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Socialism, the Rail Network, Stephen Byers, Jo Moore and Labour Spin
British Rail was privatised under the last Conservative government, by being split up into one company which would own and operate the fixed rail network and a number of companies who were granted franchises, for a term of years, to operate train services over the fixed rail network. Whether this method of taking the rail system out of public ownership was the best that could have been designed is open to debate, but what is clear is that for decades there had been under-investment in the rail network and since privatisation the level of investment in it has been vastly more than would have been the case had it remained in public ownership.
As was shown in the case of a number of other industries which were privatised before British Rail (telephony, gas, electricity and oil), the liberation from the constraints of Party political interference and of Treasury funding limitations, allowed them to adapt themselves to changing conditions and provide better, cheaper services for more people. Even the recent traumas suffered by British Telecom, as a result of unwise investment decisions and an unwillingness to adapt to the end of its legal monopoly position, do not detract from the fact that telecoms as a whole in this country is a vastly more vital and forward-looking segment of the economy than in the days of the old state-controlled monopoly of the GPO and pre-privatisation British Telecom.
But of course, Mr Stephen Byers still believes (I think) that the only and the best way to run a national economy is for all major segments of it to be under direct state control; this is of course the dogma that refuses to look objectively at the current state of the NHS and the most effective remedies for what ails it.
I am no admirer of Labour ('new' or 'old'), but in ten minutes last Friday week during his meeting with John Robinson (Chairman of Railtrack), Stephen Byers managed to destroy much of the goodwill Labour has so painstakingly built up with Britain's wealth creators in the past ten years. (Note: I am happy to acknowledge that I have used, with only minor modification, some of the text used by the City Editor of the Sunday Telegraph in an article on 14 October in writing this paragraph, because it expresses so clearly my own views.)
Unbelievably, this crass neo-socialist attempted state theft was knocked, to a limited extent, off the top news spot by the revelation that less than an hour after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on 11th September, Jo Moore (Byers' so-called Special Advisor) was writing in an e-mail that this was a good opportunity to 'bury' bad news and ended her message with 'councillors allowances?' - next day of course, a Press Release on the subject was duly issued.
During the days that followed Byers' announcement, it was increasingly brought home to him the extent of his blunder (although he still seems to want to remain in self-denial); there are just too many ordinary Railtrack employees, and ordinary employees elsewhere, who have sunk all or a significant proportion of their savings into Railtrack for the socialist mantra that "they've got what they deserve" to have much credibility; they are by no definition 'fat cats'. It seems that 'profit' remains a dirty word amongst at least two members of this government (Stephen Byers and our illustrious deputy-PM, Mr John Prescott), although how they think they are going to persuade any private investor to put money into any government over-regulated industry in future is something only they can answer.
Stephen Byers apparently pleaded with Tony Blair not to insist that Jo Moore be sacked immediately; it will be interesting to see how long she lasts in her present position. I suspect that by their actions over Railtrack and the revelation of the shallowness of Labour thinking revealed by the Jo Moore incident, they have done long-term and permanent damage to their credibility, even amongst people who would normally give them support. A sad week indeed.
Where is the Conservative Party Heading?
In a speech closing the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool on 10th October, the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, Leader of the Opposition, said in part:
We know that women, ethnic minorities and people of different life-styles must have greater opportunity within our Party. And I shall do everything I can to give this effect. Not because I am interested in ensuring that the Conservative Party is politically correct, but because I want us to be politically effective. That means drawing on the widest possible pool of talent, recruiting and promoting on the basis of merit.
And that is also why I will be intolerant of anyone who is intolerant of others.
For me the essence of a Conservative is something beyond such talk of quotas and categories.
At the heart of my Conservatism is a desire - one which is consuming, and unending - to serve the nation as a whole. To serve by defending our institutions and upholding our traditions. To serve by extending the benefits of a free and prosperous life to every corner of the land. To serve, above all, by making Britain a place where all our citizens feel proud to belong, a place we love, and one which we want our children and our grand-children to love, as passionately as we do.
Today, this country is engaged in a ferocious conflict, a struggle for Civilisation itself. We should remember why we are fighting, what we believe, and who we are.
This part of his speech indicates, perhaps, that Mr Duncan Smith is genuinely aware of the need to change the Party by eliminating or changing radically some of the discriminatory policies and attitudes which seem to exist amongst far too many Conservatives. His remarks are, however, highly 'coded'. For example his use of the phrase 'different life-styles' was, I think, designed not to frighten some of the more 'traditional' elements within the Party - frankly, such people need to be startled, if not frightened, and the namby-pamby euphemisms need to be dumped - he needs to say clearly something on the lines of "... people of different life-styles, for example gays and lesbians, ....". If this had provoked a walk-out by some of those present, then so be it - the Party would begin to realise that it HAS to make a choice, if it is to return to power one day. His other allusion, which I found interesting, was when he said "And I shall do everything I can to give this effect" - Michael Portillo was seen off because he seemed to be espousing views which many find unacceptable, and Iain Duncan Smith wishes to avoid a similar backlash. I can understand this sentiment, but a clash cannot be avoided forever - a choice will have to be made if the Party is to attract people like me back.
On a more hopeful, and less delphic, note John Bercow (Shadow Treasury Chief Secretary), in a speech to a conference fringe meeting organised by TORCHE ('The Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality') said, in part:
Tories Could Produce Gay PM
Bercow: "The Conservative Party is at its best when it is willing to embrace change as an ally, not to reject change as a threat. Who dare say as a party that we will not produce our first gay prime minister? I would not fight it and I would not bet against it."
He continued: "We must end once and for all, if we are serious about our politics, the cold war between the Conservative Party and the gay and lesbian community."
He said: "In the last Parliament we were widely and justifiably denounced as shrill, homophobic and eerily detached from the reality of the lives of many of our fellow citizens. In this Parliament nothing we say should serve to reinforce that negative image.
"It`s hard to see how such discrimination can be justified. In practice it`s easy to see how insulting and hurtful such an experience must be for the bereaved partner."
The shadow Treasury chief secretary said that he was delighted that Iain Duncan Smith had ordered a review of the partys policy on Section 28.
Bercow admitted that he had been wrong to vote against lowering the age of consent and accepted that other EU countries had equalised legislation without negative consequences.
He added that he did not advocate gay marriage. Instead he called on the party to show more respect for alternative lifestyles, echoing a phrase used by Duncan Smith in the party leaders main address.
Bercow said that he is not gay, and praised contributions that gay men and lesbians have made to British life.
A steady hand will be needed over the coming months to ensure that the Party is forced to state clearly what it wants to do - it will be too tempting to believe 'fudges', only to realise later that is ALL they were.
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