The Curmudgeon


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Highwayman Came Riding, Riding, Riding

Market forces can be handy little things. Ever since a seven-year interregnum privatised the railways as a gesture of pre-emptive retaliation against New Labour for winning the 1997 election, there have been difficulties with the public transport system. For much of the time, the difficulties have been the sort that don't count; namely the ones that affect only those unlucky enough to be travellers on public transport. More recently, thanks to the collapse of one or two companies and the philanthropy of the Government, there have been difficulties of the almost equally insignificant sort which affect only those poor and powerless enough to settle their debts by necessity rather than personal choice. When the economy was bubbling, this did not matter so much, as the Government merrily signed contracts with railway companies which obliged the latter to accept taxpayers' money in return for hiking fares and committing occasional acts of criminal negligence and corporate manslaughter. Market forces can be handy little things.

Now, however, the bubble has burst and there is an economic recession, with a concomitant rise in the number of scroungers, benefit thieves and asylum seekers who refuse to take time off from basking in the ill-gotten paradise that is life on Jobseekers' Allowance in order to help prop up the profits of railway companies. Stagecoach, a rail company named for a famously rapid, comfortable, safe and efficient means of nearly modern transport, has reported a pre-tax profit of just under two hundred million pounds in the first four months of this year, which constitutes a twelve and a half per cent increase. The Department of Delays, Cancellations and Discomfort has responded to this dire situation by throwing more taxpayers' money at the railway companies in order to help the railway companies meet their commitments under the contracts which the Government agreed with the railway companies on the taxpayers' behalf.

Market forces can be handy little things; but Brian Souter, the chief executive of Stagecoach, is very annoyed about all this and has even gone so far as to suggest that there may be some doubt as to whether a New New Labour ministry is altogether to be trusted. Souter accuses the Government of failing to meet its obligations, and seems to have a very odd prejudice against the hundred-and-eighty-degree policy switches which were the hallmark of joined-up government under New Labour and remain the hallmark of strong and decisive government under New New Labour. However, he does not intend to cancel the contract, "whatever happens"; presumably because he believes the Daveybloke administration will show him a bit more consideration. Market forces can be handy little things.


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