Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Party's Over For Bendy Wendy

Wendy Alexander's announcement to quit as Scottish Labour Party leader over illegal campaign donations just isn't good enough. She should be drummed out of the Party.

The dirty tricks of the campaign, which have rumbled on for nearly a year, have finally come to a head. But instead of trying to do a Cherie Blair and 'hold back the tears' in her resignation speech, Alexander should have at least tried to face down her critics.

Why did she need campaign donations in the first place when she was the only candidate to become the Scottish Labour leader?

Why did she accept an illegal £950 donation from a Jersey-based businessman? 

How come she eventually updated her register with 10 further donations all just under the magic £1000, so they could technically be treated as 'gifts'. 

Gifts for what? If she was the only candidate, why did she need campaign funds and what did she spend the money on?

The Paisley North MSP has said all along she had acted in "good faith" and on the written advice of the parliamentary authorities.

But she has become a bad joke in the Scottish Parliament, with her ridiculous call to "Bring it On" over a referendum on Scottish independence, losing her voice when she was told she'd be suspended for one day over the donations scandal and with behaviour which has coined the phrase in the Scottish Executive of being "Wendied". 

Prime minister Brown, a close ally of Alexander, who's brother Douglas is in Brown's cabinet, said she had made an outstanding contribution to the Party.

Surely he doesn't mean a financial contribution?

The SNP summed up this whole sorry saga: "Decay from within is characteristic of the decline of the New Labour project, and Wendy Alexander's resignation is a symptom of this wider malaise."


Friday, June 27, 2008

Blatant Brown Bias At The BBC

New Labour's BBC lapdogs got themselves into a right political pickle over how to handle Brown's first year as PM and the humiliating Henley result. What did they come up with to mark the event? A small poll of Labour Party faithful and a free puff for Team Brown. 

Until 2.04pm, that hot-bed of impartiality, BBC On-Line News, stated: "The poll of 135 Labour constituency chairmen (sic) found the majority -106 - believe he is the right person to lead the party."

And that apparently was justification for the headline:

"Gordon Brown has a low key anniversary as a BBC poll suggests local Labour chairman still back him despite recent setbacks."

Er, it also meant that 15 percent of the grassroots party faithful think he is the wrong person to lead the party!

This pathetic attempt at Brown spin ran on the BBC On-Line News site from early morning until 2.04pm, after it was highlighted by the Orange Party. It was then totally rewritten into this much more thoughtful, detailed and balanced analysis. The original grovelling headline and biased item disappeared.

Meanwhile over at Nick Robinson's blog, that read like a news release from Team Brown.

"It is not that Gordon Brown, or indeed any politician, could have averted the economic crisis.

"They (Team Brown) hope that one day their man will be given credit for those long term decisions he likes to talk of so much - expanding nuclear power, speeding up the planning system and his recent efforts to improve the working of oil markets - all designed to make us a stronger economy in the long run."

Needless to say, the Orange Party's innocuous and playful post to Nick's blog was blocked  and ominously "referred for moderation." 

And the explanation? The BBC Blog Team replied:

"Postings to BBC blogs will be removed if they appear to be potentially defamatory." 

And the potentially defamatory posting?

"Are you a paid up member of the New Labour Elite, Nick? Your analysis, particularly over the economic 'crisis' and Brown's plans 'to make us a stronger economy', are both naive and misleading. Was this taken from a Team Brown press release?"

Note to the BBC Blog Team: The post asked about Nick and the political 'elite' and did not imply that he was a member of a political 'party'.


EU, You're Driving Me Crazy

Former French president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, has let 'le cat out of le bag' and confirmed that any referendum on a new EU Treaty/Constitution will be ignored and the new Treaty is a deliberate and confusing mix of Euro-gobbledegook.

Writing in the Irish Times, and reported in the Daily Telegraph, Giscard said that the Irish Republic referendum 'No' vote would make no difference.

"Ireland is 1 per cent of the EU. You're not going to have your own commissioner. It isn't reasonable. There will be Irish commissioners, but by rotation. We are evolving towards majority voting, because if we stay with unanimity, we will do nothing. It is impossible to function by unanimity with 27 members. This time it's Ireland, the next time it will be somebody else."

