Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The return of British Rail?

The government has nationalised the East Coast mainline after National Express floundered.

I know a lot of conservatives will be horrified by this, but personally I think the whole damn lot should be brought back into public ownership*. I never could see the point of privatising the railways - the taxpayer was always going to end up paying for it one way or another anyway - and I've never made it a secret that I believe certain things should be in public ownership.

I don't see this leading to a mass nationalistion of the railways, though - more's the pity.

* I know this seems at odds for someone who claims to be a conservative, but as I've remarked before, my politics are not that straightforward. They are a mixture of various different ideologies formed through various influences and a wide variety of sources over decades - not learned by rote from a book or by narrow selection of opinion.


William Gruff said...

Once again, Stan, I couldn't agree with you more. Water should be in public ownership too, as should the gas and telecoms infrastructure, though not suppliers.

Letters From A Tory said...

If I recall correctly, the first year that British Rail ever made a profit was the year that it was privatised.

Stan said...

"If I recall correctly, the first year that British Rail ever made a profit was the year that it was privatised."

LOL - what a coincidence! Or was it ...

Anonymous said...

They should all be re-nationalised?

What? Are you all mad?

Have you forgotten how well all that worked last time?

If you want to go back to waiting three months to rent a telephone designed forty years ago, and gas showrooms that have ex-directory phone numbers, well fair do's to you.

But for God's sake don't include me in your stinking plans, I prefer infrastructure that works and suppliers who regard me as a customer, not just a nuisance.

Stan said...

Anon - I think you are assigning improvements that have come from technology as being solely the preserve of private enterprise - which is most certainly not the case.

Secondly, I don't want to be a customer AND a nuisance - just a customer. Gas boards may have been ex-directory, but there was always an outlet no more than a short bus ride away - now your enquiry will be routed through to some remote call centre in Bangalore who rarely if ever get back to you.

Thirdly, the rail networks don't compete for business - most of their trade is captive custom; people who have no option other than to ride on their stinking, over-priced, crowded trains - often standing up for long times.

Personally, I'm not in favour of telecoms being re-nationalised (I don't see them - as the government seems to - as essential services and should be open to competition), but I do favour Royal Mail remaining in full public ownership (the only way you can guarantee a universal service which is why it was set up as a public owned institution in the first place) and I also favour (as I've made clear) the public ownership of mass transit systems which generally do not compete but assume a regional monopoly. Might as well make that monopoly national and ensure it is fully integrated and covers all areas regardless of whether it makes a profit or not.

Finally, the biggest problem for all our nationalised industries throughout the sixties and seventies was not poor management (although that didn't help), but union militancy. As far as railways are concerned, that remains as much of a problem for the privatised firms today as it did for BR.

William Gruff said...

LFAT: Could they have made a profit had the higher than pre-privatisation subsidies not been paid to the operators?

Mrs Thatcher was undoubtedly (as in wearing my tongue firmly in my cheek) the saviouress of our strategically important rail network but she starved the nationalised system of investment using 'free' market dogma as an excuse (just as she ordered a 10%/annum increase in the price of gas above the rate of inflation to make that state owned 'industry' attractive to the 'free' market) and then left a cack handed imbecile and adulterer to make the 'fuelled with spite' dogs' breakfast of privatisation that we suffer still.

Was it Norman Fowler who spoke of 'the halcyon days of the GWR'? Whoever it was, he was so much of a nonentity that I can't remember now, though I do remember thinking that he was a liar and an idiot, whoever he was.