Tag Archive: corruption

Are you scared of Russia again yet?

Apparently the Russian FSB (ex-KGB) are running riot, if the Western media is to be trusted, which is debatable at the best of times let alone in these cases where there may be seen to be a clear political agenda at work, what we are expected to believe is that an organisation that ran for decades one of the most effective covert espionage operations across the world has suddenly decided that such secrecy is not in its best interests, or simply not necessary, when it comes to things like high profile target elimination.

It is true that the KGB and many of its operatives do not function quite in the same actively-sponsored way that it may have enjoyed in Soviet times and therefore many former employees may now be essentially little more than ‘guns for hire’. However to me at least it seems a little implausible that they have forgotten their training overnight in order to pursue a more public campaign to advertise their work.
First there was the ‘Orange Revolution’ in the Ukraine.  There was always something I never felt was quite right. There seemed to me, from the raw facts alone, to be a great deal of ambiguity which was not being reflected by an electrically-charged media who looked all intent on being a lynch mob for the “wronged” candidate, Viktor Yuschenko the one who happened, quite coincidentally, to be the pro-Western, that is to say pro-Western industry and foreign investment, candidate. We were given a black and white version of events, one which stated that the pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych had rigged the election in favour of his faction over Yuschenko’s.  A little digging appeared to suggest that there were many irregularities on both sides.
The initial first round election results had both candidates receiving a shade over 39% with Yanukovyych faring well in his Russian-bordering Eastern Ukraine whilst Yuschenko had likewise received most of his support from the EU-bordering Western Ukraine. The river Dnipro being the rough dividing line between the two areas. The turnout was cited as proof of Yanukovych’s gerrymandering since it stood at around 96% which was enough to make anyone suspicious. It was not however cited in context with the turnout figures of Yuschenko’s areas where the turnout was only marginally less at 94%. Presumably this extra 2% makes all the difference in the identification of foul play over a well-run honest campaign.
To make matters worse Yuschenko had been “poisoned” by means of dioxins which left pock-marking all over his face and didn’t kill him.  Correct me if I’m wrong but if you are trying to kill someone high profile would it not be a somewhat stupid idea to use something that even if it achieved the desired result would take not only a long time but in addition make it very publicly obvious what was going on.   I did hear an interview with a former KGB colonel who stated that he had never known the KGB to have used dioxins for poisoning.
Ironically in the West after a matter of months criticsims were already being made of the Orange government’s economic reforms, calling them too socialist and populist.  Yuschenko tried sacking most of the government but that doesn’t appear to have worked so one can only expect the US to come to his aid at some point and build a large airbase at Lviv.
Then there was the murder of defector Oleg Litvinenko. The use of polonium in the poisoning has been seen as proof of involvement of a state actor, as more than microscopic amounts of polonium can only be produced in nuclear reactors. Most polonium produced in Russia, however, is distributed by western commercial distributors. This is not to assert specifically that there is an evil shadowy Western presence at work herein, no how could such a thing be necessary, the US government can freeboot around and pretty much do openly what it desires. What it illustrates is depending on the nature of your spin the information that is omitted is often as important as the information that is given. Again I find it strange that an organisation such as the FSB would have chosen something so public and so high profile as a method. That is not to say that it could not have been them merely that one has to question a little further in order to determine whether or not it might have been rather than accepting it as red (forgive the pun!).  Unless of course the new FSB have decided in the case of the poisoning of Victor Yuschenko and Oleg Litvinenko to be altogether more unashamed and blatant in their approach.
Finally (for now) we also have the “irregularities” of the recent Russian election that has returned Vladimir Putin’s party to power with a large majority. However in much media coverage of interviews in Russia Putin in particular appears to have fairly widespread support particularly in voter rich areas such as Moscow. We are told about a “creeping Putsch” and referred to the election of Vladimir Putin to follow Boris Yeltsin in a ‘by any means necessary approach.’ Then our attention is further drawn to the establishment of a spurious war on a separatist group, the Chechens, responsible allegedly for terrorist attrocities in order to enact large scale internal humanitarian repression and violation of human rights and legislative curbs on civil liberties…
I’m sensing you’re way ahead of me here…!
Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting for a moment that Russia is a beacon of hope for those in the country nor of us on the Left any more than it ever really used to be in the Soviet days. I just find the propaganda war interesting nowadays, in the Cold War era there did at least seem to be some difference in the two ideologies even if neither were especially population-friendly. Now it appears there is a neo-capitalist/state capitalist hegemony that simply differs in the specific language it uses in order to appeal to the voting majority to retain its hold on power. Dissent seems now to have been marginalised to the point of near-extinction so ingrained is the propaganda of no alternative. To account for any gradual shift or the ‘muttering masses’ some new threat comes to light in order that people feel scared and cower in their own homes.
The media world has so many enemies for us to hate now it is a wonder we come out of our homes at all but Osama Bed Linen, Slobbo Milosevic, the Taliban and even Saddam Hussain, all of whom have been likened to Hitler and Stalin at one time or another, couldn’t cut the same sort of pathological fear as the old foe themselves.  The Reds are coming back
If you want a coping strategy my advice is to find a combination of what my Da told me to do with monsters in a nightmare which was to imagine them on the khazee and to do what a journalist for The Observer did in Libya when confronted with Col. Gaddafi’s cult of personality which was to call him Keith and refer to him thus throughout the rest of the travelogue.   You can choose to be afraid and allow your human rights to be ceded away to nothing in anti-terrorist laws which smack of emergency powers of the 1930s, or you can choose not to buy into the hegemony and cast your net wider and ask yourself why you are being told certain things and by whom.
It’s up to you. 
Song Of The Day ~ Radiohead – Black Star 