Roughly translated, that means the powerful EU political elite will just go ahead and do what they want, regardless of the wishes of any member state. 

And that means the creation of a new EU superstate and an all-powerful permanent president, with sweeping powers over defence and trade, regardless of any public opinion.

Giscard, the architect of the original Constitutional Treaty, admitted that the new Lisbon Treaty had been carefully written to confuse the public.

"What was done in the (Lisbon) Treaty, and deliberately, was to mix everything up. If you look for the passages on institutions, they're in different places, on different pages."

We are being taken for a ride but that doesn't mean we have to sit back and enjoy the journey.


A Very Unhappy Non-Birthday, Gordon

Brown's achieved a lot in his first year in office. He's managed to become the most unpopular politician in history, bottle a general election, alienate the country with the 10p tax fiasco, ride rough-shod over our civil liberties, sell our soul to an EU superstate and lose a couple of computer discs. Not bad going.

As Brown prepared to mark his first anniversary as prime minister, voters in Henley were being asked what they thought of him. He already knew the answer. New Labour lost its deposit and came fifth behind the Greens and the BNP.

Voters have woken up to the fact that the trouble in the economy was all his doing as chancellor. And he's managed to expose the Blair sham of the New Labour Project and ruin the Party's finances with donors and supporters deserting in droves. 

People are feeling miserable. Inflation is now at its highest for a decade. Disposable income is being eroded away as the culture of debt created and encouraged by New Labour comes home to roost.

On the steps of No 10, a year ago, Brown said: "I have heard the need for change." 

He planted the idea of change in the public's mind and they thought yes, but not with you, mate.

He handed the change to the Conservatives on a plate. It maybe Brown's birthday, but it is Cameron who gets the gift.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Alexander's This Time Banned

When Scottish Labour Party leader, Wendy Alexander, famously cried out: 'Bring it on', a one-day ban from the Scottish parliament probably wasn't what she had in mind. Alexander, was referring to a referendum on Scottish Independence when she uttered the infamous remarks, which didn't go down well in the Scottish Labour Party or at Westminster. 

Alexander, sister of Brown's pal, the Westminster cabinet minister, Douglas Alexander, was embroiled in a 'donorgate' scandal involving a Jersey-registered businessman. 

Now a Holyrood standards committee says she should be banned from the Scottish parliament for one day after breaking donation rules after failing to declare 10 donations to her leadership campaign last summer on her MSP register of interests. 

Alexander said she acted on advice from Holyrood officials.

With delicious irony, Alexander was left speechless at First Minister's Questions, unable to take part after losing her voice.


Abrahams? Never Heard of Him, Gov

Police investigating how over half a million pounds in 'anonymous' donations got into the hands of the Labour Party, have handed the donorgate file over to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The 'anonymous' businessman was Tyneside property developer David Abrahams, who said he gave the money through go-betweens to avoid the lime-light.

That's the same Mr Abrahams who for years had been popping up at parties having his photograph taken with the New Labour elite. 

And the same Mr Abrahams who got a front row seat for Blair's Sedgefield farewell speech. 

And the same Mr Abrahams who is well-known in north-east Labour Party politics and was trying to build a development near the A1. 

Mr Abrahams said at the time he did not know he was doing anything wrong. He gave the money to four acquaintances, who then paid the Party.

Electoral Law states than donors must use their own names when giving more than £5,000 to political parties.

Brown, at the time, promised the money would be repaid and said he knew nothing about the arrangement. In fact everybody in the New Labour inner circle said they know nothing and had never heard of Abrahams.

Including Harriet Harman, who said she took a donation in good faith and Hilary Benn who was given the nod about the dodgy donation and tore up the cheque. Labour's general secretary at the time, Peter Watt said he had known the money belonged to Mr Abrahams but was not aware that rules had been broken.

In the Watergate scandal, Deep Throat advised reporter Bob Woodward to: "Follow the money." 


