady replied that these were “complimentary” and that meant they were a gift and not an entitlement with the ticket.

I replied that I had received no benefit from my first class ticket, neither a seat nor any refreshment, so I should at least be refunded the difference between a first and second class ticket. No, the lady replied, I had the right to stand in a first class carriage. She really did say that.

Today Britain’s train operating companies are launching a consultation on rail fares, which precludes from the start the notion that fares should be cheaper. It sounds like their motive is an attempt to remove their legal obligation to issue discounted season tickets to commuters, dressed up in guff about “flexibility” and new technology.

The urgent need is the renationalisation of the railways and for Britain to catch up with the more enlightened world in the rolling out of high speed rail. I view HS2 as a minor idea, compared to the need to provide high speed rail all the way to Aberdeen and Inverness, with a high speed network connecting all the UK cities of over 500,000 people, and involving multiple direct links to a variety of European cities. This is the kind of public project which can have a revitalising economic effect. If the Victorians could undertake economic projects on that scale with a much inferior construction technology, then so can we.

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Already A Victory 333

We cannot know what will happen on Thursday. There are huge differentials in opinion polls. We now know that the pollsters’ samples, demographically weighted to reflect the population in terms of age, geographical spread, and past voting intention, return very similar results. What differs is the extent to which they apply the additional filter of judging likelihood to vote, not by people’s declaration on this point, but by historic records reflecting the fact turnout is much higher among the elderly. That in itself has thrown a spotlight on the massive age differential in voting. The Tories are extremely dependent on pensioners. It is precisely the same age group that supported Brexit and opposed Independence.

There has been some drop in Tory support among the elderly in the election, but only in line with the drop in the general population. The abandonment of the triple lock, the dementia tax and the end of winter fuel allowance have not particularly dented the loyalty of the Tory grey army.

So if younger people want to stop the Tories, they have to get themselves to the polling booth at all costs. As for campaigning, almost certainly more effective than attending rallies or sticking leaflets through strangers’ doors, would be to sit down and have a real heart to hear with elderly family members and acquaintances.

A quick disclaimer. I realise there are a lot of wonderful people of pension age who are not Tories. I am not attacking the elderly, I am stating a plain and undisputed fact about voting breakdown by age.

It is also the case that there has been a very definite trend away from the Tories for the last month, and there is little evidence to suggest that has stopped. So today’s polls are not how opinion will stand on voting day.

But this election has been a great victory already, whatever the result.

Firstly, a genuine alternative has been put to the electorate in England and Wales for the first time in a generation. And Jeremy Corbyn has proved beyond doubt that left wing policies are popular. Refusal to endorse nuclear weapons, aggressive foreign policy, privatisation and austerity are indeed popular. With New Labour triangulating themselves right into the neoliberal establishment consensus, English and Welsh voters had no opportunity to express a radical view since 1983.

The careerist Blairites who had taken over the Labour Party argued that it would be electoral suicide not to adopt all the Tory policies. NHS privatisation, utility privatisation, PFI, benefit cuts, Trident, attacks on foreign countries; these are what the public want, said the Blairites.

Corbyn is now proving that was a lie.

Indeed, of all the opinion poll findings which give results such as strong public support for renationalisation of the railways, that which drives the stake deepest into the hearts of the Blairites and Tories alike is the YouGov poll on foreign policy. People are not stupid, and by a two to one majority people believe that our wars abroad cause terrorism here. That is why the furious Tory attack, that to explain is to support, bounced off.

A clear majority of people oppose our recent wars in Muslim lands.

It is precisely those of Corbyn’s views which the entire mainstream media, the Tories and the Blairites consider unacceptable, and which fall well outside the Overton window, which are popular. That explains why the attacks do not work. The victory of this election is that those popular views have been expressed widely, after years of being banished methodically from the airwaves.

If May wins, she will almost certainly not have the huge landslide she expected. Her honeymoon period is well and truly over and she now has a very negative public image. That is going to get worse as we are heading into a Brexit recession and a house price crash. I agree with every word of this extremely important article from Will Hutton. May’s support is almost entirely from hard Brexiteers who are going to crash the economy to satisfy their racism. That will quickly appear a very bad idea.