I am fairly amazed that in the case of 3 news items I have heard this week there appears to be the strong impression at some form of surprise, as if many people cannot fathom why certain problems have manifested themselves. From my perspective I find this hard to believe as to me even a cursory examination would reveal uncomplicated explanations.

The first item was regarding euthanasia – always an emotive subject, but to the fore this week because it emereged a British woman with a terminal brain illness booked herself into a clinic in Switzerland to die. This has been seized upon by the media for its moral ambiguity that can be debated to death. What no-one ever seems to take into account is why is it so surprising that people in pain, be it physical or mental, seek to relieve themselves of this pain? Most of us in our lives have sought alleviation of some kind or other for any number of ailments, what if such medications and such were not available for our condition, what then? Or what if you were simply too tired to go on fighting, maybe you’ve been strong maybe you haven’t, everyone has a threshold in the end, what do you do when you reach it?

I think it is inconceivable to take this matter to debate without mentioning at all the fact that a vast swath of the world’s population are under the (mis)apprehension that the afterlife is going to be nirvana and a respite from the burden of this world. Why then shouldn’t people think that death is the answer to free them from their shackles? After all we are increasingly taught to go for the things we desire, what if what one desires is clearly not obtainable, or does not seem obtainable in this world? Now see for me this is not a quandry, I shall cling to life with every sinew in my body because I believe this is all you get and I’m too shit scared to go into the oblivion of non-existence thank you very much, I’ll stick around if it’s all the same. However I might feel differently if I were deprived of the ability to communicate and each day simply involved pain management.

So, on the one hand religion teaches us that if you are a virtuous person you’ll get your reward in heaven and that this world is a mere prelude for the next and then society attempts to put the ball and chain on you making suicide immoral and thereby telling you that no matter how shit things are now there’s no easy way out for you, Sunny Jim, you’ll stay here and like it. Doesn’t add up from what I can see, someone please explain.

The second piece of news which whilst not at first obviously conected was that Sven Göran Eriksson the embattled England football manager has added weight to recent claims that corruption is rife in football including a spate of managers receiving bungs from agents to transfer the right players. Eriksson joins Luton Town Manager Mike Newall and QPR boss Ian Hollaway who had already alleged the same thing. Interestingly Eriksson appears to carry a great deal more weight than the other two managers because now an enquiry is to be launched, whilst previously Newall and Hollaway’s evidence had illicited precious little active response from the game’s governing bodies on account, they said, on there not beeing any concrete evidence. Of course the Premier League has stepped manfully in to conduct the enquiry headed by…. itself. Hmm, no conflict of interest there then.

