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.

 


147 thoughts on “Railroaded

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  • nevermind

    The ineptness of political parties to have new ideas, their ability to forget and step over their grave past mistakes, is an inherently weak point, hence they will always steal good ideas from each other.

    Re nationalising was Green party policy from the day it was privatised. Greens would not reimburse companies for anything else but their investment, possible losses will not be returned, afaik.

    The railways should have never been split into the 2000 enteties now involved in playing it for profits, reflected in its state, as well as its prices.

    Your hope for a new dawn in British politics if somewhat feeble when it turns out that the proponents of principled politics are unable to formulate policies or engage with a biased media. Politics has been taken away from the people and unless they demand it back and are supported by a majority, apathy will be the greatest election winner.

    I have nobody to vote for in the EU election as all parties appear as if they are riding within the big EU car, nobody realises that there is regular siphoning off juices, that they are nearly out of petrol and the big end is rattlin’ something rotten. The chaffeur(commission) is ancient, he’s hampered by his blinkers and will never take the shortest route, always dricving round the houses to get were he wants to, regardless who’s in the car and who is shouting at him, he’s deaf…..

    so here we are in limbo land with no train to catch.

  • craig Post author

    Bryan McComb

    I have deleted your comment as it appeared amazingly quickly and gave a link to a highly tendentious posting by someone in charge of railways in the Department of Transport, masquerading as an independent blog. He made some pathetic comparison between the cheapest possible off-peak fares and French train fares. He did not include any British peak fares in his comparison.

    I suspect due to the speed of your arrival and the fact I haven’t seen you before, you are someone professionally engaged in posting government propaganda to counteract this kind of article. If you can assure me I am wrong, or explain your interest, I shall apologise to you and repost your comment.

  • Graham Harris Graham (@GHarrisG)

    This is a good high level perspective of the developments in social media and its effects on the independence campaign.

    The difference between the YES and NO grass roots movements is almost beyond compare because in practice, a grass roots NO campaign doesn’t exist beyond the imaginations of three agitated London based financiers.

    Better Together also maintains its financial & power base in London. It’s ironic that they have to have a call centre based in England to rally support for a referendum which surely most of them will have absolutely no say in at voting time.

    The banning of Wings adverts on the Glasgow underground though could be just the first of a series of example of information suppression by those determined to maintain the rotten status quo.

    There was anecdotal evidence that Tesco stores were making implausible excuses yesterday for not stocking copies of the pro independence Sunday Herald.

    And while there seems to be no intention by the BBC to ever re-calibrate its obvious pro union bias, it is quite possible that other media & political inclined organisations & companies will work to undermine a large democratic movement that seeks a peaceful change in our country’s constitutional arrangement.

    We should therefore remain vigilant and be ready to peacefully but forcibly counter the invasive tactics of a British state that is determined to retain economic & political control of its last great vestige of Empire.

  • Keith Crosby

    It’s the lack of even the pretence of democracy which allows these policies. To be fair though, Britain has never had a democratically elected government. In the past, the various right wing factions of the property party had to pay off their clients but since In Place of Strife, it’s been obvious that Liarbour has been a Judas goat for the Tories (Official).

  • Mary

    I could not see a date on there Bryan.

    All I know is that an off peak return to London from where I live (approx. 30 miles away) was under £10 just a few years back. Now it is +£19. The ordinary return is +£24.

    An off peak return for Craig from Ramsgate is +£33. Not sure of price of an ordinary return. Only singles are shown @ £33 a pop.

  • MJ

    “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”

    The SNP proposes retaining the pound, the monarchy and the BBC and joining the EU. That’s not escaping a neo-con trap, it’s walking right into one.

  • craig Post author

    MJ

    You appear unable to comprehend that the SNP and the independence movement are not synonymous. What Scotland actually does about those things post-independence will be a matter to decide. At the moment within the UK there is no option about them.

    For the record, the SNP does not intend to retain the BBC. It has said, quite clearly, that Scots will simply be able to pick up the broadcasts as do the Irish. But we won’t be paying a licence fee to London. The SNP proposes to set up Scotland’s own national broadcaster – but again, that is just the SNP’s idea. What happens post independence will be up to the people of Scotland.