Green Gordon Is Still Brown

Brown doesn't do green. He does deals with his pals in big business. So his 'green' speech at a low carbon economy summit today, probably went down well with greedy business. You can read it here if you must! Green is just the new Brown.

After blaming everything (again) on the world  price of this and global that,  he says he wants to create a cleaner, greener economy with the least cost to consumers and a new generation of green collar jobs.

So can the new green Brown deliver?

What's 'green' about pushng through plans to make it easier for yet more expansion and another runway at Heathrow airport creating more noise and air pollution? 

What's 'green' about building thousands of new homes in the open country side and sticking an 'eco' label in front of them? 

What's 'green' about forcing us to use biofuels in our cars instead of using the fields for food? 

What's 'green' about allowing the big supermarkets to build anywhere and sell anything from anywhere in the world?

What's 'green' about spending billions of pounds on thousands of new wind farms when they'll be twice as expensive to build and maintain as coal or nuclear?

It's all not very 'green', is it?

Just put the word 'greed' in place of 'green' and there you have it. Don't be fooled. Green is the new Brown.


Balls and Cooper's Lame Excuse

Cabinet couple, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, may insist they have acted with the rules over their parliamentary housing allowances, but that's not the point. This is public money. They are elected and accountable. You don't expect cheap accounting tricks from senior members of the government.

Every time an MP's expenses are exposed, they fall back on the same old excuse. They acted within the rules. They haven't done anything wrong. 

Well, according to the accountant's rule-book that may be the case. But that shouldn't mean you can just play the system and claim for whatever you can get away with.

Parliament's sleaze watchdog is now investigating the married ministers, after it was claimed they had been able to "maximise" their taxpayer-funded second homes allowances, by claiming their London home was their main home.

They face a complaint that they may have broken the spirit or the letter of the rules on commons' housing allowance.

Balls, is the schools and children's secretary and Brown's side-kick. Cooper, the chief secretary to the Treasury. We should be able to trust them with our children and the economy. 

You can play the Claim Game and be within the law and not break the rules. But that doesn't make it right. 


Heathrow Expansion Just Got Easier

A third runway at Heathrow is back on the cards, after MPs voted for a new unelected and unaccountable quango to push through the expansion plans and New Labour's other pet projects. 

MPs finally had a chance yesterday to vote on whether they wanted to replace accountable public inquiries, with an unelected Planning Commission. 

In the end, just 17 True Labour MPs had the courage and sense to vote against the Bill - they at least can hold their heads up high. 

The Planning Bill had been delayed twice and was rewritten with a few concessions to try to push it through. 

The result was a watered down Bill making the new Planning Commission just a bit more accountable. 

But the idea still is to scrap lengthy and accountable public enquires for massive building projects ranging from nuclear power stations, wind farms and incinerators, airports, new towns, roads and reservoirs. In fact anything that could be unpopular. 

Even with the concessions, the new Commission is just a smoke-screen to fast-track the developments and by-pass the planning process in quangoland.

Brown faced a parliamentary revolt, with this new Planning Commission coming under fire from MPs outraged at yet another hugely expensive, unaccountable and unelected bureaucratic quango.

The back-bench revolt from his own party was stronger than ever and even the cabinet was split on the issue. 

But in the end, the wheeling and dealing over concessions saved Brown's skin, again.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Missing Disc Report Damns Brown And Darling

Brown and Darling were quick to point the finger of blame at an overworked and underpaid junior in the Tax Office, when two child benefit discs with highly personal details of 25m people went missing last autumn.  Now three reports highlight the real culprits - Brown and Darling. 

It was the undynamic duo who created an incompetent, inadequate and muddled mess at HMRC that caused the discs to go missing in the first place.

After the loss in November, Darling insisted to MPs that a "junior official" had been responsible for posting the information "contrary to all HMRC standing procedures".

Time and again the prime minister and his chancellor stood up and blamed the loss on this office junior for not following the correct security procedures.

Today the Poynter Report into the missing discs scandal does not blame individual officials at all, but instead highlights "serious institutional deficiencies" at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) with "incompetence and systemic failure at the heart of this government".

