Wednesday, July 01, 2009

On The Right Track

A glimmer of hope is on the horizon for the country's costly railways shambles with the government stepping in to take over the troubled East Coast main line franchise. With jobs on the line, discredited rail privatisation in chaos and the country in the grips of economic recession depression, a little bit of nationalisation is a welcome relief.

With paper franchise holder National Express facing losses around £20m in the first half of the year, the East Coast main line has been offered a life-line from an unlikely socialist savour in the shape of transport secretary, Andrew Adonis, one of Blair's 357 political peers.

Casting MPs and parliament aside, unelected and unaccountable Adonis banged the drum for nationalisation, popping up bold as brass on BBC R4 to tell listeners the government is to take it into public ownership for "about a year" because he was not prepared to bail out the struggling rail operator.
Time and again the government has said it won't bail out rail franchises during the recession but rejected nationalisation. That always begged the question: what if a rail franchise came to breaking point?

National Express agreed to pay the government £1.4 billion to run the East Coast main line after it won the franchise from GNER. All part of a very dodgy banking deal, laid bare by the BBC's Robert Peston.

Since then cuts have been made in shareholder dividend and pay-outs, while 750 jobs have been lost.

Only recently the firm started to mug passengers with a new profiteering con to charge 'customers' £5 to reserve a seat, on top of the already astronomical fares.

National Express, Virgin Trains and their fellow train operating monopoly conspirators have plumbed the depths in their quest to wring every last penny from rail travellers.

But the government dismissed rail nationalisation, harking back to the bad old days of BR and a "joke" railway which became a laughing stock.

Tell that to passengers crammed for hours on a train that reeks of urinals, forced on to replacement buses during a never ending round of maintenance, with meaningless reliability targets using every trick in the book to fiddle the figures.

Of course the railways have to be "modernised" since BR was scrapped. But that shouldn't mean immoral reductions in quality and reliability in return for sky-high fares and a whopping taxpayer subsidy.

So why stop at the East Coast main line? Beardie Branson is making a fat personal profit from his unique guarantee against competition on the West Coast main line. Why should one railway be propped up by taxpayers and another allowed to milk passengers for profit and Beardie live in the lap of luxury?

The Orange Party has long been a supporter of public ownership for strategic public services. Setting up not-for-profit companies can work for the railways. As long as a government which couldn't run a whelk stall isn't in the driving cab.

A long-term solution to the chaos of discredited rail privatisation is staring the government in the face, not least for the future of the country's railways and lucrative franchises.

Time and again rail nationalisation comes up as an issue which would get public support. The Post Office and Royal Mail too could be transformed into not-for-profit companies. Investing in the future with public ownership would lift the spirits of economic recession depression.

Top picture: The Flying Scotsman BR publicity poster, 1962


It's Still All In Dodgy ID Database

ID cards have bitten the dust in a whisper of lies, as the government clears the decks of controversy on the sinking ship. But only the compulsory plastic goes on the scrap heap. The sinister database, which lies at its heart, is sneaking in through the backdoor.

Determined the poisoned chalice of the home office won't be his graveyard, new home secretary, Alan Johnson, slipped in the scrapping of the compulsory ID card almost as an afterthought.

At a stroke, the government's hugely expensive and highly controversial scheme now joins the doomed Royal Mail sell-off and Trident left in limbo, as the fag-end government throws policies on the back burner in the run up to the election to take off the heat.

A welcome retreat but only half a U-turn here for the man who would be leader of Mandy's Party. The sinister database behind the scheme is left unscathed with moves to use passports to push in the scheme through the backdoor.

Johnson has left himself wide open to attack from Tories, LibDems and civil liberties groups with the most costly and controversial part of the scheme, the national identity database, alive and kicking civil liberties where it hurts most.

The big issue with ID cards was never about the cards themselves, it was the issue of compulsion and the massive database lurking in the background snooping around.

A database which has become a disturbing feature of the Big Brother state and the unrelenting quest for control over the individual.

Plans to make the cards compulsory have been dropped. Plans to foist the cards on airside workers and some pilots have been scrapped in the face of threatened industrial action.