A May government with a small majority, possibly dependent on Ulster Unionists, running a disastrous policy and becoming ever more unpopular, is the best outcome the Conservatives have left in terms of retaining power. All the media’s horses and all the media’s men are not going to be able to put together again the ludicrous image they had constructed of Theresa May as a great leader, which fell apart at the very first public scrutiny.

If Corbyn comes to power, he will almost certainly have to be supported by the SNP, who I am proud to say have an even more radical platform than Labour, including scrapping Trident and reversing all benefit cuts. How many Blairites would defect to the Tories rather than support a Corbyn government with SNP support is an interesting question. But remember, most Blairites would sell their mother for a ministerial limousine. Corbyn’s position against the Blairites has been immeasurably strengthened by this campaign, and win or lose, his party leadership is safe if he wants to keep it. If John Woodcock etc. wanted to take themselves off to form a second Tory Party that would be no bad thing at all.

Of course I want to see May defeated and out of office, because Tory policies actually kill people. But I will not be too disappointed by a pyrrhic Tory victory.

A renewed Tory government will quickly become extremely unpopular as it flails in Brexit negotiations. It will be more right wing and authoritarian than ever, because those are May’s instincts when in trouble. As a Scottish nationalist, I have no doubt at all that the clarity of the choice between a hard right Brexit led Tory government, and Independence, can have only one result. Whether May or Corbyn is in No.10, I am confident this is the last Westminster election I shall have to endure.

If May sneaks back, Corbyn can continue with the work of recasting the Labour Party on popular and radical lines. Most importantly, boundary changes will give the chance for reselections to ditch a large portion of the Blairite rump. Still better would be a change of rules for mandatory reselection, where again the SNP shows Labour the way. And by next time Corbyn must face down the disgustingly blinkered and selfish attitude of the GMB, who love getting fat pay packets for working on weapons of mass destruction, and Corbyn must get a policy on Trident which he can defend without twisting himself in knots – again following the SNP.

If May gets back in, her government will collapse by 2020. Even a “defeat” on Thursday would not be the end, but just the start of a new dawn for popular radical politics,

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The Sad End of British Liberalism 213

Tim Farron’s paean of praise for Tony Blair yesterday marks the disgraceful end of the political embodiment of a great tradition of thought. In truth there is no ideological reason why the Blairites should not join today’s Lib Dems after their imminent humiliation in the leadership election. What they do next will be entirely down to their calculation of career advantage. There is no ideological reason both Lib Dems and Blairities should not fold into the Tories. However that would destroy the chances of giving the electorate the mere illusion of free choice, when they have still not given up the idea of removing Corbyn and destroying the chance of actual meaningful choice.

Because the Lib Dems, Blairites and Tories all subscribe to a single ideology of neo-liberalism at home and neo-conservatism abroad. Under Kinnock then Blair, the opposing ideology of organised labour was expunged from the Labour Party, and even such obviously popular and necessary objectives as re-nationalising the railways were foresworn. Under Clegg, the Lib Dems abandoned their own, even older, radical tradition and signed up to the twin gods of finance sector led economies and neo-imperialism.

My own political thought springs entirely from the Liberal tradition. I am a Radical, not a socialist. If asked to name the single book which had most influenced my political beliefs, would unhesitatingly name Imperialism by J A Hobson – a great and truly ground-breaking work, now almost completely neglected. But beyond that my influences include Paine, Hazlitt, John Stuart Mill, Keynes, Beveridge and Grimond. I am not a utopian but a much better society is possible. In the 1970s we enjoyed state ownership of utilities and natural monopolies, free university tuition and student maintenance, and a more humane benefits system and powerful trade unions. Those things would be a good start towards ending the runaway inequality which replaced them.

The intrinsic link between neo-liberalism at home and neo-conservatism abroad was demonstrated by Thatcher. In her first term as Prime Minister she was massively unpopular and well behind Michael Foot’s Labour Party in the opinion polls. What turned it round and saved the neo-liberal project was not an economic upturn – unemployment remained over 3 million – but the colossal wave of jingoism unleashed by the Falklands War. It is precisely the phenomenon analysed by J A Hobson in Imperialism, the use of wars abroad to gain cheap popularity at home while boosting the sectional financial interests of the arms manufacturers, and political, military and security classes.