Again the question must be asked if the allegations are proven to be correct and I have little doubt that they are, why is anyone surprised? There is a huge amount of money involved with football these days, players at the top level command annual salaries that most of us will not earn in a lifetime, agents take their cut of this and rarely go short. Big businessmen get involved and pump large sums of money into football clubs, now correct me if I’m wrong but if they were looking to cultivate a philanthropic image my guess is that they’d pump this money into some worthy charity, museum or such like. The whole football system has become a large business venture for profit-making and money-laundering, thus rendering it entirely in sync with all the other modern day businesses.

And then there’s Big Brother which continues to feature heavily in newspapers. Whilst it may be slightly less directly covered in the more aloof broadsheets it is still a strong pull and no surprise that on the day many tabloids are running damming “exposees” etc. on Big Brother contestant George Galloway that The Guardian choose the same target but a different story, there’s being that the Serious Fraud Office have a lot of documents from the US Senate committee regarding allegations surrounding the Oil For Food program. It would of course be churlish to assert that if the Americans had proof of wrongdoing backed up by documentary evidence why did they not declare it when George was over there lambasting them. The point is that this Gaurdian article didn’t actually contain anything newsworthy other than the shipment of the documents here, there was no evidence of anything new coming out that may have an effect on any prosecutions just a lot of rumour, speculation and hypothesis. That sort of information is welcome in an editorial where the ‘what ifs…’ and ‘possiblys’ can be discussed ad nauseam but it is not news and should not be presented as such, the same way that a possible photo of George meeting a bad man at a time when he was not supposed to be a bad man and was being met by a lot of other bad men who are yet to be judged as bad men, is not news either.

Of course much has been made of Big Brother and certainly tempers have run high in what I have seen of it which does to be fair only correspond to a total of about 2 hours, much of which was primetime viewing where the events are suitably sensationalised. Would I like to chat politics with George Galloway, yes undoubtedly, would I like to live with him, I suspect not. But then I don’t like to live with anyone, I’m a miserable bugger and by the looks of it, so is he. Why should anything different be expected? Far from being an avuncular older statesman Galloway comes across as an aggressive, self-assured, querulous and opinionated man, but at the same time he comes across as passionate, committed, erudite and human. I can cope with Galloway the dogmatic, cantankerous politician precisely because I feel that he is exhibiting the traits that most people who aspire to high political office will exhibit. I don’t imagine any serious politician is the life and soul of the party anymore than I imagine that anyone who is the life and soul of the party makes a very good politician. Tony Blair has to be a prime example of someone who is totally obsessed with the spun image of him that he is careful not to leave a hair out of place or a smile faked badly and thus the substance of his politics is minimal. Would he make a Big Brother contestant that everyone loved? One can only speculate for such a politician would never allow his/her guard to be down in public like that.

Having been off sick of late I have had the misfortune to see parts of the Richard & Judy show, for those not familiar it’s the equivalent of Regis and Kathy Lee. Richard and Judy are hardly synonymous with the most refined or informed of debates, and yet they do seem to deem themselves fit to sally forth with some zeal in the character assasination of George Galloway. I am not saying this is necessarily a conspiracy but at no point have I heard anyone say anything about the political issues that George stands for which is after all his job. There has been much debate about George’s censorship by the Channel 4 directors team who have without question chosen to show the most ridiculous parts of George’s participation and his arguments especially when at their most petty. But again, why would I be surprised, their agenda is for this sort of thing and not for the swaying of the youth to an anti-capitalist message

Sadly I am totally underawed that the program has led to such vitriol. I think regardless of motivation George’s appearance on the show has done him precious few favours and done little to enthuse any of the audience to make them more inclined to listen to the message he claims to wish to propagate. In fact from where I’m standing he has given the media (one of the very greatest politcally reactionary forces in the country) adequate ammunition to riducule and besmirsch him in what will undoubtedly be the beginnings of a campaign designed to ensure he does not retain his seat at the next election. I cannot see how anyone will remember the substance of any of his arguments over the sight of him playing a cat or in a pink leotard. Personally I think his participation in these particular tasks was admirable in so far as I hardly think it would have done him any favours had he refused. The Hobson’s choice in this regard was one of his own making and one he could surely have seen coming unless he is unbelievably naive which I cannot believe, or too bothered about his ego to see it coming or think it’ll stop him. Again, I don’t judge too harshly on the ego point, to believe that you have a future in mainstream high-office politics you have to have an ego, otherwise how can you believe that you can ably represent the people you are standing for?

