How not to run a railway
The Centre of Gravity of the discontented UK rail users has now moved from south to north. The discontent in the south was based on a number of failures on the part of the operators, ranging from an inability to operate signals and points, an inability to ensure that the required number of employees were on duty, an interminably protracted dispute with the Unions as to whether or not guards were essential to passenger security, and a ticket pricing structure that had only one clear feature – steadily rising prices.
For obvious reasons, the senior management of the various railway companies blamed the Unions for everything, thus neatly sidestepping the factors causing the lengthy catalogue of failures across the sector.
The outcome of said failures was a disagreeable combination of late trains, cancelled trains, crowded trains and expensive trains, all conspiring to add to the miseries of commuting.
Other problems have included the decisions by two major franchise holders to abandon ship – sorry about the mixing of metaphors – thus leaving the hapless Mr Grayling no option other than to bring the two areas back into the public sector.
The most recent fiasco has been the introduction of new timetables which has triggered cocks up on a gargantuan scale. The most irritating feature here has been the gap between the information provided by the new time tables and what was actually happening – or not happening – on the tracks.
The late and great Mr Bradshaw must be turning in his grave at the inability of his successors to manage this simplest of tasks.
Just one other point before we move on. In the best traditions of this privatised monopoly there are no reports of any managers being required to walk the plank – another mixed metaphor – although the handing out of a few P45s to selected senior managers would undoubtedly help the situation.
In a recent (June 5) Daily Mail editorial, Paul Dacre (or one of his compliant team) fulminated about the situation:
“No end in sight to this appalling shambles… Could there be a more incompetent way to run a railroad… The list of excuses is endless. But we’ve heard them all before and they no longer wash…”
So far, so good.
Sadly, the denunciations are not followed by any suggestions about what should be done. Instead, the editorial lapses into a whining oh dear oh dear mode: “Mr Grayling needs to knock heads together and sort out this mess.”
Holdenforth can and will do better than this. We will not leave matters in this melancholy setting.
You ask – what is our policy? What remedies do we advocate?
In no special order:
- Put all the plans to bring in HS2 (High Speed 2) on hold for, say 5, years to allow time for the all-pervasive LS1 (Low Speed One) problems throughout the UK rail sector to be solved. It beggars belief that the advocates of HS 2 can still be heard clamouring for the money required to bring in HS2 – at least £56 billion at the last reckoning – to be poured into the flaky, shaky foundations of shit and quicksand that comprise the UK Rail Network in 2018.
- Carry out a ruthless cull of the band of senior managerial mediocrities now running the industry (who are, by the way, on far higher salaries, allowing for inflation, than their public sector predecessors) and replace them with competent people. Those replacements to be required to demonstrate their ability to manage signals and points and manning levels and the introduction of new time tables and ticket pricing arrangements – I could go on but you get my drift.
- HMG to accept that the UK privatized railway companies have provided an oasis of peace for the managerial refugees that would be unable to secure employment in any organisation that required its bosses to be able to perform.
I have every confidence that a few improvement along these lines – an appropriate metaphor on this occasion – would deliver a service capable of meeting the expectations of the most discerning of passengers.
A view of Brexit from Hay on Wye
The great Brexit debate simply refuses to make way for other news. On Bank Holiday Monday I attended a session at The Hay on Wye festival. The session was billed as a dialogue of sorts between Lord Adonis and Will Hutton. I had been expecting an agreeable, civilised discussion in which the pros – there are no cons – of remaining in the EU would be outlined and explained.
For a couple of reasons, the session did not turn out quite as I had anticipated.
Let’s get the easy bit out of the way. Adonis was excellent: always lucid, always plausible and mostly persuasive.
I was, however, surprised and slightly disappointed by the contribution of Will Hutton. This consisted of an interminable catalogue of raucous slogans bellowed out incoherently after the style of John Prescott.
This might have been acceptable to the converted – and a show of hands showed that over 95% of those present were committed Remainers – but it was decidedly not a speech to persuade the undecided.
I suspect that David Davis, seated prominently in the front row of the audience, was not particularly bothered by the ranting.
I have to confess that prior to attending the Adonis-Hutton show I had no clear impressions about what exactly Hutton stood for and what he had done. I vaguely recalled that he had been a journalist and that he was and is the Principal of Hertford College, Oxford.
Later I looked him up online and was surprised to read that he and his wife had built up a large property portfolio in London and the Home counties, and that he had blotted his copybook in some way in his capacity as the Director of the Work Foundation.
This belated shedding of light on Hutton put a slightly different slant on his high decibel denunciations of the super-rich.
Some of the bombast bawled in Hay by Will Hutton put me in mind of the comment of King Lear – “I will do such things – what they are I know not!”
To be fair to Hutton, he told us that he had personally visited some of the areas that had voted for Brexit and that he understood the concerns of the locals. His tone here put me in mind of the comment of Edward the Eighth when visiting the distressed areas of South Wales in the 1930s – “something must be done.”
Quite so – but what exactly?
