Thursday, 27 November 2014

East Coast rail privatisation: private pockets before public profit

It's unbelievable.

East Coast, despite being publicly-owned, actually cost the public considerably less than the private sector rail franchises do (we pay them massive subsidies and usually end up paying for line upgrading etc). Profits generated were invested back into the service and they ploughed more money into the treasury coffers in five years than Virgin have in fifteen.

Just think about these figures for a minute: the country were making money out of this public-owned railway line, in contrast to the privately-owned lines, which plough profits into their shareholders' pockets (who then stash their wealth in tax havens, of course). Add to this the fact that passenger satisfaction with East Coast are at a record high and you begin to wonder how on earth the Tories can justify this.

They can't. But they don't need to. They're the ruling class and they can do whatever the hell they like.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Empty vessels make the most noise

I remember a primary school teacher saying this quite a lot. They may not have twigged that if it's true for people too, as they were suggesting, the children this comment was aimed at might not have understood.

And so it is with UKIP supporters. Whatever level of debate, whatever the proportion of fact and mere rhetoric there is, the UKIPper will always shout the loudest, failing even to realise that the other person has already won the argument. And sadly, it seems to be quite effective. It's terrifying to watch this right-wing hate spread. The fruitcakes have mobilised and are swamping online articles in the Guardian and Independent in huge numbers against reason and decency.

Good people need to start shouting like UKIPpers. We're not being heard; the little England hate brigade are becoming deafening.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

IF austerity = growth AND recession = austerity working, then X = ?

Cameron and Osborne say that the UK economy's growth is proof their austerity measures are working. Nothing to do with sky-high property prices and overseas investors raking in millions from the costs of living and working in London and the tax breaks afforded to investors in the capital, or the pound's strength against weaker economies.

Cameron now says that there's a new recession looming and that this is proof that they need to continue with their austerity measures. Nothing to do with falling tax revenues. Nothing to do with the fact that, despite the supposed low rate of inflation and "record-high employment", disposable income, which usually keeps our economy going, is lower than pre-recession and apparently falling.

The last recession was Labour's fault of course: nothing to do with Thatcher-era financial deregulation allowing the greedy and reckless to gamble and lose; nothing to do with taxpayers bailing them out to the tune of around £1tn; nothing to do with falling tax revenues leaving the treasury coffers too short to pay for everything the country needs.

But none of the facts matter, when you have the majority of the press and broadcast media on your side, pushing the lies and spinning the inconvenient truths into insignificant left-wing clap-trap.

Friday, 14 November 2014

The "speak English" brigade should learn their history.

Sensible people can repeat the "we're all descendants of immigrants" as often as we like but the moronic little Englanders just stick their fingers in their ears.

But there's another popular illogical anti-immigration chant about at the moment: that people should always speak English when they're in the UK. This, too, is easy to argue with. I'd like to see a little Englander explain how our language came to be and when it stopped evolving. I'd ask "why do we say "children" and not "childs"? Or "where did the word 'jumper' originate"? I would delight in informing them that what we now call the English language has only existed for a fraction of the past they seem desperate to move back to and that it evolved from a number of other languages, all of which introduced by a different wave of immigrants.


Milliband's 'comeback' speech was an improvement but he's still losing the war

Ed's speech yesterday wasn't bad. He sounded and looked resilient: I guess he always knew what he was in for. He's an intelligent and savvy man and will have looked at the past. Blair was popular (in the early days) with people across the political spectrum. He looked and sounded the part. He was close enough to being Conservative to keep some on the right happy enough to cut him some slack but he was Labour leader and even if he didn't sound like the Labour leaders of the past, the public were desperate to get the Tories out. Kinnock had an altogether different experience and Milliband may have expected his treatment to be similar to that of 'the Welsh windbag'.

The speech yesterday achieved a few things. It gave him the chance to appear unrattled by the criticism; to talk about the economy, having forgotten to in his conference speech (although if I were him I'd have laughed this off and pointed out that Ed Balls is the shadow chancellor and spoke clearly about Labour's economic plans); to challenge the public's perception of what UKIP stands for; and to outline the differences between Labour and the Conservatives.

But any little boost this will have given him will quickly be wiped out. The dominant right-wing media will have his head back down the toilet bowl quicker than he can utter another cliché (zero-zero? I don't think that one's going to stick, Ed).

Unfortunately, it's more important these days to be able an expert in handling the media than it is to be eloquent and enlightened. What Labour needs is someone who will sound like they're promising everything people want to hear and be convincing enough to make them think there's substance behind it, and someone who will, once in power, actually do what the Labour party should be doing. I really like Alan Johnson but even if he was up for the job - which he's made clear he isn't - I don't think he could con the public the way Cameron or Blair (or even Farage, but that's more luck than expertise) have. Of course I don't want our politicians to con us: I hate it when they do; but that's what Labour needs to beat the nasty, all-powerful right wing media.

It's good to see Labour voters and members getting behind Ed on social media but I'm not convinced it'll make much difference against the might of the right-wing media machine. We'll see what May brings but it's not looking good.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Looks like the media have succeeded in destroying Milliband

It has now reached a stage where I feel that Milliband must step down to give Labour a chance of winning a majority - or even enough to consider joining forces with Lib Dems and/or Greens (not sure whether the latter would consider that or not) to defeat a potential Con-UKIP coalition.