I guess the underlying message behind all 3 of these items is, once again, that you reap what you sow. This is not seemingly a message popular in the current world, cause and effect seems scarcely mentioned as the system and everyone within it blunder on like a juggernaut until such time as they run into something bigger and more immovable than them, hopefully we can get at least some people out before that happens.

Song Of The Day ~ Kingmaker – Armchair Anarchist

On a related note to my last post, I was thinking that if the Railtrack shareholders wish to look for a compensation payout perhaps they should look no further than former chairman Gerald Corbett who after the debacle over which he presided at Railtrack was the recipient of an estimated £1.3million payoff and went on to become chairman of Woolworths PLC the high street retailer where in his first year he received a £500k bonus in addition to his £500k salary. I have heard many a time the old argument that if companies do not offer salaries commensurate with those across the industry they will be unable to attract the most able people but when I look at the incompentence many of these pampered ponces preside over I wonder if there is not a group hallucination going on. Many of these men (and they are pretty much without exception men) don’t even devote their full working week to one company but have their fingers in a number of pies not to mention the clubhouse at some of the country’s premium golf courses.

I find it hard to believe how anyone could claim that Bob Ayling at British Airways deserved a £2m payoff and a £260,000 pension when he was sacked in 1999, Ayling had come to BA after presiding over the Millenium Dome, hardly what most people would deem good for the CV. Whilst at BA Ayling initiated a program of cost-cutting which alienated staff and unions and ultimately led to the company dropping out of the FTSE100 (the stock market list of the 100 top British companies). You might think that after these 2 Ayling’s career would be over but no in 2002 he was appointed Chairman of Holidaybreak a FTSE250 company.

James Murdoch, Chairman of BSkyB, himself the epitomy of the Rupert Murdoch ‘jobs for the boys’ program received a total of £2.2m last year including 80% (£1.2m) of the maximum bonus that he could have received. At the same time Sky shares have fallen by 10% in the last year. This pales into comparison with his older brother Lachlan Murdoch, who not content with his $7.8m salary quit News Corporation earlier this year receiving $15.6m payout. One ought to bear in mind that Rupert Murdoch’s own salary is £23.6million, he himself gained a 37% pay rise last year. Staggeringly tho’ this is not the top earning in the company, that dubious honour is held by Peter Chernin chief operating officer who received the same bonus, $18.9m but with a basic salary of $8.3m he earns nearly twice that of his boss.

How about Klaus Esser who as a result of his tenure at the Vodafone Group netted a cool £9,153,000. This is categorically indefensible on any level. The Labour Research Group reported in 2002 how 75 directors had received golden handshakes of more than £100,000, the list is available here. In 1999 research showed that the bosses’ pay was up by an average 9 per cent over from the previous year’s figure of £546,000, excluding share options. Taking account of inflation and that’s three-and-a-half times the percentage pay hike for the average British employee. In the same year Disney’s Michael Eisner scored $576m while the company’s shareholders scored a 5% loss. Mercer & Co, which calculated the American figures, has found that US top executives pull in bonuses 4x those of their British counterparts. US share options for CEOs exceeded Britain’s by 5,900%. All in all 82% of corporate stock in America is held by the wealthiest 10% of families. But over half those shares, the controlling stake, is owned by the richest 1 per cent alone. Similar figures are born out across much of the industrialied world but nowhere is it quite as latent as in the US. In the US this 1% of the population increased their share of the wealth from 33% to 37.4% between 1983 and 1993. This trend did not stop under Clinton but increased further to 40.1%. This I suspect would be in contrast to most people’s expectations of how things would have progressed when Clinton came to power and perhaps even with the way many may still look back on it with their rose-tinted specs.

It may seem flippant to reduce the analogy to our own examples but I know that were I to go to my bosses after a bad year and said ‘well, ok let’s call it quits you give me 1 year’s salary as a payoff’ the reception I would expect to receive would be very frosty indeed. Likewise after a good year, which has happened now and again, I do not get called in and given pats on the back and offered large bonuses many multiples of my salary. For most of us in the real world if we do our job we do nothing more than justify the remuneration we receive from month to month and if we fail to impress then we can expect to be looking for something else in due course.