As I am next week at the Sam Adams award presentation to John Kiriakou, I commend to you this speech at a previous presentation by Col. Larry Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, which addressed this exact subject. It is well worth hearing.

Now Tim Farron has appealed to the Blairites to join (and the Guardian has followed it up with a second article today) I do hope that some of the genuinely radical loyalists who remain in the party realise they either have to make one last organised and determined fight to regain control, or give up. After thirty years of membership, I left the Lib Dems over two things – the declaration they were unequivocally a “Unionist party”, and their failure to stop – or even attempt to stop – Tory continuation of New Labour’s privatisation and “marketization” within the NHS. I saw genuine liberals like Charie Kennedy sidelined, ignored and sometimes ridiculed.

I am as nostalgic as the next man, but now it has completely abandoned any pretence at ideological connection to its origins, I can see no possible purpose in the continued existence of the Liberal Democrats.

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On Being Far Left 219

I have found myself described as far left, quite often recently. I find this rather puzzling. I would not even describe myself as a socialist. Economically, I wish to see much greater worker share ownership, limitations on extreme pay differentials between management and staff, and strong regulation of casino banking with a far smaller, taxed and regulated derivatives market. I support state ownership of natural monopolies, such as rail, roads, and public utilities. I support state welfare provision and excellent state health and education services. But that is as far as it goes. I do not advocate central planning and in general prefer to keep the state out of commercial activity – which is why I support the EU so strongly in removing barriers to the mobility of all factors of production. I am not a socialist.

This blog is read by many people who have known me since university, some even earlier. I think I am right in saying that my beliefs have not changed in any fundamental way over 40 years. What I outline above was what I believed in 1976. I stand open to confirmation or correction.

Yet in 1976 I was a Liberal, and politically centre or only slightly left of centre. My views were absolutely mainstream and were voiced in mainstream media every day.

While standing still, I now find myself far left as the mainstream political spectrum rushed rightwards past me.

Is this because the Thatcherite revolution, carried on so enthusiastically by Blair and New Labour, proved wildly successful? Is it because deregulation and privatisation has brought prosperity, harmony and an inarguably better society?

No, not at all. The new right wing consensus has been a disaster. It led directly to the great crash of 2008 and the resulting austerity, which will dog us for another two decades at this rate. It led to massive, astonishing inequality of wealth and a society in which it is considered normal for top executives of an organisation to be paid 100 times more than the lowest employee. It led to hedge fund managers owning our politicians, and to Russian mafia owning our football clubs. It led to a world where Save the Children can pay its chief executive £375,000 a year of donation money yet nobody pukes. It led to collapse in manufacturing and to vast areas of blight and hopelessness, to a generation who will never afford a house while buy to let multi millionaires abound, to QE transferring yet more money straight to financial institutions.

The great right wing experiment has been a disaster for the country. Outwith the economic field, we have seen a massive attack on civil liberties, the growth of the 100% surveillance state, and end of respect for international law including the invasion of Iraq and the programme of torture and extraordinary rendition.

Yet although the disastrous failure of Britain’s forty year far right experiment is evident all around us, public opinion continued to move inexorably ever more to the right. It did so because the sheer propaganda power of the corporate media, led by the BBC, pushed it in that direction and had the power to do so. Dissident voices were excluded from the airwaves. The positions I agree with and which I heard regularly on the airwaves forty years ago no longer get airtime, even where they retain majority public support, such as nationalisation of the railways.

Some of my views have become more radical, and they relate to the need to break up the institutions of the right wing state. I believed in Scottish independence forty years ago, but it is much more central to my thinking now. Forty years ago I would have been shocked by the idea that the BBC should be utterly destroyed, but now that seems to me the only sensible approach.

