Friday 15 July 2016

Claire Perry resigns as rail minister

Theresa May has conducted one of the most comprehensive government minister culls in British history, but one of the few ministers left standing after the massacre has quit anyway.

Claire Perry first came to attention on this blog when she made the economically illiterate public declaration that the national debt and the national deficit are "the same thing". It's staggering that someone who worked in finance for years and then as an economics spokesperson for the government could make such a bizarre claim, but in a Westminster establishment system where politicians spouting abject economically illiterate nonsense is the norm, Perry's gaffe passed virtually unnoticed.

In 2014 Perry was appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport with responsibility for the dysfunctional UK rail network. After two years in the job she tendered her resignation without explanation. The stress of dealing with the calamitous Southern Rail franchise is being widely cited as her reason for quitting.

The big problem Perry always faced is that the Tory party have a burning ideological hatred of nationalisation, which is the only sensible solution to the Southern Rail farce. In fact, during her tenure as rail minister she oversaw the re-privatisation of the successful East Coast Mainline (because the Tories couldn't bear to see the public sector outperforming all of the private franchises), then she oversaw the sale of the UK's stake in Eurostar for £757 million (after the UK government had poured over £3 billion into it).

Perry has been stuck in a situation where the solution was obvious, but the government she belongs to remains ideologically wedded to doing the exact opposite.

Pretty much everyone knows that rail privatisation has been an expensive disaster, with the taxpayer bankrolling corporate profits with vast subsidies that are far higher than the entire running cost of British Rail used to be, overcrowded and delayed services, a £38 billion Network Rail black hole of debt an appalling lack of infrastructure investment and eye-watering fare rises year after year after year.

66% of the public believe that the rail network should be renationalised. Even 52% of Tory voters think that rail nationalisation is preferable to the current shambles, but the Tories will never ever countenance giving the public what they want by renationalising the rail network, because of their hard-right ideological objection to running public services as not-for-profit public services rather than cash cows for their corporate mates.

Perry fell on her sword because she was stuck in an impossible bind. It's hard for me to find much sympathy for a Tory MP. However as rail minister she had become the figurehead for the resentment of millions of frustrated and ripped-off commuters, but she didn't design the farcical system she was put in charge of, and she was completely powerless to reform it for the better, so it's no wonder she chose to give up and quit on the day after she said this:
"I have been to London Bridge and Victoria stations many times and travelled on the trains and I have been ashamed to be the Rail Minister. I suggest that successive Rail Ministers over many years in many Governments should share that sense of shame." [source]
Perry is absolutely right. She should be ashamed of her performance and her predecessors dating all the way back to John MacGregor who introduced the hopelessly botched Tory rail privatisation in 1994. Many of the transport ministers and rail ministers with the most to be ashamed of are the Labour ones who spent 13 long years refusing to undo the Tory rail privatisation fiasco.

The problem is that Perry's resignation solves absolutely nothing because the system is going to remain exactly the same. The Tory hierarchy will simply find another empty suit to fill her place and ensure that the status quo of huge corporate profits in return for crap services and minimal investment continues, and the UK rail network will continue to be a massively overpriced laughing stock compared to most of the rest of the developed world.

Sitting back and hoping for a Tory minister to see the light and renationalise the railways is utterly futile, because it will never happen. The only effective way of opposing the 22 year long Tory rail privatisation fiasco is by supporting people and organisations who are arguing the case for renationalisation.

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