And there's more. A separate report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said data security processes at HMRC were "woefully inadequate" with "a complete lack of any meaningful systems" and a "muddle-through" ethos.

And even more. The Information Commissioner, has waded in saying: "The reports that have been published today show deplorable failures at both HMRC and MoD.

The child benefit records, on computer disc, were just one of a number of personal records that went missing over the last few months.  The child benefit discs were posted from HMRC to the National Audit Office (NAO). When the disc didn't arrive, another disc was sent and that didn't get there either.

The lesson is clear. The next time there is a gold-plated cock up in one of Brown's government departments - don't blame the staff, blame him.


Over Stretched And Over There

Our most senior military chief, Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup is stating the bleedin' obvious when he says we can't fight a war on two fronts. Of course we can't. We are over stretched and over there. But try telling that to the politicians.

Just look at history. Both Napoleon and Hitler tried and failed.

With 8000 UK troops fighting a dirty war in Afghanistan and 4000 holed up for the time being around Basra, any general worth his pips would come to the same conclusion. 

His views echo those made recently by another top forces chief Sir Richard Dannat, Chief of the General Staff. 

The US however can go for as long as public option lets them. Their economy is huge and the military and defence contracts are tied up in these wars. 

But that's not the same over here. 

Go further - tell the politicians that the war in Afghanistan can't be won. Ever. And UK troops should pull our now before the spectre of the body bags becomes just too terrible to contemplate.

The UK has a tradition of the armed forces keeping out of politics - a strong tradition where the political state is kept at arms length from the military state - that's what makes our democracy healthy. 

It must be getting bad if the top brass has to speak out. If only the politicians would keep out of operational military matters.


Planning A Bad Brown Day?

With a mixture of smug arrogance and self-destruction, Brown and his New Labour clique are set to face down the country again, this time over planning. 

A watered-down plan for another huge, expensive quango to push through their pet projects is on the cards, as MPs finally have a chance to vote today on whether they want to replace accountable public inquiries, with an unelected Planning Commission. 

The Planning Bill has been delayed twice and could easily have been put on the back-burner. Instead it has been rewritten with concessions to try to push it through.

Brown faces a parliamentary revolt, with this new Planning Commission coming under fire from MPs, outraged at yet another hugely expensive, unaccountable and unelected bureaucratic quango.

This would cover massive building projects ranging from nuclear power stations, wind farms and incinerators, airports, new towns, roads and reservoirs. In fact anything that's unpopular. Stuffed with New Labour cronies on fat salaries, it's just a smoke-screen to fast-track the developments and by-pass the planning process.

Unlike their muddled thinking on the EU Treaty, the Lib Dems, this time, are set against. And, unlike 42 Days Detention, Brown can't bribe Northern Ireland's DUP. This time he cannot rely on pork-barrel politics.

The back bench revolt from his own party was stronger than ever and even the Cabinet was split on the issue. But maybe the concessions will save Brown's skin, again.

But if the vote still goes pear-shaped, Brown has only himself to blame. It only takes around 35 or so True Labour MPs to make a difference. 

It all should have been plain sailing for Brown until September's Labour Party conference. It's almost as if his advisers and New Labour cronies want a defeat - to force his hand.


Biofuels, The Greedy Green Gold Rush

The green gold rush to develop biofuels has played a "significant" part in the dramatic rise in global food prices, which has left millions without enough to eat, according to an Oxfam report today. But the government isn't listening nor will it heed a government report due out later this week. 

Our cars are being driven by greed and the big business of biofuels is forcing millions of people into poverty.

Around the world, forests are being destroyed, cattle driven off the land and crops once grown for food now grown for corn, rapeseed, palm and soya.

Here you get huge grants and subsidies to produce the stuff. The fields of corn and rapeseed are being grown for biofuels. Everyone's a winner except the environment and the people.

The Gallagher report, from a panel of government experts, at the Renewable Fuels Agency, should force a review of British and EU targets for the use of biofuels in place of petrol and diesel  but it won't.

