We have to give the Labour Party their due here because without them what would we be talking about in the dog days of the political summer? Bravo Labour for stringing out this leadership contest and keeping yourselves very much in the news (albeit not in a great way and certainly not providing the Tory government with an effective opposition) but we’ll gloss over that for now and plough on through to the crux of this blog post.
The Railway Network. More people than not would be in favour of it returning to the hands of being publicly owned. Of that I have very little doubt and even I myself would have no issue with it because when push comes to shove no-one actually gives much of a shit about it either way. Someone is going to get our money and the government get a lot in terms of franchise fees, so the question is just what do the government get? Would they get more with renationalisation? Would the commuters get lower fares under a nationalised service and would they get a better quality of service under nationalised trains?
Well we actually have a recent franchise fee/award where it has not been taken from a private company to another private company, the East Coast Main Line was under public ownership but the services are now being run by Virgin Trains in a joint venture with Stagecoach. They are paying £3.3bn for the franchise license over eight years. This amount to £412.5million a year to the Treasury. Under public ownership the East Coast Main Line was generating £220million for the Treasury. So the tax payer is getting a better deal under private ownership.
Now on the issue of lower fares, we don’t know for sure what would happen and it is true that private companies will be wanting to make money because otherwise why are they in the game? Action for Rail, who don’t even have an About Us section on their website (but are supported by trade unions) say that according to research carried out by Transport for Quality of Life under public ownership, Season Tickets could go down by 10%, which would be quite significant, certainly in the South East commuter belt. The word ‘could’ always worries me but that would means that fares would still be extremely high and not as low as many would think under a renationalised network.
Rail fares are due to go up an average of 1% in January, adding £24 to an average Season Ticket. That in itself is not a big rise and isn’t one that will raise too many eye brows amongst commuters. No doubt they’ll be news stories in January about how much of a rip-off it is but it won’t really make too much of a difference on a commuters finances. That rise would not even be a cup of coffee a month.
Lastly the quality of service issue, again one we don’t really know but what we do know is that private companies have invested heavily in new Rolling Stock. I know in Jeremy Corbyn’s (very short) pdf document about the People’s Railway it says that we have a lot of outdated stock but I call BS on that. Anyone who is old enough to remember British Rail (and yes I am that old) can remember the slam door trains that were cold, dirty, slow and when you compare that to the air-conditioned, clean, fast rolling stock that most of us use then it is not even close. Yes there are some routes where the stock isn’t as up to date as others but in general private companies know they need to invest to attract customers, British Rail didn’t really do such a thing.
I read a story on LabourList this morning by Manuel Cortes, who is the General Secretary of TSSA (so I expect him to have a bias) but he said one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, ‘I was proud to stand at Kings Cross station yesterday morning, alongside representatives from all the rail unions, as Jeremy set out his vision for A People’s Railway. The public has been crying out for this bold policy for the past 20 years.’ The bit in bold is the funny bit, the rest had to be there for context.
The public have been crying out for this for 20 years? They have? When? I do not recall there ever being a significant backlash against the privatisation of the railway network. Most people will agree that in an ideal world it would be under government control but for most people it has doesn’t really move the needle as it were. I have seen more public crying out over scraping TV Licenses or heck even stupid shit like Sachsgate or Jeremy Clarkson’s sacking from Top Gear. We might have seen more column inches devoted to the Chelsea team doctor in the past week than we have on the renationalising of the Railway Network in the whole of the last government.
Unions are unsurprisingly all pro this because under public ownership their members will get more strength, power and most importantly arguably a better pension and conditions but in 2004, ASLEF general secretary, Lew Adams stated on a radio phone-in program, ‘All the time it (the railway network) was in the public sector, all we got were cuts, cuts, cuts. And today there are more members in the trade union, more train drivers, and more trains running. The reality is that it worked, we’ve protected jobs, and we got more jobs.’ Maybe the good old days of a nationalised rail network weren’t as good as some people remember.
My point on all this isn’t to rubbish Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas as they aren’t bad per se but to rubbish the fact that deep down people care. There are so many more important things than who runs our rail industry and to win back support from those he needs to if he has any intention of putting any of his ideas into law, then he has to stop pussyfooting (which according to Google Chrome is actually a legitimate word) around with things that appeal to the unions and start tackling the issues that appeal to the aspirational working class and lower middle class that he needs to convince to win their vote.
The 2020 General Election will not be won and lost on the railways. Heck if Ed Miliband couldn’t win it on the NHS, which is often up there is the top issues people bring up that is facing this country then how on Earth is Jeremy Corbyn going to win when one of his big ticket items is an issue no-one ever brings up in their top ten issues facing the country today?
All Jeremy Corbyn is doing is winning the die hard Labour vote and making it all the more solid. He can sweep the north (as would Andy Burnham) but can he even get close to winning over enough voters in the south that he needs to if he wants to walk into Downing Street? Not the way he is going.
I have written it before but I’ll keep saying it, Labour are in the same situation as the Republicans in the US of A. To win the leadership you have to move so far away from centre that you stand out to the core vote enough, the problem with that is you are so far away from centre that the swing voters can’t vote for you. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, heck even Joe Biden should not be having a cakewalk to the White House but at the moment unless Jeb Bush can start really dragging the party back to somewhere near the centre then the Democrats are waltzing back up Pennsylvania Avenue and if Jeremy Corbyn wins and sticks to his path then either George Osbourne or Boris Johnson will be the next Prime Minister and it won’t even be close.
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