    Has actual democracy become a difficult concept to grasp?

  • Techno

    Yep. There is nothing and nobody to vote for. I stopped voting in 2010. I am trying to take my name off the voters roll by not returning the registration form. I haven’t returned it for three years now, but every year it comes through the letterbox with my name still on it and I have just received another voting card so I am still on it. If I had moved out of this flat somebody else living here now could be voting in my name, and add their own name so they get two votes. The system is so insecure it is laughable.

    Unlike yourself though, Craig, I agree with those who say that the European Union is partly to blame for this state of affairs, because it removes decision making from the national parliament to a more distant location and effectively renders national polticians redundant. I find it curious that people can both be in favour of Scottish independence and also in favour of the EU. It seems contradictory to me. Either you are in favour of nations making their own decisions in their own parliaments or you are not as far as I’m concerned.

  • Les Cunningham

    Ken Livingstone wrote a book with a title apparently taken from an old anarchist saying,”If Voting Changed Anything They’d Abolish it”. How true.

    Since renationalisation of the railways is shown by opinion polls to have majority support, the parties should be adopting that as one of their policies – if they were genuinely interested in winning the next election rather than serving their real masters, the corporations and their billionaire owners. But the main parties can do their duty to the neo-cons in opposition as well as in government, by acting out the charade that passes for democracy at Westminster.

    Craig, you suggest that UKIP are a populist party, but have they embraced the idea of renationalisation of the railways? I do not pay much attention to their policies as they are an irrelevance in Scotland – and long may they remain so! But it seems to me that even ‘populist’ UKIP will not go against the interests of the Establishment.

    You say “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”. The only quibble I would have with that is that I am not persuaded that the UK has ever been a real democracy, but I would certainly agree that the UK is even less democratic now than it was before Blair and his cronies moved Labour to the right and the LibDems became the junior branch of the Tory party.

  • craig Post author

    Techno,

    Without the EU, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that all the Eastern Europeans who have so improved the UK would not have been allowed to come here. The EU prevents national governments being able to erect barriers between peoples. That is a power that should be removed from states. It should affair less in how communities run themselves, I agree.

  • craig Post author

    Les Cunningham

    No, I can’t bring myself to read UKIP’s policies either. But that is in fact just the kind of populist line they do take – they oppose Royal Mail privatisation, for example. My own view is they are a front and would making sure such sensible things -(ie its sensible to keep Royal Mail public) don’t happen is part of their remit.

  • MJ

    “You appear unable to comprehend that the SNP and the independence movement are not synonymous”

    Is that what it is? I thought I was citing SNP policies because it’s the SNP that’s setting the agenda. If a newly-independent Scotland casts off all the neo-con baggage and goes for genuine independence I will happily eat my words.

  • Kempe

    Not sure re-nationalisation without compensation would be legal under EU rules, many of the operating companies and rolling stock owners are foreign owned (Arriva, DB Schenker etc) so there would be international complications.

    By the way Craig if you delay leaving Manchester by an hour the whole trip comes in at £92 for two singles, the journey is also 24 minutes faster and only involves two changes. Generally speaking further savings can be made by splitting the journey and buying a single for each leg. I know travellers shouldn’t have to do this, the ticketing system is mad.

    Like other european countries France has invested heavily in it’s TGV network at the cost of ordinary services. Away from the TGV towns that in this country would have a 30 minute service are lucky to see four trains a day. People in the UK seem to want both but don’t want to pay for it.

  • Techno

    But how can you be sure that Scotland wouldn’t start erecting barriers after independence? The nationalists seem to be considerably motivated by Scottish supremacist sentiment, and a racist hatred of the English.

    This is a rhetorical question really, I don’t expect a sensible answer. A major reason why I have given up on politics is that it is so difficult to have a sensible discussion with anybody involved with it.

  • fred

    So what happened to Salmond’s promise to re-regulate transport after Sauter bunged him half a million quid then?

    BTW a friend of mine just booked a train ticket online from Wick to Edinburgh for £15.

