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