I fail to see how on earth it can be defended that most people in all of these countries, who let’s face it are well-off in comparison with so many, can be earning a wage so utterly dwarfed by these corporate fat cats. The government and the opposition want increasing public contribution to services such as education, health, pensions etc. well, if I were earning £9,153,000 I would be delighted to contribute but as it is my net income after deductions and bills is negative equity and therefore my gross salary is somewhat irrelevant. Since I am aware that many people earn far less than me it is all too obvious that the huge majority of this country are ill-equipped to pay for services that should be provided out of ability-based income tax. And yet these fat cats in fact have far more tax breaks than the rest of us. Is it any wonder if I cannot see how the current system can be reformed? We are currently being told that our taxes are not enough to pay for public services at the parlous level they currently occupy let alone proper modern ones that we should be able to expect in the 21st century. Education must be paid for at the point of use and then again extra levies thereafter, healthcare is the prerogative of the rich if you contrast the facilities and timings in the private sector in contrast with how long you must wait for non-emergency operations on the NHS. Pensions are in crisis because we have the temerity to be living too long.

If this is the society we want then fine, go back to sleep, watch the soaps and allow your brain to turn to spongiform in the pursuit of the rich getting richer. However another world is so clearly possible because it is not as if the money does not exist to pay for the services we require it is simply that in the current political climate there is not the will to ensure that the money is collected from the areas which it should and distributed with comparable just cause.

Song Of The Day ~ The Editors – Munich

Original Comments:

Mark Ellott made this comment,
Once more, you raise some interesting points. Having been directly involved, I need to respond. I was always bemused by Gerald Corbett’s appointment. There is an argument that someone of the right calibre does not need industry expertise in this type of role. Theoretically, maybe; in practice that is not the case. Gerald’s retail background did not prepare him adequately for the fallout of Hatfield and he panicked. He was a man out of his depth. Getting rid of a senior executive is something that a company must do quickly if it is to avoid instability. Whereas front line employees who are incompetent may be dealt with using the procedures required by employment law, a senior executive cannot be left in post for a period that may involve months of investigation and development. What is designed to protect ordinary workers from employer abuse creates a real dilemma at board level. So they break the law. It’s exactly what happened when Network Rail made 600 of us “redundant”. They unfairly dismissed people who questioned the party line and paid compensation equivalent to that which would have been awarded by a tribunal. Moral? No. Pragmatic, definitely.
On the matter of salary, I was caught up in the Railtrack pay structure inherited from BR. This was a mess and was deeply unfair. I was not paid the going rate for the job I was doing, I was paid a percentage above my previous salary. This meant that three people applying for the same post would be offered three different salaries based upon their current post – if one of them was an outside candidate, they would be offered the market rate, which would be well above that offered to the internal candidates. If a company wants me to take on a demanding and personally risky role, I expect them to cough up an appropriate salary. You refer to this as capitalism. Well, maybe so. I prefer to call it human nature.

comment added :: 17th October 2005, 09:03 GMT+01 :: http://longrider.blog-city.com

jamal made this comment,
Agreed. I cant understand how these people that earn millions are able to do so with the amount of poverty prevailing. Furthermore, while this persists I am forced to pay huge tax costs on my meagre wage.
On a lesser note, what really disgusts me in the public sector is that the actual frontline workers earn a lower wage then the mass of human resource managers, diversity managers, press officers, etc, who dont actually do much.

comment added :: 18th October 2005, 15:18 GMT+01 :: http://opinionated.blogsome.com/

After the recent legal ruling by Justice Mackay that engineering company Balfour Beatty and Railtrack were guilty of negligence that led to the Hatfield disaster, perhaps it should be suggested to the disgruntled Railtrack shareholders that they should pay back the amount of their dividends to cover Railtrack’s fine. The details of the ruling are here. Balfour Beatty has been ordered to pay in the amount of £10 million whilst Network Rail has to pay £3.5 million as damages incurred by Railtrack. I don’t see the Railtrack shareholders taking up my suggestion and offering to pay back dividends so doubtless, since Network Rail (the company that replaced Railtrack when it was declared bankrupt by the government) is now non-profit, this £3.5 million will be paid for by us, the taxpayer, and will be diverted from the cause of making the railways cheaper and safer. As Justice Mackay so rightly points out in his verdict, “Every pound spent on a fine can’t be spent on rail safety.”

