Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

Amid all the excitement about David Cameron this week, I fear that Jeremy Corbyn's first major policy announcement may have been overlooked. That would be a shamae because the policy is really, really bad. I'm talking about his proposal to 'renationalise' the railways.

Now, I have to confess to not really understanding this policy. Aren't the railways in England, Scotland and Wales already owned by the state in the form of Network Rail? I know the Department for Transport lets franchises to private providers, such as FirstGroup and Virgin Group, but that doesn't mean these private companies own the railways -- the clue is in the word 'let'. So how exactly will Corbyn 'bring back into public ownership' something that's already owned by the public?

OK, that's a minor detail, according to the leader of the Labour party. What he'll do is wait for the existing leases to run their course and then, when the franchises come up for renewal, not rent them to private providers. Instead, they'll be operated by a new, government provider -- Corbyn Rail. Couple of problems with this.

First of all, only five of Great Britain's 25 railway franchises are coming up for renewal between 2020 and 2025. If Corbyn is proposing to make the renationalisation of the railways the centrepiece of his first-term legislative programme, it'll be a bit of a damp squib. By my estimation, he'd have to remain in power until 2036 in order to see this policy through, by which time he'd be 87. Who knows, perhaps he's been inspired by Fidel Castro.

Second, there's the small matter of the cost. Not only would the government have to invest many billions into the rail network, as the private providers currently do, but the Office of National Statistics would reclassify the entire stock of railway assets, forcing it back on to the public balance sheet. This would happen even if only a handful of the franchises were operated by the government. At a stroke, the annual deficit would increase by £10 billion or more. I know Corbyn's shadow chancellor 'Mad' John McDonnell thinks it's 'barmy' to eliminate the deficit, but even so.

Perhaps that's why New Labour made no attempt during its 13 years in office to dismantle the system put in place by John Major's government. …

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