I am not without hope. There is no doubt that the Sanders/SNP/Corbyn phenomenon represents a reaction to the dreadful inequality of society and all the evils which I have described. But I would also argue that this reaction has only been practical because of the new maturity of social media, weakening the grip of corporate media on the popular field of debate and the popular imagination.

Perhaps then, without moving, I became revolutionary just in time.

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Cameron Lies 65

“It’s not often you see me and Gordon Brown in complete agreement” says Cameron.
Voting to invade Iraq?
Voting to Bomb Libya?
Bailing out the fatcat bankers with 60,000 pounds from every family in the UK?
Supporting Trident missiles?
Opposing curbs on bankers bonuses?
Supporting the security state?
Supporting the Private Finance Initiative?
Supporting “Private Provision of Services” in the NHS?
Supporting deregulation of the financial services industry?
Supporting cuts in corporation tax?
Supporting privatisation of railways and utilities?
Supporting arms sales to Saudi Arabia?

etc. etc. etc.

Get rid of the Red Tories and the Blue Tories. Vote for independence.

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Vote Green in England 193

So who should those of us living in England vote for tomorrow? I intend to vote Green – it seems to me that in England that is the best way to give a positive expression to the discontent with mainstream parties. I particularly hope that those who have the opportunity to vote for Rupert Read in the East of England will do so. Their support for renationalizing the railways would be enough for me, but actually I find myself in agreement with the large majority of their platform. I reproduce here an article from the ever excellent Peter Tatchell.

The Greens – not UKIP – are the real alternative to the political Establishment

By Peter Tatchell

Each of the three Establishment parties has succeeded in alienating its core vote. Labour over Iraq and the casino banking culture that flourished during its tenure in office. The Tories over Europe and equal marriage. And the Lib Dems over tuition fees and propping up of one of the most anti-egalitarian governments of modern times. All have been tainted by the scandal over MPs expenses. As a result, participation in mainstream politics is declining further than ever.

The UK’s first-past-the-post voting system is said to produce strong governments, avoiding what many perceive as the grubby infighting that dominates politics on the continent. But it isn’t working anymore. Millions of votes don’t count in rock solid safe seats and supporters of small parties are unrepresented or under-represented in parliament.

Many voters damn the political elite with the familiar refrain: “They’re all the same.” This is fairly true with regard to the big three parties: Labour, Tory and Lib Dem. There is very little difference between them these days. They all embrace, to marginally varying degrees, neo liberal economics.

Many people are, however, desperate for an alternative but they fear their voice will not be heard.

The European elections this Thursday offer a chance for something different. Because they use a system of proportional representation (PR), we have an opportunity to vote for what we believe in, without fearing that our votes will be wasted. PR is sometimes a mixed blessing. It was PR that allowed UKIP a foot in the door at the last Euro poll, and in this election it looks like the anti-EU party will win more seats than anyone thought possible for a new party 15 or even 10 years ago.

Nigel Farage entered the European Parliament in 1999. This was also the year that Caroline Lucas was elected as one of the UK’s first two Green MEPs (the other was Jean Lambert). She went on to become the first Green MP at Westminster. A parliamentary seat still evades Farage and his party.

UKIP supporters want to withdraw from the EU. They fantasise about plucky Britain standing alone against the world. UKIP stirs this nostalgia for ‘Great Britain’ and excites fear about immigrants and refugees. It has filled some of the void created by the discredited mainstream politics and, in particular, by the weakness of the orthodox left.

But for people who believe in social justice and equality, and who want action to thwart climate destruction and to protect the precious environment on which all life depends, the Greens – not UKIP – are the real alternative to the big three parties.

The Green vote is seen by some people as a protest vote, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be. It is a vote against Labour’s failure to defend working class people and its initiation of the part privatisation of education and health care. It is a vote against the Lib Dem’s abandonment of principle in favour of power. It is a vote against Tory austerity which makes ordinary people pay for the economic crisis created by reckless bankers. It is most certainly a vote against the homophobia, xenophobia and climate change denial of UKIP.

But in this election, voting Green it is also a vote for something. The Greens are a party that offers an imaginative, alternative positive vision of how our future could look. This is fairly unique, given the broad political consensus between the stale, grey Tories, Labour and Lib Dems.