The media have won. They've been out to get him from the very start: 'the wrong brother'; weird; can't eat a bacon sandwich; wallace; part of the previous failed labour administration...mentioning these things now, it doesn't sound like a lot to kick him with but they've kept it up since he became leader like trying to fell a tree with a penknife. I would almost admire their persistence if his attackers didn't have such large vested interests in bringing him and the party down.

Compare this with the Tories. They're the ones in power and they are the ones who should be having to answer to the press on a daily basis but somehow the pressure has mostly been on Milliband. The Tories have been proven on numerous occasions to be lying to the public, misleading us, trying to hide information, gagging people who speak out against them, they've been caught doing highly dodgy deals, covering up information that could lead to prosecutions, spending public money on their own campaigns, and yet NOTHING sticks. It's like we all know what to expect from them and we let them get away with it. Ok, so the media mainly leave them alone because it's in their interests to (most of the papers are owned and run by wealthy people who benefit from Tory policies and the BBC are running scared of being closed down - oh, yes, and there's the small matter of those potential left-wing BBC employees whose cards were marked in the 70s and 80s which now means none of the current senior BBC staff have even the slightest left-wing opinions) but we do have social media to fill in the blanks.

The Tories didn't win the last election. They've also lost out on parliamentary votes in the UK and in Europe on matters that they'd fought hard to win. UKIP and Labour have set the political agenda: immigration and the cost of living. But somehow the Tories are still standing, still in the fight and still with vague chance of a majority at the next election, or at least enough to take control of another coalition.

This happened with Neil Kinnock, too. The dominant right-wing media put all of their power and influence into destroying him. The left-wing media were also asking questions of him because they were concerned the attacks were working. It's happening again now, and that is why I think Milliband must step down. It's unfortunate for him but they have won. Milliband would win a lot of favour for the party if he said "I've been kicked and punched by the media since I became Labour leader. I wasn't hurt by any of this; I can take it. But it's hurting the party and that is why I've decided to step down. The party needs to be united under a new leader to make sure we win the next election and my successor will have my full support."

The Tories and the right-wing hacks would be winded by this and I think there are a number of candidates strong enough to take over and win the arguments for Labour.

Who knows, if they take the party in the right direction, I might even vote for them myself.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Inter-city train links will not fix our main transport problems

The infamous Beeching report, a piece of work so short-sighted and under-researched one might think it had been dreamed up by a City broker in 2006, led to the closure of more than 2,000 railway stations. The crucial flaw was to acknowledge the increase in road traffic and the low cost of road use without realising that the kind of increase seen would begin to cause problems within 20 years.

Defenders of Dr Beeching say that if his report hadn't suggested the closure of these lines, the larger routes would also have been at risk as the costs spiralled totally out of control. What they fail to see is that whilst the UK was ripping up railways and closing stations, other nations were beginning invest heavily in developing their networks. Those countries now have far better rail networks than we do.

As part of the 'backing the workers' rhetoric, talk about transport is a popular theme among the main political parties but they are focusing on the wrong things. My friends could all be described as middle-class and have the sorts of careers you might expect middle-class people to have: insurance, pensions, education, civil service, healthcare, retail management etc. None of them regularly travel between cities. Some occasionally travel for conferences etc but this is pretty straightforward to do when they need to. It is already possible to get direct trains between northern cities; all that the politicians' proposals would do is speed it up slightly.

The real problem in the country is getting to work from villages and towns, not getting from one branch office to another, or from your office to a conference centre 50-200 miles away. There are huge areas of the country where the only choice, other than a convoluted, lengthy and expense public transport route, is to drive.

When I left University and started commuting to my first job in Manchester from my parents' house in Lancashire, I experienced this first hand. I had to walk for 8 minutes, take a bus for 15 minutes, walk from the bus station to the train station - another 5 minutes, get the train to Manchester which took at least 30 minutes (depending on whether it was the slow local route or the quicker route with less stops) and then walk for another 10-15 minutes to work. Include the waiting times and that is at least 90 minutes - all for a 30-mile commute. Sometimes the trains in the evening were so full I couldn't get on and had to wait for the next one. I lasted two weeks before moving to a shared house in the Manchester City area. I was young enough to be ok with living like a student but that isn't suitable for everyone and for many, moving to the City area is far too expensive.

Trains still pass through the village my parents live in - sadly, they no longer stop there. It used to be possible to get direct trains to Blackpool, Preston, Wigan and Liverpool and the current trains passing through go all the way to London. But the station was closed in 1963 and local people and local businesses have suffered greatly. It's only 30 miles from Manchester but that journey by car, during rush hour, could easily take 90 minutes and quite possibly more. And that's before you factor in the fuel costs and parking costs in Manchester.

People from all over the country will have similar stories. Villages and towns all over the UK need alternatives to using our massively-congested roads and the environment would be greatly improved too by re-opening old railway lines and stations. Not only would people have better opportunities for work, quality of life would improve and house prices would balance out more evenly once forgotten areas are reconnected. But for some reason, politicians only seem interested in making direct journeys that are less vital and are already possible just a little bit quicker.