Friday, 22 January 2016

De-privatisation of the rail network, but only for London

The Tory announcement that they plan to incrementally de-privatise the London rail network should come as an unexpected surprise to anyone with the remotest understanding of what the Tories stand for and what they've been up since 2010.

Of course nobody could complain that creating a fully integrated publicly operated transport system for London is a bad idea in itself. Little could be worse than allowing heavily subsidised corporate profiteers to continue raking money out of the London transport system whilst providing such desperately substandard levels of performance. The outrageously poor service provided by the private rail franchises are a blight on the London transport network, and something needs to be done to fix the shambles.

The idea of de-privatising failing rail franchises in London is not a bad one at all. However it's beyond obvious that the Tories are just stealing the idea off rival parties for opportunistic reasons to do with the London Mayoral election. The Tories have a fundamentalist ideological opposed to public ownership, so adopting such a socialist policy to steal the thunder of rival political parties is about as blatant a display of naked political opportunism is it's possible to witness.

There's also the fact that de-privatisation for London is desperately unfair to other regions of the UK that must still suffer inadequate disjointed transport services run by private sector profiteers while London gets a sensible integrated public transport system.

In this article I'm going to go through these principal objections and several other things too.


The reason the Tories are pursuing such a blatantly socialist policy in London is incredibly simple. They're terrified that the next out-of-touch old Etonian rich boy they've got lined up to rule over London might end up getting beaten by the Labour candidate, so they're simply stealing one of Labour's most popular flagship polices even though the whole idea of renationalisation is so fundamentally incompatible with the core Tory pro-privatisation ideology.

If you're naive enough to think of the Tories as an ideologically coherent party of course it makes no sense for them to casually hop over to the other side of the ideological fence like that to embrace a solidly socialist policy. The only way to understand what they're up to is to realise that they're a pack of desperately cynical opportunists who will do literally anything in order to try to cling onto as much political power as possible.

The Tory ideology

Anyone with a grain of political sense knows that the Tory modus operandi is to distribute public assets to the private sector at bargain basement prices and to outsource public work to rip-off private corporations that greedily milk the public finances to subsidise their corporate profits.

The Tories have been distributing public assets at cut-down prices and awarding inflexible and desperately one-sided corporate outsourcing contracts at a faster rate than any government in history. The scale of George Osborne's cut-price giveaways and outsourcing scams makes the speed of Margaret Thatcher's privatisation agenda dwindle in comparison.

I feel like I'm being patronising explaining this stuff, but apparently there are millions of people out there who simply fail to understand that the core economic strategy of the Tory party is to swindle the public by ripping off the assets they've paid for through their taxes, then distribute them at bargain basement prices to private owners, who are then free jack up the prices and live the high life at the public expense.

So if that's the Tory game, how is it possible that they are intent on pursuing such a clearly socialist policy in London, when the rest of the country is suffering under their appalling barrage of ideologically driven privatisations and crippling funding cuts?

What gall the Tories have to propose a plan to bring the London rail network back under public ownership while the rest of the country must continue suffering the rip-off private franchises that the Tories set up in the first place.

The taxpayer

Taxpayers in general have a right to be furious because this de-privatisation scheme for London is a clear admission that publicly operated integrated transport is a good idea. In selling this plan to the people of London the Tories are clearly admitting that integrated publicly owned transport systems are a logical way of organising things, and good for the economy of London. They couldn't possibly sell de-privatisation on the premise that public ownership is bad for the London economy could they?

Essentially the whole policy is a glaring admission from the Tories that their whole rail privatisation agenda has been conducted at the taxpayers' expense, and to the detriment of the UK economy.

Yorkshire, the north east and Scotland

The people with the most right to be furious about this Tory de-privatisation policy for London are the regions served by the the East Coast mainline that the Tories controversially handed back to the private sector in 2014. This ideological re-privatisation was done against massive public opposition, and despite the fact that under public ownership the line had returned over £1 billion to the taxpayer since the previous bunch of private profiteers bailed out of the contract in 2009.

Under public ownership the East Coast mainline outperformed all of the private rail franchises and provided a consistently high standard of service, yet the Tories decided to bulldoze through re-privatisation, presumably because they couldn't tolerate such a shining example of public sector superiority over the privatised shambles they created when they carved British Rail to pieces in the 1990s.

How can they go from bulldozing through such an unpopular and uneconomical re-privatisation in 2014, to actively proposing the de-privatisation of the London rail services within just two years?

Isn't their adoption of this de-privatisation strategy a glaring admission that they were completely wrong to re-privatise the highly successful publicly operated East Coast mainline? The people who opposed the re-privatisation of the East Coast mainline have a right to be blood spittingly furious at such opportunistic hypocrisy from the Tories.

The rest of the country

The people who just had their publicly operated rail services snatched by the Tories have the most right to be furious, but anyone who ever uses the rail network in other parts of the country has a right to be extremely angry too.

If you believe that if it's good for London to cast off the private franchise profiteers then it would logically be good for you region too, then you have a right to be furious at the Tories for handing out special favours to London.

London bias

The de-privatisation policy for London is yet another extraordinary demonstration of the bias that exists towards London. Not only do London residents benefit from vastly higher rates of spending per person on public infrastructure (£24 spent per London resident for every £1 spent per resident in the north east for example), now they get to have a sensible, integrated, publicly owned transport network while the rest of the country must continue to suffer a ridiculous, over-priced, fragmented mess run by gangs of private sector profiteers.

It's already absolutely shocking that London residents benefit from such an enormous infrastructure spending subsidy compared to the rest of the UK, and now it's absolutely clear that London gets to be treated like a special economic case that deserves special immunisation against the wealth extraction scams operated by unaccountable profiteers that the rest of the country will have to continue to endure.

