Such is the shortness of the British electorate’s political memory, that if asked, “Who is now the Prime Minister?” an astonishingly high proportion, despite Johnson’s massive self-promotion, would name Tony Blair, or even Margaret Thatcher. That’s Dumb Britain for you.
Of the millions who voted Tory, in order to get Boris Johnson as PM, many would have forgotten his lies (such as the £350 million a week for the NHS) and his profligacy with public money.
He loves the GRANDS PROJETS that may be associated with his name and bring kudos. They have proved to be a bit of a gamble.
As London Mayor, he bought second-hand water cannon at a cost of £322,000 in order to dowse demonstrators on the streets of the capital. That’ll teach’em a lesson and it’ll go down well with the drivers held up during a demo. The trouble was that the Home Secretary said that such an extreme measure would be foreign to Britain and more like Istanbul or Moscow. He flogged his big boy’s toys for only £11,000. He did not make good the loss, although he could easily have afforded it from his £500,000 per annum mayoral salary, on top of his £275,000 annual pay from the Daily Telegraph.
But he has alimony to pay as well as support for his four children.
He said he would lie down in front of the bulldozers if Heathrow expansion went ahead. He has been saved by a 12-month postponement of a decision on that one.
As an alternative to Heathrow, he proposed a new airport in the Thames Estuary, the Boris Island. That idea got nowhere, but cost us £5 million for feasibility studies.
His garden bridge across the Thames, cost us £53 million in fees, but never got beyond the drawing board and his extravagant imagination.
His latest vision is a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland, spanning the North Channel, which has some of the worst weather in the world and a large sunken dump of redundant Second World War armaments. Let’s hope we are not paying for a study of the feasibility of this impossible dream.
HS2 is not his idea, but he is backing it. Originally estimated to cost £33 billion, it is now likely to be £106 billion.
Many in the Midlands and the North would rather see the money spent on improved lines and rolling-stock for east-west and north-south rail communications in the region and better local bus services.
If HS2 does go ahead, Some existing services may well be curtailed or lost, including the direct London connections of Coventry Stoke-and Stafford. Travellers from these centres may have to go to Birmingham and change stations for an HS2 London train.
In the General Election, one of the Labour pledges was rail renationalisation, which polls showed to be supported by the majority of the public. But Labour did not win and so renationalisation is shelved.
Or is it?
The original railway companies, established in the Victorian era, which owned and maintained the tracks and their rolling-stock, were nationalised in 1948, by the post-war Labour government, which invested in order to make good the damage and neglect of the war years.
The first attack on what was known as British Rail came with the Beeching cuts of 1965. The axe wielded by Richard Beeching removed 10,000 kilometres of track from the system and closed 2,300 stations. Several of those lines are now being considered for reopening. Other lines have already been restored by gallant bands of steam enthusiasts and are in use.
Then came Thatcher and John Major. Between 1994 and 1997, the Tory government privatised British Rail. This was partially under pressure from the EU, the idea being to promote competition and draw in private investment. The outcome has been separation of ownership of the tracks and the trains that run on them. Not all EU member states did as bidden, with the ironic consequence that most of our rail services are owned by the state railways of other European countries.
Privatisation is now seen as a bit of a dog’s breakfast. But the Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, was half-hearted in its opposition, being itself in favour of Margaret Thatcher’s de-regulation and privatisation of everything under the sun.
And what is the state of things now?
Much-troubled Greater Anglia, which covers Cambridgeshire and East Anglia, is owned by Dutch state-owned Abellio and the Japanese Mitsui company.
Northern Rail, owned by Arriva, which is in turn owned by the German state railway, covers the North east, the North West, Yorkshire, the Humber and the East Midlands and controls a quarter of all the country’s stations. Its services were so consistently bad that it has been taken back into public ownership.
The old LNER, covered the East Coast Main Line from London, King’s Cross, via Peterborough and Newcastle to Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness. It was owned by Virgin until 2018, when it was renationalised.
The greatest proportion of rail journeys, at 25 per cent, are run by Southeastern Railway, which is owned by Govia, which is part-owned by the French state railway, SNCF. Southeastern covers Kent, East Sussex, the south east London commuter belt and Thameslink.
South West Trains has, since taking over from Stagecoach in 2017, covered Surrey, Hampshire, Berkshire and the West country. It has had a very troubled time and has become the laughing-stock of the system. It appears ear-marked for renationalisation.
Scotrail, owned by Abellio, the Dutch state rail operator has had its problems and may be another candidate for renationalisation.
At the time, one of the arguments for privatisation was that the tax-payer would no longer have to subsidise the system. That would have made it the only railway in the whole world that needed no public subsidy. The reality of British privatised rail has been that, in real terms, it has been a greater net cost to the tax-payer than the nationalised system ever was.
As one private company after another folded, it became a mantra that any rail profits are private and any liabilities are public.
HS2, if it happens, will be run by a government-owned company. In other words, it will be nationalised. And who will foot that gigantic bill for building it?
You and me, of course. And the engineering giants are queuing up to have a share of the gravy. Their earnings from the biggest infrastructure project in Europe will be massive.