The lame excuse that the cards would be a powerful weapon in the fight against terrorism? Forget it - that was a "mistake" anyway, blurted out a beaming Johnson.

But it's business as usual for the £5 billion project. Now entirely voluntary and a complete waste of taxpayers cash.

The Tories say they will kill off the cards and delete the database.

For all Johnson's politicking trying to win over support, he’s offered nothing to grass roots members who hate his guts as a Blair prop.

But what he has offered on a plate is a big stick for the Tories to beat the boys from the New Labour brand and renewed vigour for campaigners fighting for an end to the disgrace of the database.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

'Shrinking' Violet In Gordon's Rosy Garden

Government spin on the end of the slump has been slapped around the chops with a wet Wall Street weekly, as financial wire-service Bloomberg spells out the horrific state of the economy for all the world to see. For the first time in half a century UK output shrank by a scary 2.4%, according to official figures. Everything in Gordon's garden may be coming up roses but in the real world it stinks.

Today's grim figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) paints an horrific picture of Gordon's garden. The decline in output was more severe than earlier estimates of a 1.9% fall and worse than the Brown sauce from the spinning ship, with construction and manufacturing taking the big hit.

As Bloomberg points out, the quarterly drop was the biggest since the year Michael Jackson was born.

And the biggest since Tory prime minister Harold Macmillan rallied the Party to the call: “most of our people have never had it so good.”

And that was at a time when the post-war economy was in and out of recession, ending in a 2.6 percent slump in the second quarter of 1958.

Translated into English and the real world that means more jobs are on the line. Another nail in the coffin of crap and more bad news for consumers ahead. With no real cash in the kitty there's not a cat in hell's chance of a real kick-start. The country's triple-A credit rating looks decidedly dodgy.

There are choices out there for a rocky road of recovery. Those tough choices should be made now. The country cannot afford to wait around in New Labour la-la land until after an election. The public can take a Tory line, a LibDem line or the government's fishy line.

Today's stark figures come hard on the heels of the other grim warning from leading economic think tank, OECD, that the country is in a miserable mess. With the biggest budget deficit in the world, a severe recession to come and dire times ahead, the UK is predicted to sink further into the red than any other major developed country next year.

And still in the land of grim, Bank of England boss, Mervyn King, called for tough action to tackle the "truly extraordinary" deficit. Firing off a broadside, useless Darling was urged to get a grip on his huge deficit and the debt-ridden borrowing binge.

All in stark contrast to bouncy Brown and deluded Darling’s heady optimism. Only last year the Laurel and Hardy pair told the public the economy would be on its uppers by this July. But that was a political recovery not a real one. Trying to hide the fine mess they'd got the country into, a gullible public was expected to fall for it hook, line and stinker.

Buried in the report is the revelation that the economic recession depression began much earlier.

The ONS now says the recession began during the second quarter of 2008 rather than during July to September. So the recession has been running for a whole year.

So why did we have to wait until January before it was officially confirmed? Why did the government and Brown's BBC string the public along for so long with a cute little downturn? Why was it only at the stroke of midnight the beloved 'downturn' turned into a pumpkin and the nightmare of recession depression?

Sprinkle financial fairy dust and ministers didn't have to get off their backsides and do something about it. They could play politics, dupe the public, burying their heads in the sand, live in cloud cuckoo land, pretend it hasn't happened and pray it will blow away.

A bit of planning not petty politics wouldn't have gone amiss. The patient is poorly, cry some politicians and dry-eyed economists. But it's worse than that, he's dead Jim.

A dose of mother's ruin is all that's on offer. Borrow billions and leave a mountain of debt.

Will this discredited government of lies and deceit ever wake up and realise it's not just the ONS, the OECD, the governor of the Bank of England, Saint Vince, uncle Tom Cobley and all who can see see through the smoke and mirrors accounting and the heady mix of lies, deceit and dishonesty over the economy?