Ethanol and biodiesel derived from vegetable oil were a central plank of Brown's 'green' strategy. And the biofuel plan is well in place. 

Since April, all petrol and diesel in the UK has had to contain 2.5% of biofuels, with a 2010 target of 5%. Oxfam is calling for this target to be scrapped. 

The US, Brazil and the EU are the main players on the biofuel stage. The EU is contemplating a 10% target by 2020. About half of EU vegetable oils now go towards the production of biodiesel and plant-derived ethanol.

What will our government do? They will 'note' the report, come out with some meaningless NewLabourSpeak, maybe call for another review, but do nothing about it.

It's green gold and it leaves a bitter aftertaste.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Students Left One Degree Under

Overseas students are being used to prop up our cash-strapped universities and offered 'rotten' degrees for their efforts, according to the university quality watchdog. Students are paying a high price for years of study and a worthless bit of paper to take back home with them.

The universities' Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has warned the current degree classification system is "arbitrary and unreliable", universities have become "financially dependent on the higher fees of overseas students" and "the way that degrees are classified is a rotten system."

Universities used to get funding from big research grants and student numbers. Now with every education establishment rebranded a 'university', they are all chasing the same dwindling pot for research and of course there are only so many students who want to study Media Studies and Computer Games at Anytown Met.

The result is a dumbing down of degrees which is being exposed regularly by whistleblowers on the BBC's  web-site.

But this funding is just a transfer of paper money. The real money comes from overseas students. That's hard cash. Numbers have shot up over the years - not because it's good to attract students from overseas but because of the cash.

The signs are that things are changing. Parents and overseas students are now questioning the standards at UK universities and whether it's worth all the money. 

After all, what do they get in return? A photograph of their son or daughter in a cap and gown, a bit of paper wrapped up in pretty ribbon and a huge bill.

The QAA concludes: "There is a belief from some overseas students that if they pay their fees, they will get a degree."

It's great fun for students travelling to different countries. But the same can't be said for their parents, who have had to scrape together the money to pay for them.


Boris Bashing At The BBC

The BBC's On-line News 'Boris-bashing' knows no bounds. It's almost as if someone working there doesn't like the man. Or someone is pulling their strings.

Forget all the skewed stories and skulduggery that went on during the run up to the Mayoral elections. Three silly stories have popped up recently which the BBC reported with such glee. 

We had a BBC generated non-story about confusion over the existence of a report from Johnson's predecessor on the cost of the London Olympics. Johnson said a deal signed by Livingstone on cost over-runs was "far from clear" and he doubted its existence. Livingstone said the comments were "bizarre" as the memorandum of understanding had been published. 

Then the non-story over some remarks made by his political advisor buried in a very old and long-winded 'interview' posted on an obscure web site. When the advisor resigned, this was reported  by the BBC (again with more glee) with a 'Breaking News' flag (an over-used rolling news device designed to grab your attention). 

And to add more credence, the chap who posted the original interview was described by the BBC as an 'undercover journalist/reporter'. When he is nothing of the sort. He's a black activist with strong links to Labour. The 'undercover' bit was subsequently remove fom the next day's bulletin.

Now we have a picture on the BBC  On-line News bulletin of Johnson made to look silly wearing a fez and smoking a cigar, to accompany a story about a cigar case. Apparently the cigar case has been taken into police custody because it once belonged to someone in Iraq. It's a rehash of an old story. 

Today's splendid article by Johnson in the Daily Telegraph has little to do with a cigar case and everything to do with the lies, deceit and downright illegality of the Iraq War. But the BBC has chosen to show Boris in a fez, smoking a cigar. To try to make him look silly.

As usual, the people at the BBC have got their politically correct knickers in a twist. 

The photgraph of Boris was put there to make him look a figure of fun. But Johnson has Turkish roots and the fez is a traditional piece of headwear worn in many parts of the Muslim world. There's nothing funny about that.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Move Over Darling?

Crystal Balls or the chance to use a gift of a headline? There's something afoot in the world of Brown politics. Good old Nick Robinson, from the BBC (bless), asks if a new economic direction needs a new chancellor in a fight-back and reshuffle.