So where exactly does this large sum of money go? Will it go to the victims, of the Hatfield disaster or Southall, or Ladbroke Grove or Potters Bar, will it be ploughed into the infrastructure in an effort to belatedly prevent any further disasters of this ilk? Court costs alone are being charged at £300,000 each. There are no details that I could find as to exactly what will happen to the money or even what the prospects are of it being recouped.

I decided to look into the situation regarding the state of the rail system following privatisation. I suggest you get a cup of tea, I’m afraid this is going to be a long one!

Much of this controversy surrounds the Advanced Train Protection system (ATP) which is a method of preventing train accidents whereby trains and signalling are fitted with systems which, should a train pass a signal at danger (SPAD) the brakes would automatically be applied to the train. The ATP system was supposed to be implemented after Clapham Rail crash on 12th December 1988 according to the recommendations of the enquiry after the crash at a cost of £750m. With this system in mind various layouts were in place including bi-directional tracks particularly in the approach to London mainline stations, which without ATP were fundamentally unwise at best and like as not unsafe. It is this fact especially that underlines the lack of safety consciousness in the industry at the time. After the report into the Southall crash Richard Middleton, Commercial Director of Railtrack responded to suggestions that some of area at Paddington lines be made uni-directional ”that would not be good for the company” Many of the recommendations of the Southall enquiry were not implemented, the consequences of which are self-evident.

Plans for ATP shelved because Tory government wanted quick privatisation, in 1993 after the publication of the Hidden enquiry into the Clapham crash they had no intention of pumping any money in and there was no way they would be providing funding for the scheme having under-invested in British Rail for a decade. Neither were the prospective buyers of parts of the railway sell-off keen to have this millstone round their neck upon the point of shelling out large sums of money for the franchise. Their intention was to make money from the system not pump it in hand over fist, and it was therefore from a purely economic perspective that the safety feature was not implemented. That fact alone is institutionalised negligence.

In fact a Thames Trains analysis showed that cost of fitting ATP and amount of lives it would save was more expensive than leaving system as it was and paying out compensation in the event of any deaths caused by crashes. The report actually broke down a cost per life saved to reach it’s conclusion. This may seem callous at first glance, and certainly morally questionable, as indeed it is but you have to bear in mind this is the way capitalism works. Risk assessment is part of the industry. The irony of this was that Thames trains themselves were to find out the cost in human terms of their decision when on 5th October 1999 one of their trains was involved in the Ladbroke Grove crash just outside Paddington. It was the worst disaster since Clapham and 31 people were killed and countless others injured. It happened a mere 2 years after a crash in September ’97 at Southall further up the same line killed 7 and injured 160. The enquiry into Southall started 2 weeks before the crash at Ladbroke Grove. A good reference on Southall can be found here, it is particularly good as an illustration as to the necessary co-ordination between so many different companies in the same area.

In the case of the Ladbroke Grove crash – Signal 109 is recognised as being the root cause, it was in a bad place optically and had previously had issues and a SPAD which had not resulted in a crash but highlighted serious problems in this area. All SPADs have to be investigated as should all driver reports of problems. Following investigations into Signal 109 7 recommendations were made, only one of them had been followed at the time of the Ladbroke Grove crash. One of the train operating companies (First Great Western) had requested information pertaining to SN 109 but this information had not been provided by Railtrack. The enquiry into the crash would find endemic failure to deal with reported problems at track level and a failure of communication between Railtrack and the train operating companies.

In 17th October 2000 an Inter-City train was derailed at Hatfield coming off the track as a result of a broken rail, 4 people died, 35 were injured. As the Mackay enquiry has found this crash too was the result of negligence.

Whilst the Mackay enquiry was starting up, on the 17th May 2002 7 people were killed and 70 injured when a train derailled at Potters Bar, literally only a couple of miles from Hatfield.

It is rather chilling that in the cases of these 4 major accidents the time and distance gaps between them has been chillingly significant. it would appear to suggest some greater significance than just random chance. It is worrying that enquiries are being carried out highlighting systematic and endemic failures in the system and yet the recommendations are not being carried out and the crashes continue.

