Earth calling Redwood…
I rarely write as a transport minister on transport issues; this is a personal political blog. However, one of my regular readers has suggested I respond to John Redwood’s piece about transport on his blog, and for once, I’m more than willing to do so.
John is an obviously intelligent bloke who has a reputation for bringing an expert level of detailed analysis to his subjects, particularly the economy. But I detect an element of emperor’s new clothes in most of his writing, and his post on Ruth Kelly is a perfect example.
John, remember, is probably the only Tory MP who still thinks Railtrack was a good idea! As we all know, it was, in fact, an unmitigated disaster for the railway network and for the country. And John Redwood was a member of the government which created it.
Well, that last sentence is true: Redwood was indeed a member of that Tory government. But does he really think that Railtrack was a good idea? Well, not according to Hansard, the minutes of the relevant discussion appeared on Redwood's blog. [Emphasis mine.]
As someone who was involved in the decision for railway privatisation but who did not recommend the scheme that was chosen, I have no need to defend that scheme. The decision to introduce some element of private capital and some element of competitive choice and challenge did enough to transform the railways. We need turn no further than to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who has praised the way in which the privatised railway post-1993 moved from retreat and decline to an era of growth and development.
So, unless John Redwood was lying to the House—as near a serious crime as you can get amongst the
This is Truth Control to Major Tom...
So, what did Redwood favour instead?
My problem with the structure that we chose and with the Governments structure is that I think we left too big a monopoly element in the track. The evil is monopoly??it is not public ownership so much as monopoly. As all the economic textbooks rightly tell us, monopoly does in the customer. It always charges too much and delivers too little. It always looks after the interests of the owners and the senior managers. It does not look after the interests of the customers or even of the more junior employees, who do most of the work. So it is a nasty system, and even public ownership does not tame monopoly sufficiently to get rid its evil consequences.
At the time, I favoured splitting the railway into regional rail companies, which would allow competitive challenge over time, because they would have to re-bid for franchises; so it was not a perpetual monopoly for them. At the same time, it would allow others to come in and build new track or suggest new services, so that there was some element of contestability where the tracks could, in certain circumstances, be used as a common carrier and would not necessarily remain the monopoly preserve of the regional company. The basic structure was to go back to regional companies.
OK. Well, never mind: we all know that politicians can rarely be bothered actually to attend debates in the House—presumably they are too busy fucking rent-boys or spending our money in John Lewis or something—so maybe it's just the case that Tom Harris missed this debate?
But the above speech by Redwood does seem to be in response to someone's question. Perhaps we had better see who it was who intervened...
John Redwood: ... We seem to have some agreement that privatisation kicked off something that was rather good.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom Harris): In spite of myself, I am enjoying the right hon. Gentleman's contribution. It is good to know that we do not have to wait for the publication of his memoirs to see that he disagreed with his Cabinet colleagues on the nature of the privatisation of the railways in 1993.
Well, who'da thunk it? Major Tom was not only there during the debate, but he actually took part in it!
So, let us apply the Polly conundrum: Tom Harris has told a porkie—is he pig-ignorant or is he a lying little shit? Well, he was in the House and took part in the debate when Redwood pointed out that he was not in favour of the adopted Tory model of privatisation, i.e. Railtrack, and so it cannot be the case that Tom Harris is pig-ignorant.
So, lying little shit it is then. Unless, of course, Major Tom suffers from selective amnesia in which case I don't think that he should be a member of government. Although, of course, if many of the NuLabour lot were suffering from said amnesia, it might provide a more charitable excuse than the general accepted theory that they are simply a bunch of lying, incompetent, totalitarian bastards.
This is Truth Control to Major Tom...