Of course it does. It's the economy, stupid. The only thing Brown thinks he can salvage from his disastrous year.

This kind of speculation is, however, rather old news and was reported here last week. Still Nick's blog is a detailed and thorough analysis and worth reading for that. 

Time and again Brown has banged on about the economy, blaming world this and global that for all our ills. Even though he's made a thorough mess of it for the past ten years, it's the one crumb left that he thinks he can salvage in public opinion.

His old pal Darling has probably had enough after the Northern Rock and 10p tax fiasco and would be happy to move out of the media spotlight. 

So a cabinet reshuffle could be on the cards, to give the Brownite cabinet time to settle in. 

And expect David Miliband's brother, Ed (or is it Edward?), to be given a more prominent position in this cabinet. He's got a lot going for him. He's English. He has vast experience of the treasury. He's one of Blairs' and the New Labour Project's rising stars. And he's better looking than Darling. 

Just hope that Brown's side-kick, Edward Michael 'just call me Ed' Balls, doesn't add more labels to his stalinesque department of 'secretary of state for children, schools and families'. Sticking 'treasury' in there as well, just wouldn't go down at all well. 

The 42 day detention debacle and the EU Treaty stitch-up should be the last big political hurdles for Brown. There are no nasty by-election surprises coming up, yet, though there is one potential back-bench revolt in the commons to test his leadership on Wednesday. 

Let's face it, he can't sink any lower in the opinion polls because he's already off the scale. 

Oh and by the way Gordon, happy birthday for Friday.


Dumbed Down Diplomas

Industry chiefs are telling the New Labour government what many have been saying for ages - the new Diplomas to replace academic GCSEs and A-levels aren't worth the paper they're written on. Dumbing down just go dumber.

The employers' organisation, the CBI, says government plans for Diplomas for academic subjects in England are "an unnecessary distraction".

Of course they are. It's a sham. A New Labour wheeze to justify the billions of pounds spent trying to achieve ridiculous education targets. 

They've tried dumbing down the GCSEs and A-levels, introduced course work to make them easier and a whole range of subjects which require little rigourous academic study in an effort to boost results. But after ten years - that still doesn't work.

They want more youngsters to stay on at school between 16-18 to keep down the unemployment figures. But you can't expect them all to study A-levels. 

Diplomas for vocational subjects (GNVQs) are already taken by students and have been for years. They're simply being rebranded as Diplomas and introduced for both vocational and academic subjects, all rolled into one 'qualification'.

The uptake of the new Diplomas, to be introduced from September, is poor even from the state schools where their funding source dictate what they should do. There's a shortage of markers for the subjects and universities are beginning to set their own entrance exams because the A-levels are becoming worthless.

In the shallow, fantasy world of New Labour, everyone's a winner. More students get good results and everyone passes. It's a School Leaving Certificate by another name. In the US it's called a High School Diploma.


Eco-Lies, Deceit And Spin

The lies, deceit and spin of Brown's government is set to be exposed this week showing the pathetic way they have tried to pull the wool over our eyes with so-called 'eco-towns' and ride rough-shod over democracy with the trickery of new planning laws aimed at pushing through pet projects. 

An official government report has warned today that many of the 'eco-town' schemes are just big housing estates with an eco-friendly 'green' label stuck in front.

And Brown faces a parliamentary revolt on Wednesday, when government plans for a new Planning Commission, which has split the cabinet, will come under fire from MPs outraged at plans for another hugely expensive, unaccountable and unelected bureaucratic quango.

With the Party's finances in meltdown, New Labour needs sweeteners for its dwindling backers and donors - the big housing developers and supermarkets. And 'eco-towns' are a perfect way for them to make money.

'Eco-towns', one of Brown's original Big Ideas, have been exposed as a sham, a sneaky way of just building thousands of new houses in rural areas and  branded as 'eco-towns' as part of the spin. In the face of a huge and growing backlash, a short list of 57 was whittled down to 15, then 10 and now reportedly just five. 