The rest of the UK that has suffered the economic blight of transport network profiteers have a right to be angry, and to demand an equal right to a sensible, integrated publicly operated transport network instead of a disconnected shambles run for the benefit of profiteers.

The public ownership debate

Despite decades of appalling pro-privatisation propaganda in the mainstream media, public ownership of vital infrastructure assets remains a very popular policy with the UK electorate. It's no wonder Labour have adopted rail renationalisation as a policy for the whole of the UK (not just for London). Public ownership was a founding principle of the Labour Party and remained extremely popular even though Tony Blair and Gordon Brown decided to ditch the Labour commitment to public ownership in order to suck up to Rupert Murdoch for approval.

It's good to see Labour moving back towards one of the main purposes the party was created for. It's also good to see that the extremely popular public ownership position has more political representation than just the Green Party (as was the case during the 2015 General Election).

It's absolutely staggering that the Tories have adopted a public ownership policy when they have such a a burning ideological hatred of the concept of public ownership. It really does illustrate what a bunch of hypocritical opportunists they are that they would hop over to the other side of the ideological fence in order to try to win an election.

If the people of London want an integrated publicly operated transport system, surely it makes more sense to elect politicians who actually believes in such things to implement them, rather than leaving the plan to a bunch of political opportunists who just nicked the idea at the last minute in a desperately hypocritical effort to pinch votes from other parties?

Idiot claims that "it's not renationalisation"

I've already seen some Tory twerps trying to pretend that the plan to de-privatise these London rail franchises doesn't represent a renationalisation because Transport for London is defined as a statutory corporation!

The idea that a publicly owned local government body like Transport for London is not a state operator because it's official definition has the word "corporation" in it has to be one of the most remarkably stupid political arguments I've ever heard. It's an especially stupid argument in light of the fact that British Rail used to be a statutory corporation (in fact the entire concept of a publicly owned statutory corporation was devised in order to develop nationalised industries like British Rail, The National Coal Board and the BBC).

The mayoral election

It's obvious that Zac Goldsmith and the Tories have adopted this policy as a desperately hypocritical effort to steal Sadiq Khan's thunder. They know that it goes against their core ideology but they can see no way that it's possible to impose another Eton educated Tory as mayor of London without stealing one of Sadiq Khan's most appealing policies.

The Green candidate for Mayor Siân Berry doesn't seem to have any realistic chance of winning, so the choice is between Sadiq Khan who has a genuine ideological commitment to public ownership and Zac Goldsmith from a party that is ideologically opposed to public ownership and only proposing it out of sheer desperation.

If I was a resident of London I know which one I'd trust more with the future of the London transport network.

The London Assembly election 

The Green Party deserve the most credit for their consistency in promoting a return to public railways. If you want to vote for a party that has a genuine ideological commitment to running a successful publicly operated transport system then they would be a sensible party to vote for in the London Assembly election.

The London Assembly election is conducted on a proportional basis, so it's one of the rare occasions that a vote for the Green Party is not rendered a "protest vote" like it is by the profoundly unrepresentative Westminster voting system.

If Labour and the Green Party achieve a majority between them in the London Assembly, then parties with a proper ideological commitment to public ownership would be able to implement and oversee the process rather than leaving the process to a Tory party only offering it as policy they don't really believe in out of sheer desperation.

What are Tory promises worth?

It's dumbfounding that so many people are gullible enough to believe Tory election pledges. Take George Osborne's promises not to raise VAT (raised just two months later after the 2010 General Election); David Cameron's "no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS" lies (followed by the biggest top-down reorganisation in the history of the NHS); Cameron's statement that student bursaries would always be protected (they're currently being scrapped); Cameron's pre-election promises that he wouldn't try to cut Tax Credits (a post-election plan only defeated after a House of Lords rebellion); The whole damned "contract with the electorate" the Tories signed, then subsequently deleted off their website in the desperate hope that everyone would simply forget about it when it became clear they were breaking every damned pledge it contained.

If a Tory tells you the incredible story that they've decided to go all socialist and renationalise significant swathes of the London transport network do you really, honestly, truly believe that there's no chance at all that they'll just backtrack on the whole idea after their Eton boy is installed in power?

A hammer for the opposition to hit the Tories with

Even if the Tories fail to win power in London with such a cynical ruse, the opposition parties could have an absolute field day at the Tory expense if they coordinated their efforts.

Whether the Tories win in London or not they would severely struggle to counter the opposition argument that the rest of the UK rail network should be de-privatised too. The argument that "if it's good for London, why isn't it good enough for the rest of the country?" would force Tory MPs to perform the most ridiculous mental gymnastics to defend their policy of continued privatisation for the rest of us.

Every time a private rail franchise comes up for re-tendering the opposition parties should be backing Tory MPs into impossible corners by forcing them to defend their re-privatisation plans in light of their decision to champion de-privatisation for London.


Adopting such a blatantly socialist policy is an astonishing piece of political opportunism, even by Tory standards. Surely nobody could be stupid enough to fall for such a blatantly attempt to steal the thunder of other parties by nicking their policies?

What is certain is that the opposition parties can have a field day with this display of cynical opportunism by attacking the barefaced hypocrisy of it.

Opposition MPs from all over the rest of the country should rightly be asking "if de-privatisation is good enough for London, why is it not good for us too?" and tying Tory MPs in impossible ideological knots in the process. 

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Asset stripping "bankrupt" Britain
That Tory "contract with the electorate"
The campaign for fair votes
How the mainstream media frame the political debate
The Tory ideological mission
Margaret Thatcher's toxic neoliberal legacies