  • Bryan McComb

    Craig:

    I have deleted your comment as it appeared amazingly quickly…

    I follow you on Twitter because I am generally interested in what you have to say. You (possibly auto-)tweeted a link to this blog one minute after it was posted. I was passing, so I read it. Although I realise that the subject of train fares isn’t the main thrust of the piece, I was struck by the claim in the first para, especially because I had read the Seat61 article very recently (and tweeted about it, if you’d care to check). Those are the reasons I a) read your blog as soon as it was posted; and b) was able to quickly find and respond with the Seat61 link.

    …and gave a link to a highly tendentious posting by someone in charge of railways in the Department of Transport, masquerading as an independent blog.

    I’m not going to attempt to unpick your characterisations, but the available data would appear to suggest that he stopped working for the DoT some seven years ago.

    He made some pathetic comparison between the cheapest possible off-peak fares and French train fares. He did not include any British peak fares in his comparison.

    I’ll admit that I haven’t fact-checked his post (even though he invited readers so to do), but I’m not sure you’ve read it all the way to the end. It looks to me like a fairly comprehensive survey, giving examples of month-in-advance, day-in-advance, on-the-day-off-peak and on-the day-peak for four separate comparative journeys. Maybe your single Margate-Manchester example trumps all that, though. I’m no expert.

    I suspect due to the speed of your arrival…

    I think I’ve dealt with that.

    …and the fact I haven’t seen you before…

    I think I may have commented on your blog before. I’ve certainly been reading it for ages. But I can’t be certain. And I may not have used my real name. So, hey-ho. Incidentally, do you treat all first-time commenters like this? It seems a little counterproductive for a blog which actively seeks dialogue.

    …you are someone professionally engaged in posting government propaganda to counteract this kind of article. If you can assure me I am wrong, or explain your interest, I shall apologise to you and repost your comment.

    I am not. As to “assuring” you, hmmm. Gets into that whole tricky “proving a negative” thing. I really don’t have the time on a sunny May Day.

    So, repost. Don’t repost. I’m not actually that bothered. Since The Man In Seat61 has enormously enhanced my hobby of pootling around Europe on trains, I’ll probably be spending more time on there than here in future.

    All best wishes.

  • Tony M

    @MJ I share your concern about the SNPs perceived timidity.

    You missed out joining NATO too. But The Yes Movement which includes the Scottish National Party are not claiming that everything will be just perfect on on Independence Day plus one. A whole raft of issues thereafter will be for the Scottish people to decide based on the parties they elect in the 2016 Scottish General Election and in other referenda which will be introduced. I’m supporting Independence wholeheartedly, but strongly opposed to the monarchy, preferring a constitutional republic, I’m against the continued existence of the redundant and warmongering NATO, have no use for the BBC and won’t pay for their malicious shenanigans and blatant lies, am certain Scotland can and should have our own highly successful Scots’ Pound as currency and I’m no great fan of the EU but love our European brothers and sisters as part of the great mosaic of humanity and hope for mututally beneficial trade and strengthened cultural links between us; reform of the EU needn’t go back to the drawing board entirely but can build on the successes whilst reforming wholesale its undemocratic centralising tendencies.

    It is because I think in this way that a Yes vote, and the renewal of our democracy that will result, means I and every other Scot will for the first time have a say on these matters and a realistic indeed an assured chance my views will be counted and if shared with enough other people on any one or all of these issues (and more) will determine policy.

    You have to walk before you can run. Putting Westminster out of our misery, along with putting the uniformly crooked Labour Tory and Lib Dem parties out to grass comes first.

    What we’ll have is choice and after independence is secure, the more radical and left elements within the SNP and outside it can put their cases, the SNP is too dynamic too broad a church now to rest on its laurels after independence, an is destined to continue reforming and improving incrementally in many fields. The SNP is a means to an end, in your neo-con trap situation, it’s the big wide open door marked exit, leading to freedom.

    Techno/Fredo: If you cannot have a sensible discussion with anyone, the fault is within yourself, and your views are founded on prejudice, smears and lies. That is the polite answer. You’re fundamentally dishonest and irrational. Hope that helps.

  • fred

    “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.”

    I’m not even going to bother trying to argue facts against fanaticism any more.

    If anybody is interested here is a link to the Newsnight piece on the VNB.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b042qzrc/Newsnight_Scotland_30_04_2014/

    Watch it then read Craig’s account.

