there is a very clear “image” conjured up in Socialist minds by these words, an automatic response that might be summarised as follows:—
The Labour government inherited a badly run down railway system; it then nationalised road haulage and made a gallant effort for several years to plan the two as a co-ordinated system. Unfortunately the Tories have spent a decade undoing the good work; they have given power to regional boards, dominated by businessmen, who have ensured that private industry shall take profitable slices of railway orders. The Tories have discriminated unfairly against railways (and canals) as freight carriers, against the private hauler on the roads. Finally the Stedeford Report has drawn up a blueprint which, be “decoordinating” transport operations, has finally betrayed the ideals behind nationalisation once and for all. The consequence will be chaos in the sixties, in contrast with a true nationalised system, like the French, with its fast, punctual and clean services.
This picture seems to me not only to be largely false, but also to reveal a very basic inability in all sections of the Labour movement to think precisely about precise problems.
To deal with the last fallacy first. The French have a magnificent skeleton of a railway system; trains are run at intervals infrequent enough to ensure that they shall be full; there is no attempt to provide a service to those wishing to travel within the French provinces without going through Paris. It is assumed that passengers will be prepared to travel a fair distance to get to a station. They are merely units within a brilliant technocratic scheme, which, after 15 years of deficits of up to £180m p.a., is now within striking distance of breaking even. C’est magnifique, but it’s not the British railway system. We expect the luxuries of frequent services, of trains to take us direct from Crewe to obscure points in the South West, from Birkenhead to Brighton; and we get it; and we have been unprepared to pay an economic price for it.
No government could confront us suddenly