It is customary for the British Transport Police to investigate such incidents should criminal proceedings be necessary. It is however important to note that the transport police are funded by the rail industry, Railtrack, rail companies etc., precisely the people it is supposed to be investigating. This in the outside world should constitute a conflict of interest and result in the drafting of a more objective authority to carry out any investigation necessary. As an example of the danger of such conflict of interest the fact that during the enquiry following the Southall crash the officer in charge of the investigation claimed he was warned off in no uncertain terms.

Further examples of whistle blowing have shown that far from being a trend downwards the situation has changed little and there is still a huge system-wide failure to address problems of safety and maintenance, problems include the Forth bridge where numerous maintenance workers have stated that they would not allow any of their families on a train across the bridge, and repeated reports of certain track problems that go unchecked and unremedied.

All in all the case of the rail system since the mess of privatisationreally pisses me off. Not just content with running down a system that was once the envy of the industrialised world it seems that whilst speculating on the stock market seems to have obvious pitfalls if the cause of losses can be perceived as being attributable to the government then people feel that this gives them a scapegoat and all bets are off. I remember all the warnings about the value of shares can go up as well as down. This is speculation, the nature of the beast is that it involves risk. Did the British government sue George Soros because the bastard almost single-handedly caused a devaluation in sterling costing the country millions? Were we advised as a population to take a class action based on the tangible fact that the £ in our pocket was worth less due to no fault of our own? This is capitalism this is how it works. Yet, the bellyaching when those that thought they were onto a sure thing lose out is sickening. I am well-aware that there were many pension funds tied up in shares such as Railtrack, sadly this only underlines another example of how we rely to our cost on things in the private sector.

I maintain that it is counter-productive to have a public service in private hands because of the nature of capitalist economics. Whilst I take the point that for the business to be profitable it is necessary for it to attempt to provide a good service this is only really a prevalent case where competition exists for consumers should the service not be up to scratch. It is not just the rail companies where we have seen institutional corner-cutting to increase profits, and when one looks at salaries of the directors and bonus payments as well as dividends (something I have already drafted another blog on as a result of the investigations for this one.) I can’t help but think that a public company would have to be hellishly inefficient not to be an improvement on such and I do not think the inefficiency of nationalised industry is a forgone conclusion, nor is it a hinderance to have a good functioning trade union system within that framework. The key ingredient for success of a nationalised industry is people feeling that they have a place of value within society and much of that applies to where they work. This, if it can be achieved would have profound implications in social and political spheres and would perhaps prevent further deaths at the hand of an incumbant ideology that is in danger of wiping us out as we count our pennies and watch.

Song Of The Day ~ Interpol – Specialist

Original Comments:

Mark Ellott made this comment,
Naturally, I have to contribute as you did on my take on this issue.
Firstly, I agree with your point about where the fines go – they should be reinvested into railway safety. There is no ideological nor pragmatic reason why they cannot.

Where I must take issue is with your statement that the cost of life tool is a capitalist one. It is not, it is a tool and nothing more. All risk assessment, whether simple as defined in HSG65 or the more complex quantified systems use mathematical tools to assess risk and its consequential loss. It was used in BR days and all transportation systems use it to analyse where best to invest their funds. It matters not whether those funds come from the taxpayer or the shareholder, they are not a bottomless pit and must be expended wisely. A mathematical tool is the current best method of doing that. It isn’t perfect and because it is being used by people – and people make mistakes, it will from time to time go wrong. With ATP there was, of course the political dimension which complicated matters and influenced the judgement. It does not invalidate the tool though.

I would also treat whistlebowers’ statements with extreme caution. I could take you around the network and find bad track fairly easily. There’s plenty of it about. However, this must always be taken in context. I saw a piece on the local news recently. It showed a section of track at Westbury – as this was my old piece of the railway; I was familiar with it and was not surprised to see a wet bed and cyclic top. However, it was not a high speed line and is used for low speed freight – the risk is minimal. A rough ride, yes. A major derailment – in your dreams. The billions expended since privatization have been targeted at the major mainline and high speed routes and quite rightly so. No, it isn’t perfect. Neither though, is it the disaster that the whistleblowers would have us believe.