Unlike the three Establishment parties and UKIP, the Greens advocate decisive EU action to close tax avoidance loopholes and tax havens, tax empty homes and financial transactions, cap banker’s bonuses, axe nuclear weapons, prioritise energy conservation to cut household bills and to introduce rent controls, a living wage and free education.
http://www.reasonstovotegreen.org.uk

As a veteran of nearly 50 years of political campaigns, I look toward 22 May with a strange mixture of hope and fear. Fear that the hate-mongers of UKIP are poised to advance and to challenge some of the gains in minority rights and human rights, with the aid of their far right allies in the European Parliament. But also hope that the Greens may eclipse the Lib Dems; including the election of new Green MEPs such as Peter Cranie in North West England and Rupert Read in the East of England. Both lost narrowly last time. A tiny swing to the Greens will get them elected and, in the North West, will have the added bonus of probably surpassing the British National Party vote and thereby blocking the re-election of BNP leader Nick Griffin.

Make sure you vote: Show UKIP and the three Establishment parties the red card. Give the Greens a chance.

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Railroaded 147

The eminently sensible suggestion to renationalize the railways is one which has very strong popular support.  We have the highest rail fares per mile and at the same time the highest public subsidies per mile in the world.  The concomitant is, that we have the highest return on capital for railway investors in the world too, with the added icing that it is underwritten by taxpayer guarantee.  Renationalisation – without compensation – is the only sensible course, as it is for all the other natural monopolies.

It was sad therefore to see Ed Miliband squirming on television yesterday as he struggled to reassure various neo-con mouthpieces that he did not share the good sense of his backbenchers.  The present system was not working, he said, and we needed to explore new forms of ownership model.  What these were he did not say, but plainly they did not include taking anything back into public ownership.  The most he offered was a tepid concern about the reprivatisation of East Coast, but then he did not exactly not want it to be reprivatized either.

There could not be a more striking illustration of the fact that we do not actually have a democracy in the UK any more; we do not have major political parties offering voters a realistic choice of voter options.  What we have is different sets of prospective managers of neo-con policies on behalf of the ultra-rich beneficiaries of those policies.  The disconnect with voters is such that general election participation rates are in serious long-term decline, a fact which is given insufficient attention.  War criminal Blair’s “victories” were each based on well under half the vote, in three of the four lowest percentage turnouts of electors in history.  So much for the myth of his inspiring charisma.

Unfortunately the people who don’t vote are more inclined to apathy than revolution.  But I remain hopeful that disillusion with the political class will eventually lead to a fundamental change.  But it is also dangerous.  By vacating all of the intellectual space based around the human instincts of altruism, co-operation and sharing, the neo-con parties cede ground that in England can most easily be filled by populists whose projection of yearned for community values is also exclusive and xenophobic.  That is what is happening.  Enter UKIP.  Scotland is much more fortunate in that the neglected field of the desire for communal co-operation has been tilled by the non-racist independence movement in a shared national desire to escape the neo-con trap, which despite party hierarchies has cut swathes through the party system.

There remains a beacon of hope in new media.  Neo-con party attempts to capture this space have failed dismally.  Will Straw founded Left Foot Forward, a blog which has plenty of funding from New Labour and Trade Union sources.  Look at the last ten articles on that blog.  How many comments are there?  An average of less than two comments per article.  The truth is that despite its huge budget, almost nobody actually reads this sterile drivel.  The Tory/Government attempts at an astroturf grassroots movements with “Vote No Borders” was torn apart by social media in hours, and ended by closing comments completely.  Compare the utter vibrancy of Wings Over Scotland.

The transformation of the political space by social media is not happening nearly as quickly as many of us hoped.  But as newspaper circulations plummet and new media participation continues to rise, the process is inexorable.  The independence movement in Scotland has been advancing despite the orchestrated and near unanimous opposition of the UK government, the City of London and the mainstream media.  Social media has been absolutely key to that advance.   I think that Scottish independence can be the catalyst for an eventual much larger and much-needed process of transformation of politics throughout the British Isles.  But we also have to worry that the neo-cons, who did not get our money without being clever, will learn a lesson and look for new ways to hijack or to control the social media.

