The quality of British journalism is falling. It is partly the fault of the BBC. Well, mostly. As media converge onto an internet-based standard, the BBC’s guaranteed method of funding, based on a threat of jail for anyone who refuses to pay for it, is forcing traditional news organisations that have to make a profit to survive to cut costs to be able to compete. As a consequence, standards of journalism will fall as the overall size of the profession shrinks.
The BBC does not help by posting articles that are blatant socialist propaganda. But then socialist propaganda is clearly the norm at the BBC.
The latest piece of pseudo-news is a report on a TUC study into Britain’s rail services. The comrades are having a moan because rail companies are being successful, making profits and paying dividends to investors – the people who are being rewarded for risking their capital.
You can view it here.
What is curious about this report is that there is no hyperlink to the actual TUC study it is referring to. Either shoddy or biased journalism is to blame. Or perhaps both. Had there been, the casual browser would have realised that there is almost nothing to the BBC’s overhyped news item. It is a simple parroting of a single web page on the TUC site. Typical reports competently prepared run into a number of pages, are usually a PDF document and also show their working. The ‘news’ behind the BBC’s news item has none of these, because the TUC ‘study’ is a single table on a single web page with no link to the research methods. It does not take much to impress someone at the BBC. Welcome to 21st century journalism.
Consider the source. The TUC is not unbiased. Unions are set up to act in the best interests of their members, and that’s it. They do not, and never have, acted in the best interests of governments, political parties, businesses, managers, or indeed a businesses’ customers, the public, however much they try to deceive the public that they do.
The TUC complains about rail fares outstripping wages. This is normal. Rail fares have never had anything to do with wages. It is a straw-man argument. Rail fares are related to inflation. Wages generally have only recently been outstripping inflation. In the state sector, wages have been frozen, and quite rightly so. The TUC’s comparison is bogus at best, dishonest at worst. Some of the fare rises are due to the wages that have to be paid to train and station staff. A wage freeze on the railways would mean lower fares. Curiously, the TUC do not seem to want to call for this.
The comrades object to the rise in dividends made by the train companies. The rise in dividends may be attributed to a rise in revenue. There is a boom in railway travel. There would presumably be a proportionate rise in profits and thus in dividends. These are the symptoms of a successful industry. The TUC objects to a business being successful, because of their perverse belief that profit is a form of theft. They would rather a business made losses or was state-owned, in which case these constant losses would be guaranteed and picked up by the taxpayer. Curiously no economy based on the criminalisation of profit has ever been successful. The People’s Republic of China experiences massive growth because its ruling Communist Party has legalised profit-making. Beforehand, it was an economic basket-case. Not that the TUC has noticed.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Rail passengers are paying more and getting even less. Fares go up while trains remain overcrowded, stations are unstaffed, and rail companies cut the guards who ensure journeys run smoothly and safely.”
Trains are overcrowded because of the rise in passengers due to a successful business model. But then socialists always hate successful businesses as this validates capitalism. Perhaps the brothers can quote a product or service run on socialist principles that has successfully matched supply with demand based on central planning.
It does not help that there is a strike in the Southern region, causing a curtailment of services. The unions object to unstaffed stations purely because it means there are fewer union members which means less union clout. That is all they are interested in. Unions never ever complain about overstaffing.
The cutting of guards, which is the cause of the industrial dispute, has nothing to do with this TUC analysis. It is a red herring inserted by the TUC in this news item. If anything, the unions should be pleased at the cutting of guards. The guards have a legal duty of care which if failed leads to prosecution and imprisonment. Because they have been highly-trained, guards have a greater responsibility than their employers over passenger safety. A guard in Liverpool let a train move off while a drunken passenger was leaning on it. She died under the train’s wheels. The guard went to jail. The railway company was not prosecuted. It had provided a highly-trained member of staff who had been derelict.
The TUC propaganda goes on:
“Enough is enough. It’s time for rail services to be publicly owned, saving money for passengers and taxpayers alike. Instead of increasing fares and cutting staff, we should be building an accessible, reliable train service that Britain can be proud of.”
There is no evidence that a publicly-owned railway would save money, unless taxes rose to subsidise services. The rail companies are able to raise finance on the market at no cost to the taxpayer. Instead investors risk their capital in expectation of a return. Under state ownership, all taxpayers, irrespective of whether they use the service, have to pay, over and above the state subsidies that currently exist.
There is no evidence that state ownership would reduce rail fares. There is also no evidence of a starvation of resources for railway services. There has been massive investment in rail services. Reading station has been completely transformed. There has been electrification of the East Coast Main Line. We have the Elizabeth Line, built at a cost of £15 billion, the biggest civil engineering project in Europe. The Docklands Light Railway has been extended, as has the Jubilee Line. Of course these are all on the South East, but, hey, that’s the region that generates wealth. There are plans for a trans-Pennine railway plus also HS2. We also have the massive investment in Channel Tunnel railways, services that were disrupted recently when the unions went on strike.
The rail fares are the highest in Europe because rail users pay directly for the services instead of the taxpayer. I travel by rail perhaps two or three times a year. Why should I keep paying for a commercial service I do not use at any other time? Excuse me if I do not have a ‘socialist consciousness’ about paying for someone else to travel by train on the cheap.
In addition to all this, does anyone else remember what the railways were like in the 1970s and 1980s under state control? Dingy stations, dirty and old rolling stock, surly staff and incessant rail strikes. And the trains were still crowded under state ownership. Plus ça change.
I still remember buying a ticket from an unkempt member of staff who had a portable television he was watching while he served me. Today he would be sacked. In those days, the constant threat of a union walkout meant the staff saw the public as a necessary inconvenience to their work. Today we are customers, front and centre. Remember that in London, a strike was called to defend a train operator who was drunk on duty. That is a true indicator of how much the unions actually care about passengers.
The railways have been modernised in this country because of private capital, not despite it. A nationalised service financed by taxation would not have done as much as political issues would have interfered. Governments could have faced a choice between the railways and the NHS. In a privatised service, that does not apply. Rail companies have no interest in kidney machines or sex-change operations.
All this may not be of comfort to someone standing on an overcrowded train commuting from Brighton to London and paying a large sum of money for this privilege, but the unions curiously seem to ignore their own restrictive practices that prevent growth in services and also the whopping amounts of pay they extort from the service, at the expense of the passengers they pretend to defend…but then they would. They are only ever interested in their members. Every pronouncement they make has to be viewed through that filter.
The core problem in discussing the rail services is that no one will ever be satisfied with the service. Everyone complains. But this is because a service that has so many obligations to so many interest groups will never satisfy all of them at the same time, least of all the unions, whose raison d’être is to extract maximum benefit for their members from the businesses they work in, to the point that those businesses become uncompetitive. Since the railways have no direct competitors, there is no limit to the extraction. Not that the unions will ever be honest about this.
The unions will only ever stop moaning when there is a socialist one-party republic in this country. They should be ignored. Why should anyone take a group of people who can and do inconvenience the public on a whim seriously? They should be banned from striking and have to combine in non-political staff associations. Instead they agitate for the kind of economy that is destroying Venezuela.
It is not the place of the BBC to have to rebut union propaganda. However, it is also not their job to allow themselves to be spoon-fed it either. The curious feature of the BBC’s article is the lack of balance. The BBC always prides itself on its alleged balance.
Meanwhile the BBC’s business model is driving Fleet Street to the wall. And the unions continue their blackmail of rail companies and passengers to extort unreasonable wages and working practices.
(Image: Roger Blackwell)