Probably not, so it's back to the bad old ways trying to fool some of the people some of the time until bunkered Brown has the guts to call an election.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Mandy Manifesto With Dollop Of Brown Sauce

Another day and another relaunch from the crazy world of Gordon Brown and the boys from the New Labour Brand. The public does not want another born again Brown relaunch, it wants a general election. Until that happens, all the political posturing is pointless. Hollow promises and hidden cuts are like water off a duck's back.

The joke dish of the day is the mouth-watering document 'Building Britain's Future' - or 'Building Brown's Future' which has the paw prints of Mandy, aka PM, all over it. A pie-in-the-sky election manifesto served up with a dollop of Brown sauce.

Setting the country on yesterday's road to a new tomorrow, the blueprint for a sharp exit sees the struggling Supreme Leader trying to find a few crumbs of comfort for his legacy and shore up his position ahead of what could be September's leaving party.

But Zombie Brown and the Prince of Darkness can churn out all the eye-catching initiatives they want and dress them up in faded, jaded pink ribbon jargon. In the end it's a coda from the Living Dead.

As the Orange Party has pointed out so many times, the problem for Brown is that he's stuck in the past and the problem for the Labour Party is that they're stuck with him.

So bleary-eyed voters are sent to sleep with another big relaunch and another dishonest damp squib. Today's initiatives tell more about years of failed policies than the shock and awe of an election manifesto to set the country alight.

Trying to breath some life into a corpse, it's a sad admission of 12 years of failure in key public policy areas of health, housing and education and an indictment of a discredited target culture at the root of many of the ills.

Stand by for some shockers. After over a decade in power, the government is now promising a 14 day turnaround to see a cancer specialist which should happen anyway to nip it in the bud. After years of suffering an education fiasco, parents will now get help for kids over basic numeracy and literacy skills which should be a basic cornerstone of any education policy.

And local residents are promised housing priority in a 'British homes for British residents' ploy to try to win over core voters coupled with building more 'social' homes, when everyone regardless of citizenship or residency should be entitled to a roof over their head.

The measures are so basic the public can be forgiven for thinking they should be happening anyway. And just how will the government pay for it all?

Add to that silly mix a stark admission that years of a target-based culture has been a dismal failure and at best this is a damn disgrace.

After years of fannying around, the NHS mainstay of centrally-imposed targets is being ditched. A sure sign the target culture which has been defended so robustly and suffocated the country for years was just a deceitful device used as a ministerial cop-out.

Just what has the government been doing with all the cash for all these years?

The public can see through the sham. The country is being saddled with a mountain of debt for generations to come. Something has got to give. Come clean and tell it straight and voters will be eternally grateful.

Instead it's a game of cat and mouse and more smoke and mirrors accounting from a fag-end government which can't bring itself to own up to its past incompetence and monumental mistakes.

And to cap it all Mandelson has finally admitted there'll be no Whitehall comprehensive spending review this side of the election so no one knows what the hell they're doing, voters will be kept in the dark over spending costs and Brown can pile on the lies. What a mess. All dubbed by Cameron as "a relaunch without a spending tag".

Cameron is chipping away at the lies, deceit and dishonesty and every blow is a further nail in the coffin for beleaguered Brown. The latest wheeze revolves around the revolving door of spending money earmarked for the future that the country won't have anyway. Bring it forward, bring it on and hey presto an 'investment' miracle.

Years of power have bred a culture of smug arrogance.

If only the government would own up to the economic mess and pile of debt. Then there would be a stark choice over what to cut and what to keep and more importantly who do you trust most to keep their word.

Those choices depend on a political point of view and make for a healthy political debate which voters would buy into. They pays their money and makes their choice. if only they were given the choice and the chance.

In the dying weeks and months of the government, nothing today will see the light of day before that election. There are no Big Issues like Trident or the vexed Royal Mail sell-off plan. Scaredy-pants. It should be treated with the contempt it deserves - just election propaganda bullshit, selling the electorate short.

The public deserves better. The empty posturing will only end when voters are finally allowed to have their say.

General election dividing lines are being formed. That will probably boil down to who voters trust rather than old tribal loyalties. Honesty versus lies, trust versus deceit. Today a heady mix of fudge, fakery and failure has been thrown into the mix.

Mid picture: Gerald Scarfe, Sunday Times