UPDATE

A gentleman posted an almost instantaneous comment linking to a blog by a senior Department of Transport official which claimed fares in France were higher.  It was completely tendentious in comparing the cheapest possible off-peak tickets with standard French tickets.  I deleted the comment as I suspect, by the speed of its appearance, it was from someone professionally employed to post such things.  If the gentleman wishes to contradict me I shall apologise.

Anyway, I decided to conduct a blind test, genuinely without knowing the result.  I went to book the cheapest possible fare on a train from Ramsgate to Manchester, return, leaving Ramsgate on Friday around 8am and returning on Tuesday around 9am.  This was simply a typical journey for me.  I then decided to check it against a comparable journey from Rouen to Dijon, almost exactly the same distance.

Ramsgate depart Friday 9 May 8.01am

Manchester depart Tuesday 13 May 8.55am

Cheapest Fare 249 pounds

Rouen depart Friday 9 May 8.24am

Dijon depart Tuesday 13 May 9.11am

Cheapest Fare 122 pounds

Incidentally, despite the fact this route uses HS1 and the Virgin Pendolino, the French journey is still an average of 40 minutes quicker for the same distance, as well as under half the price.

I shall see if I can reinstate Bryan’s comment and link now.

Another Update

In fact Bryan turns out to be absolutely genuine, and I am much too jumpy today.

 

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Derailed 96

Regular readers know I love railways and am constantly on the move by train. They also know that I am constantly furious at the mess left by rail privatisation, with the most expensive rail fares in the world, plus massive taxpayer subsidies, leaving huge profits for private shareholders of operating companies on “can’t lose”, taxpayer underwritten deals.

I calculated that my “super off peak return” ticket from Ramsgate to Newark, bought yesterday for £83.70, costs over 20p a mile. I contemplated yesterday afternoon posting about what an incredibly large charge that is for train travel compared to other countries. I was going to invite people to give examples of per mile cost on other tickets in the UK and elsewhere.

I then reflected that few of my long-suffering readers find my railway postings as interesting as I do, and decided not to inflict it on you.

Then this morning I went to catch the 8.37 from Newark, which gets in to London at 10.02. I am on it now. But I was informed that, whereas on South Eastern services from Ramsgate an off-peak service is one which gets into London after 10.00, on East Coast services an off-peak service is one which departs from wherever you catch it after 10.00. So the same train is not an off-peak service at one point in its journey, but becomes off-peak later on.

The first “Off-peak” service from Newark does not get into London until 11.35.

I reluctantly therefore asked to upgrade my “off-peak” ticket so I could get the 8.37. I was told this would cost £94.20!! However, the lady added helpfully, I could just buy a single to London for £74.50 and then use my off-peak ticket from London to Ramsgate.

This I have done. So my return journey from Ramsgate to Newark is costing me just shy of £160. It would be a lot cheaper to drive – in a Chelsea tractor.

You may recall I posted some time ago that when making a journey from Truro to York, the Virgin train from Truro was severely late, causing me to miss my advance purchased train to York. While I had shown my tickets and explained at Kings Cross, I had been told that as Virgin were a separate company, it was nothing to do with East Coast, and I had to buy a new ticket for £180. I applied to Virgin for a refund, who said that as their train had only been 52 minutes late, they owed me nothing and my missing a train from another company was not their business.

That was crazy. Now again, having different operating companies using different definitions of what constitutes “off-peak” coming into London is yet another example of the way the crazed “competition” model, in reality a series of taxpayer-funded private monopolies, works to the massive disadvantage of the consumer.

The railways need to be renationalised, and the modernisation and expansion of the network should be at the centre of economic growth strategy. A full 200mph high speed line to Aberdeen, another to Cardiff and a third to Stranraer for Belfast should be undertaken immediately. Beeching lines should be restored, and new lines to new population centres be a major priority. If the money from quantitve easing was applied to this and to homebuilding, rather than being given to the banking bonus pool as at present, we might actually see some life in our economy.

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