  • DomesticExtremist

    One of the real problems with privatisation has been the utter fragment of ticket pricing.
    If you know well in advance of your journey and can afford to travel at ‘inconvenient’ times then some real bargains are available, notwithstanding the swingeing penalties that can be levied if you mistakenly get on the wrong train or delays cause you to miss a connection.
    If you have to travel at peak times, or at short notice (e.g. for a funeral, a business meeting or interview) or just very infrequently then you really get stung for the maximum.
    Of course those wishing to dispel the idea that we have the most expensive fares always quote the ‘book months in advance option’ and ignore the fact that for most this is no option at all.

  • fred

    “Of course those wishing to dispel the idea that we have the most expensive fares always quote the ‘book months in advance option’ and ignore the fact that for most this is no option at all.”

    Maybe they do.

    However my friend didn’t book weeks in advance, not even weeks in advance, just a few days.

  • Tony M

    The Borders Railway, the much missed, still logistically important Waverly Line re-opens in July, only single-track initially, but double tracked all the way to Carlisle it would again form a crucial synergistic interconnection between the West Coast and East Coast main lines. I do hope for the inaugural celebratory runs a steam train is run. Choo-choo. It should give the buses some healthy competition, much as the Edinburgh trams are doing in that city.

  • Resident Dissident

    Perhaps the real comparison with Europe should be for the short haul commuter fares that actually make up the vast majority of passenger journeys. I know for certain that London is considerably more expensive in this respect than is Paris, Madrid and Lisbon.

    Anyone who isn’t ideological about this matter will know that rail travel to work is a public good and will in practice always require some subsidy. I can see a good argument that such a subsidy, which in this country is largely required for the relatively affluent London and South East (although if you are not one of the affluent in the South East then what happens) should not be paid out of general taxation but I see little argument why the City of London and the extremely wealthy Corporation of London should not be made to cough up.

  • Geoffrey Miller

    Of course, if you choose to leave Manchester one hour later, at 9:55am rather than 8:55am, the total return fare drops to £92.00. What would I prefer: to spend an hour less in Manchester or save £157.00?

  • MJ

    “I’m no great fan of the EU but love our European brothers and sisters as part of the great mosaic of humanity”

    I should point out that the EU is not a token of brotherly love but a system that gives effective control of an entire continent to an unelected group of bankers.

    “You have to walk before you can run”

    On some fundamental matters you have to hit the ground running. The first priority has to be disentangling yourself from the baleful influence of the City of London. Having your own currency, with a central bank that can issue the currency interest-free, is a prerequisite to independence. Without that you’ll get eaten alive I’m afraid.

  • Kempe

    “What would I prefer: to spend an hour less in Manchester or save £157.00? ”

    Well if you feel like that don’t go to manchester at all and save yourself £249.

  • doug scorgie

    Les Cunningham
    5 May, 2014 – 12:28 pm

    “Since renationalisation of the railways is shown by opinion polls to have majority support, the parties should be adopting that as one of their policies…”

    Yes Les, it would seem to be a no-brainer, however the fact that none of the main parties will touch renationalization with a barge pole illustrates the power of the neo-liberal capitalist system.

    This is a system that, by its very nature, runs counter to democracy. Indeed democracy is an obstacle to the free market and this is easily demonstrated by the constant interference in politics by the big hitters of the City of London, aided and abetted by the main-stream-media, particularly the right-wing newspapers and television stations and the BBC.

    A yes vote for Scottish independence is seen as a threat to the power of the political elites based mainly in England.

    The tactics used by the three political parties, the CBI, the “free” press and the BBC reveals their anti-democratic agenda.

    Scotland take note, a YES vote for independence is a YES vote for democracy.

    It could be a catalyst for change in the rest of Britain.

  • Kempe

    ” The nationalists seem to be considerably motivated by Scottish supremacist sentiment, and a racist hatred of the English. ”

    A fair point. The claim that independence would free Scotland from Westminster’s incompetence has featured widely in the campaign which implies Scots are blessed with superior intelligence. Salmond was left with egg on his face after making a similar boast about Scottish banks.

  • Resident Dissident

    “It could be a catalyst for change in the rest of Britain.”

    Yes – more English nationalism anyone?

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