On the matter of trade unionism, a good trade union appointed safety rep will be worth their weight in gold. Trade unions and managers should work together to achieve the desired result. Under BR, it was sometimes difficult to see who was managing the workplace; the local manager whose responsibility it was, or the local RMT rep to whom he deferred before making any decision. Some of the working practices were, frankly appalling – I’ll tell you about “walking time” when I have more time. As in all things, there needs to be balance. That balance under BR was too far one way. I believe since privatisation, it may be slipping too far in the opposite direction.

On the matter of shareholder losses, I’m inclined to say “too bad” that’s what happens when you invest on the stock market. That the government deliberately forced the situation and used deceit and subterfuge gives some justification to their argument, though.

While I no longer have an ideological objection to the idea of a private company running a public service as it happens elsewhere perfectly satisfactorily, I do have vigorous objections to what happened to our railway. It was not privatised because it was in the best interest of the industry, but because it was in the best interest of John Major’s credentials as a true blue Tory. As a consequence, the taxpayer was royally ripped off for the sake of political dogma. This was criminal. Also, the horizontal split; separating the track from the people operating it was illogical. Network Rail’s decision to bring maintenance back in-house and the combined control centres that look much like the ones we had in BR days suggest that I was right.

I flatly refused to accept my free Railtrack shares on principle because I was so opposed to what was going on. A principle that cost me in the region of £3,000 – £4,000. You, perhaps, are one of the few people who would understand my rationale.

-Redbaron responds- Firstly I understand, accept and admire your decision not to accept the Railtrack shares, I would indeed have done the same. I was once pressed to accept a quite lucrative support job at News International. The agency didn’t understand how I could tell them that I’d rather starve than accept money from that source and not be able to look myself in the mirror.

The cost of life tool I am aware of is not exclusively a capitalist tool but I firmly believe that its emphasis is stronger and the criteria less within a capitalist framework, hence the cost of life is effectively worth less. Whether or not this is born out by the BR example I do not know but I would not herald BR as the epitomy of a perfect nationalised industry anyway.

You are more than welcome to take me round the network anytime, I’ve always been a fan of rail travel hence the interest in it from all angles! Yes there will be some stretches where without doubt the necessity to improve the line is less than in HST mainline area, but of course Clapham is not HST mainline area either nor many of the other examples of crashes at level crossings and such like. Obviously the investment required is huge and yet Railtrack directors received huge amounts of money and shareholders a great deal of dividends whilst the network was still in crisis. This is fundamentally wrong.

The shareholders argument is not justified as they are not taking into account the censuring of the company on almost all the reports that have been published into the crashes so far. Furthermore Rail Regulator fines were not passed on to them but pretty much paid for out of the public subsidy to Railtrack. Thus we in fact propped up their dividends all along.

I am opposed ideologically to the privatisation and certainly the example of it in this country has done nothing to revise my opinion thereof.-

comment added :: 13th October 2005, 10:09 GMT+01 :: http://longrider.blog-city.com

Mark Ellott made this comment,
An addendum to the Richard Middleton comment regarding uni-directional lines at Paddington being “bad for the company”… It is a terminus station they have to be bi-directional.
-Redbaron responds – Yes of course at some point there must be bi-directional functionality the issue is whether this should be simultaneous ie trains going back and forth on the same stretch regulated only by signalling. The recommendations of the Southall enquiry stated that if ATP was not in place this should not be happening and uni-directional track should be in place in so far as a degree of standardising the direction for a defined period of time.-

comment added :: 13th October 2005, 10:50 GMT+01 :: http://longrider.blog-city.com

Mark Ellott made this comment,
The answer to that is; yes – if you want a working service.
Recommendations are not always based in the real world. Many of Cullen’s proclamations remain unfulfilled because they were unworkable in practice. If Railtrack had not been so browbeaten, it would (and damn well should) have challenged them.

As in all things; balance. Rail is still one of the safest ways to travel. I continue to use it for thousands of miles per year and I am well aware of the current issues in the industry. Yes, it could be improved. No, it is not a death trap. All forms of transport take their toll in human life and we must do our best to minimise the risks. Want a death trap riddled with negligence? Take the car. 😉

comment added :: 13th October 2005, 12:09 GMT+01 :: http://longrider.blog-city.com

Mark Ellott made this comment,
Oh, yeah, don’t talk to me about level crossings – if I had my way, I’d close the lot. But that wouldn’t be practicable…
comment added :: 13th October 2005, 12:11 GMT+01 :: http://longrider.blog-city.com