In between the Hutton slogans, Lord Adonis spoke of his enthusiasm about the case to reduce the voting age to 16 and about the case for the House of Commons to be relocated in the North of England. All good stuff but, as Mrs May has told us, Brexit will be a fact of life by the end of March, 2019.
The Hutton manifesto is all well and good and there will be those who accept that, if implemented, all will be for the best in this best of all possible worlds.
For its part, Holdenforth urges all Remainers, including Lord Adonis and Will Hutton, to park the froth in the long grass and concentrate on the one political task of campaigning to kick Brexit into the long grass.
An effective and simple campaign to turn the Brexit engine round and get it running (on time, in the opposite direction) might just do the trick.
More Brexit News — the latest from the Soros camp
In a previous blog I warmly welcomed the emerging campaign led by George Soros to mobilise UK opinion to reverse Brexit.
Hear, hear, I wrote, well done George.
An article in The Times on May 30 quoted Soros as saying that the campaign for a second referendum would begin in the next few days, and that while “Ultimately it’s up to the British people to decide what they want to do… it would be better however if they came to a decision sooner rather than later.”
Later in the same piece reference was made to the age of George Soros – 87. Later still we were informed that “the Tory MP Jacob Rees -Mogg – aged 49 – said that he would be happy for there to be another EU referendum- just not for three decades.”
It may be that the disparity between the ages of the two men account for the preferred haste of Mr Soros and the preferred languid procrastination of the other.
As far as Holdenforth is concerned – on the need for speed we applaud the declared alacrity of Mr Soros.
There is, however, one aspect of the Soros campaign that troubles Holdenforth.
A Times article the following day, headlined ‘Soros campaign chief evokes Nazis in call for new EU vote’ noted that Lord Malloch Brown, the Soros campaign chief referred to, “said that Europe’s problems had a horrible habit of infecting us anyway.”
Holdenforth begs Soros and his team to keep things simple – we face enough problems without bringing the most turbulent and odious regime in my long lifetime into it.
And now for something completely different – The murder and rapid resurrection of Mr Arkady Babchenko
I awoke on the morning of May 31 to be told that a 41 year old Russian journalist had been shot in the back and killed in Kiev.
Boris-“quick Draw” Johnson was predictably one of the first out of the blocks – he said that “Britain was appalled by the killing.”
Well – up to a point…
The appalled British had barely digested the news of the murder when who should turn up beaming at the cameras and bursting with good health but the very same Arkady Babchenko.
The official explanation by the Ukrainian authorities was that the murder had been staged to forestall a murder attempt by who else – the Russians. The official report explained that the idea behind the spoof execution came from the confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty, at Reichenbach – both men died at the scene, Moriarty on a permanent basis, Holmes for only as long as it took to dawn on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that the Holmes mine was by no means exhausted.
There followed a brisk debate in the media. On the one side there were those who thought that the Ukrainian version was sound and that the life of a brave man committed to the goodie cause had been saved by this shrewd spoof execution.
The other side took the view that the plot, absurd from the start, had misfired and that those responsible had taken careful aim and shot themselves in their collective feet.
Holdenforth inclines to the latter explanation although we were and remain happy to note that Boris Johnson retains his well-earned reputation as the fastest cock up politician in the west.
More notes on Jacob Rees-Mogg.
There is simply no keeping JRM out of the news these days.
The main news topic is his leadership of some Brexit campaign group or other. He leads with commendable elegance and displays impressive if antiquated scholarship: his themes are the past greatness of Britain and the need for a return to the good old days when Britain led and the rest of the world followed and the right sort of chaps guided the fortunes of the nation and the world.
Holdenforth was pleased to note that JRM has just acquired a substantial residence in the Westminster area, a residence roughly equivalent to No 10 Downing street in its proximity to Parliament and in its imposing grandeur.
However, Holdenforth was slightly perplexed by the following item on May 27.
Under the headline, ‘Mogg’s Moscow Millions’ the Mail on Sunday subheader teased us with “Revealed : How the Brexiteer’s firm has poured a fortune into a string of Russian companies with links to the Kremlin, including two blacklisted by the US , but has invested next to nothing in – yes, you guessed it- Brexit Britain.”
The article, written by Neil Craven in London and Will Stewart in Moscow, reports, more in sorrow than anger, that “[Rees-Mogg’s] investment firm has a stake in a string of Russian companies with links to the Kremlin… that the hard-line Brexiteer owns almost a fifth of Somerset Capital Management… that on behalf of its clients SCM has bought shares in two Russian firms blacklisted by the US”.
There is lots more, but you get the picture. JRM, wearing his SCM hat is not averse to putting profits before principles.
I should imagine that the wealthy clients who have placed their hard-earned readies into the care of JRM and of SCM are concerned primarily with the returns on their investments and are quite relaxed about the methods employed to secure the best possible outcomes.
Whatever next for JRM as he grapples with the problem of balancing his political goals with his professional financial goals?
Will he continue in aristocratic mode, the aloof elitist? Or might he downsize to Jake Mogg, the populist and follow the example of Lord Stansgate – the toff who downsized to Anthony Wedgwood Benn and then to Tony Benn, the people’s friend.
Holdenforth will be keeping a watchful eye on the JRM phenomenon.