These massive housing developments would be outside the structure plan of local authorities so one of the key proposals of the new planning laws is replacing accountable public inquiries, with an unelected Planning Commission, stuffed with New Labour cronies on fat salaries. A cunning plan to fast-track the developments and by-pass the planning process.

This would cover massive building projects ranging from nuclear power stations, wind farms and incinerators, airports, new towns, roads and reservoirs. In fact anything that's unpopular.

Files on cabinet minister, Hazel Blears' missing laptop, "also contained information that shows cabinet members disagree over the government's proposed planning laws."

The proposals were due to be discussed by MPs in parliament two weeks ago but with the increasing chance of a defeat for Brown, quietly shelved for a rethink. 

Faced with stiff opposition from Conservatives, LibDems and back-bench Labour MPs and the reported cabinet split on the issue, it now looks as if Brown will not be able to carry even some of the New Labour faithful.

Protesters against the discredited 'eco-towns' are due to lobby MPs at Westminster at the end of the month.

And with the 'eco-town' backlash led by the New Labour luvvies of the Media Classes, living in their pretty villages, these NIMBYs give the protesters a powerful and articulate voice. 


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Let The Train Take The Strain

British Rail's old catchy slogan, 'Let The Train Take The Strain', worked and, despite years of neglect and under investment, so did the trains. A high speed rail network is a viable solution now, if only the government could wrench itself away from the powerful road and airline lobbies.  

If there is one thing that is sure to generate pride, passion and nostalgia, it's the railways.

Today we are faced with a bewildering and expensive ticket pricing structure, unfathomable to everyone except the private rail operators and a fiendishly complex financial funding arrangement, unfathomable to everyone except the private rail operators. 

We have to look across to the continent to see how to really run a rail network.

Here it looks like the Sunday non-trains will last for ever but that's to be expected. There's just not the money to be made for the train operators. They make money through commuters, weekday peak travel and business passengers.

And the present policy of simply upgrading existing tracks and trying to design faster trains to run on them is a no-brainer and a typical waste of money. Brown and New Labour would rather cosy up to their pals in the powerful airline and airports industries.

We've been taken for a ride. Splitting the track from the trains was foolish. Meanwhile the rest of Europe forges ahead with dedicated high-speed rail links. 

The launch of a dedicated high-speed Eurostar service to the continent was welcome. Until people realised that's the only high-speed rail link (HS1) we have. 

Whatever happened to HS2, London to Edinburgh and beyond and HS3, London to Glasgow and beyond? Well, now, Network Rail, has dusted off the old plans for more high-speed routes, with the long forgotten HS2, HS3 and even HS4, 5 and 6.

It would cost billions of pounds to implement but one of the few big spending projects that makes sense. Heathrow's Terminal 5 cost billions. Network Rail made an after-tax profit of £1.2 billion last year. In France, domestic air travel plummeted after the introduction of high-speed rail links.

Network Rail's proposals mean building lines dedicated for high-speed trains. The East and West coast main-lines are a priority, but others include London to South Wales, London to Cornwall and London to Birmingham. 

Taking inter-city trains off existing tracks would double the number of services between commuter stations. And there would be more room for freight trains, easing pressure on the motorways. 

This is all starting to make too much sense!

Network Rail says construction could begin towards the end of the next decade. But that's not soon enough. 

The stumbling block is funding and New Labour's dreaded 'N' word'. They can't even bring themselves to say it. 

Public funding would put spending on the public accounts balance sheet. Instead they'd rather use complex accounting tricks to give billions of pounds to the private, greedy train operators and forget about the long suffering passengers. 

The New Labour government should accept that the railways are a strategic utility. With tracks and rolling stock in public ownership, the operators still could be licensed to just manage and run an efficient service. But nothing else. 

The present arrangement is a disaster. A proper rail system would save the country from road-travel congestion and air-travel pollution.

Rail nationalisation (or pubic ownership) is probably one of the few areas which would still carry sympathy with the voters. 

There is a chance for Brown and New Labour to show they can be big, bold and imaginative and have the country's interests at heart.