Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A New Platform for Co-operative Ownership

At last weekends Co-op Party conference there was much discussion about Jeremy Corbyns first week as labour leader. The Co-op party historically has been firmly on the moderate wing of the Labour Party loyally supporting whoever is the leader. There is no doubt however that Corbynism in terms at least of opening up Labours policy process to new thinking has been warmly received by co-operators.

One example of that new thinking that was welcomed at conference was his advocacy of a Peoples Railway. As far back as 2011 Co-operatives UK published a pamphlet by the recent London Mayoral candidate and all round railway buff Christian Wolmar advocating co-operative ownership for Britain’s railways.

The model is what is called in co-op circles multi-stakeholder meaning that unlike a consumer or a worker co-op there are different groups represented in the ownership structure. In the case of the railways the key stakeholders are the government – representing the national interest in such a crucial piece of infrastructure, railway workers, who keep it moving and provide the essential service and the rail users those who depend on and contribute to the service through their fares and season tickets.

It would be superfluous to argue yet again how the present system is confusing, over complicated and creates unnecessary competition between providers, thereby driving up costs and fares to extortionate levels. The question is how we change it and that is clearly the stage that  the Jeremy Corbyn proposals have now rreached.

The scope for a people’s railway is huge for example the Welsh Government are seriously discussing how to bid for the Wales and Borders franchise to turn it into a not for profit business integrated into a regulated national Welsh bus service thereby providing an effective Wales wide public transport system. 

A proposal for Rail Cymru, supported by Aslef, the Co-op party and the Socialist Environment Association written by Professor Paul Salverson was published in 2012. The irony is of course that the current Wales and the Borders franchise run by Arriva trains is owned by the Deutsches Bundesbahn which in turn is owned by the Federal Republic of Germany. So the take over of this franchise by a not for profit co-op would be a form of privatisation!

This is the Alice in Wonderland world of rail franchising the so called radical Scottish Nats  gave the Scot Rail franchise to Abellio or Nederlandse Spoorwegen the Dutch national rail company! So clearly they are not against nationalisation as long is its not our nation doing the nationalising!

One of the exciting things about a co-operative model is the potential for very local micro-franchises working with Passenger Transport Authorities and local rail partnerships to create new services.   This model would immediately stop the £200million of public subsidy leaking out of the railways in profits for shareholders.

Some estimates are that over a quarter of the total £4billion in public subsidy are the “fragmentation” costs the transfer payments and duplication costs between the train operating companies, the rolling stock companies and network rail.

There are also huge knock on benefits in public procurement and line improvements by having a more unified approach. More rational planning in electrification programs and rolling stick procurement could bring substantial cost savings. No wonder bringing the railways back into public ownership has over 60% popular support a figure that has increasing over time.

Furthermore the example of the London North eastern franchise shows that they can be bought back into public ownership at almost no cost. The Tory commitment to a privatised railway is a triumph of ideology over common sense.

Anyone who thinks these ideas are extreme needs to get out more. Christian Wolmars original ideas where endorsed by the hardly left Andrew, now Lord, Adonis. There is no doubt in my mind that the original Herbert Morrison model of public ownership did not give the public or the workers in the state industries any meaningful say in their operations making privatisation that much easier.

The Tory critics to Jeremy Corbyn’s peoples railway idea are in fact right it is indeed ideological and it will certainly be a joy to ride! . 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Patriotic Karaoke

As a secular republican I have deep sympathy for Jeremy Corbyn’s position at the recent service for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. What the furore about his not singing along to our so called ‘National Anthem’ shows is the deeply undemocratic nature of our country.

It reminded me of my school days when once during assembly the Head stopped the hymn singing because we where demonstrating a complete lack of gusto. He said if we did not make a greater effort he would have us back after school, “and we would enjoy it.”

Even as I child I was able to work out that forcing someone to enjoy something was not an easy task. Setting aside the sound of the right wing press, whose owners’ patriotism does not extend to being British for tax purposes, baying for craven support for our monarch what is going on here?

Is the edifice of the British state so fragile that not singing the praises of Her Majesty is enough to bring it down? No wonder the nationalisms of Scotland and Wales are so powerful they have much better songs. As do many other nations as we will find at the Rugby World Cup!

We have this dreadful uninspiring dirge. It was not an uninspiring dirge when it was first song. Like much of the British constitutional settlement it was not adopted by Royal Proclamation or my Act of Parliament but by custom and practice.

It became popular on the London stage in about 1744-45 and was taken up as a response to the landing of Charles Edward Stuart, (Bonny Prince Charlie – as Billy Connolly points out the only leader to be named after three sheep dogs).
The first performance was in support of George II after his defeat at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745. The anti-Jacobite nature of the song was shown in a verse expressing support for Field Marshall George Wade who was then assembling an army at Newcastle:
Lord, grant that Marshal Wade,
May by thy mighty aid,
Victory bring.
May he sedition hush,
and like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush,
God save the King.

No wonder the modern Scots prefer, ‘Scotland the Brave’ or ‘Flower of Scotland’.  My dictionary says that a National Anthem is a “nation’s patriotic song”. This song then is not a song of our nation, there is nothing in it about the place or its people, and its only role is to put a dampener on national sporting and other events by reminding us of our embarrassing Imperial legacy.

On a more sinister level however it is part of the pseudo democratic rituals of our institutions.  Like for example the oath of allegiance that every MP has to make before they can take their parliamentary seat.

Is this allegiance to uphold the law or to the people who elected them. No it says "I...do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors according to law".

How can this make any sense it is either a piece of theatrical nonsense or it is a way of subverting the rights of the citizen. Allegiance is being pledged to the yet unborn - to Royal sperm!

Then comes all the nonsense about being Her Majesty’s Government and Opposition topped off with the ruritanian Privy Council which originated from the French prive meaning the private advisors to the Monarch, not as my Dad once told me because they met in the outside toilet.

This is a gloriously ambiguous situation appointed by the Prime Minister under the fiction of loyalty to whoever the monarch happens to be. This is the pinnacle of the secret state. The Privy Council Oath was not revealed until 1989 following a written parliamentary question:

You do swear by Almighty God to be a true and faithful Servant unto the Queen's Majesty, as one of Her Majesty's Privy Council. You will not know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done, or spoken against Her Majesty's Person, Honour, Crown, or Dignity Royal, but you will lett and withstand the same to the uttermost of your Power, and either cause it to be revealed to Her Majesty Herself, or to such of Her Privy Council as shall advertise Her Majesty of the same. You will, in all things to be moved, treated, and debated in Council, faithfully and truly declare your Mind and Opinion, according to your Heart and Conscience; and will keep secret all Matters committed and revealed unto you, or that shall be treated of secretly in Council. And if any of the said Treaties or Counsels shall touch any of the Counsellors, you will not reveal it unto him, but will keep the same until such time as, by the Consent of Her Majesty, or of the Council, Publication shall be made thereof. You will to your uttermost bear Faith and Allegiance unto the Queen's Majesty; and will assist and defend all Jurisdictions, Pre-eminences, and Authorities, granted to Her Majesty, and annexed to the Crown by Acts of Parliament, or otherwise, against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States, or Potentates. And generally in all things you will do as a faithful and true Servant ought to do to Her Majesty. So help you God.”

Does this matter?  Well yes in one direct way Orders-in-Council take the form of secondary legislation and are used to make government regulations and appointments. And secondly in an indirect way this is the very centre of our state stuffed with appointees and serving a monarch. Yet we continue to pretend to live in a democracy.

Jeremy Corbyns crusade to democratise the Labour Party is the beginning of a wider crusade that is to finally democratise our country!