On More Rail Chaos Coming Soon

I was reading a tweet from a passenger stuck at Waterloo in baking heat on a South Western Railway train for an hour. It occurred to me that the sheer visceral hatred felt by many passengers for their local train service operator now approaches the feelings of commuters such as myself towards the rail unions in the “heyday” of British Rail in the 1970s.
Services constantly disrupted because of incompetence or pig-headedness. Except today, even though some of the disruption is caused by industrial action, most of the blame falls on the companies themselves and not the unions. That is quite a turnaround. It will get worse. Here is why.
The cynical suspicion must be that some rail providers know the palmy days of making billions out of commuters are over and are tailoring their efforts to serve their customers accordingly. Stagecoach and Virgin are about to walk away from one of the busiest routes, the main line up the east coast, having invested billions in infrastructure they will never get back.
As many as four of the big rail franchises are reckoned to be unviable. The bids the companies put in for those franchises are predicated on rising passenger numbers of a couple of percentage points a year. This has been the case since privatisation. These are now going into reverse. The figures for the latest financial year show a 1.4 per cent fall in usage, and a more than 9 per cent fall in season ticket sales which itself implies diminishing confidence in the network’s ability to deliver.
The fall in numbers is more pronounced on Fridays. This suggests people are increasingly working from home for some of the time, put off by ever higher prices and poor delivery. The latest numbers show passengers were happy with 81 per cent of their journeys, a statistic that has been falling for years. Or to put it another way, one in five arrived at their destination unhappy.
Imagine, for a moment, if one in five of you were unhappy about disruption to water or electricity supplies to your home, or the availability of food. Or any other essential. Pretty unthinkable, isn’t it?
The fall in London and the south east, which accounts for a third of all journeys, was even more pronounced. South Western saw a 7 per cent decline in passenger numbers, which is extraordinary even if it is in part down to the weather and industrial action.
Those declines may not sound much, but in an industry that runs on wafer thin margins a reversal from a small percentage increase to a small decline represents a looming catastrophe.
These are public companies set up to make a profit. If they stop doing so, they have no reason to continue to provide a service or even invest in it. They will, like Virgin and Stagecoach, simply walk away.
The consequences will be threefold. A worse service, because of the inevitable disruption as staff have to be transferred to the public sector which will have to run the trains and because of lower investment.
The Government’s record, on Southern Rail and the current chaos on northern routes, suggests little will be done to alleviate any disruption, indeed it will take several years before anyone admits there is even a problem.
Second, the effective renationalisation of much of the rail industry. Third, higher fares, which will drive even more people off the railways and cut revenues further.
The only solution is higher state subsidy. More money for the rail network will be added to the demands for more spending on the NHS, social care, the defence budget… you will have your own list.
Oh sorry, I forgot. We can fund it all from the magic money tree, aka the Brexit dividend. Problem solved.


On Upskirting

I am having difficulty understanding why some men would risk prosecution for looking at women’s knickers. People are strange, though.
An unreconstructed Tory MP, Chris Chope, has on a technicality blocked a Commons motion making “upskirting”, the taking of pictures by mobile phone up women’s skirts, a criminal offence. He has form on this, having opposed other liberal measures.
This is a big deal for many women and not a party political one. Certain weird individuals, and you would have to be pretty weird, take pictures of unsuspecting women on the Tube or wherever up their skirts, which as most women wear underclothes does not reveal a great amount, I imagine.
(There is a similar practice, “downchesting”. You get the picture. So to speak.)
If I had a serious penchant for the sight of women’s underclothes, which I do not, I would type into Google the words “lingerie catalogues” and be a happy man for some days thereafter, I imagine. Rather than take my iPhone onto the Tube. This is not what this is all about, though.
Women want to make men taking such pictures a specific criminal offence. It is already an offence, probably on public order grounds, but I imagine not a high priority for the police.
This is where male and female perspectives differ.
Most men would probably take the view that if some women wants to engineer the taking of a picture of them in their boxer shorts in the changing room at Debenhams, say, then be my guest. If it means that much to you. Probably feel quite flattered, too.
Women see it differently, and find the practice degrading and offensive. Men have a duty to attempt to appreciate that. In psychological terms upskirting is an example of voyeurism, one of a range of behaviours known as paraphilia. Such behaviours can in some cases lead to worse offences.
The whole business merely demonstrates, yet again, that there are plenty of elected members in the Mother of Parliaments who fail to appreciate what century they are living in.

On The Gender Pay Imbalance In Sport

(I should explain here that I know almost nothing about sport.)
There was a discussion on R4’s Woman’s Hour about why women in sport are paid less than their male counterparts. The earnings from the highest paid sportsman on the planet, a boxer of whom needless to say I have never heard, would be enough to fund every female football team on the planet.
That’s one of those meaningless statistics that tell us nothing about the real world. Women sportsmen are paid less than than their male counterparts because fewer viewers, male and female, will pay to see them play. Sport is a commercial product. Fees to performers follow the viewing figures.
Interestingly, a few years ago Wimbledon started to pay its female tennis players the same as the male ones. Thi is not some triumph for feminism; the women’s game is genuinely as interesting as the male one, less reliant on brute strength and more on skill. In my humble opinion, and as an occasional watcher.
Of the top ten highest paid musicians last year, according to Forbes, two were women. Beyonce, at number two, and Adele, at number nine. The other eight were males, or male or mainly male groups.
This is not because music buyers are consciously or unconsciously biased against female artists. It merely reflects what they are buying.
Why there are more best selling male artists than female ones I genuinely do not know. Someone try to explain to me why it could possibly reflect some sort of inbuilt sexism in the music industry, one which is prepared ruthlessly to sell anything to anyone prepared to buy it, without gender or sexuality preference.
Putting up Aunt Sallys like the pay gap between male and female sportspeople does no good at all for those trying to narrow the gender gap in the real workplace.
Incidentally, my atavistic sexist worldview means I own no Beyonce or Adele in my entire, bloated music collection. And not a lot of the others, either.

On The Death Of A Palestinian Medic

She looks like someone you might sit next to on the bus in multi-cultural London.
Razan al-Najjar, aged 21, a Palestinian medic, was shot dead by a sniper from the Israeli army,or Israeli Defence Force (IDF), while tending to wounded protesters on the border with Gaza. Protests that have been whipped up by Hamas, a terrorist organisation, using its supporters.
Note how I am trying to put both aspects of the argument. There is right and wrong on both sides.
The IDF said her deliberate shooting was “in accordance with standard operating procedures”. There is to be an inquiry, though the facts are clear enough and most is on video camera.
Standard operating procedures, for the British Army and others in the developed world, does not as far as I am aware allow the killing of non-belligerents treating civilian wounded.
(I did say this blog would be coming back and would be about things that make me really angry.)
When I was young the Israelis were the good guys. They beat the Arab forces, while greatly outnumbered, three times through sheer grit and superior force of arms. We British do like the underdog.
When did that moral balance shift? When did the Israelis at least cease to be the good guys, and perhaps be the moral equivalent of the Palestinians and their various terrorist arms?
I date it to 1982 and Operation Peace For Galilee, the invasion of a sovereign state, the Lebanon, admittedly one overrun with terrorists who wished to wipe out the state of Israel.
The consequence was the massacres at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps, in which about 3,000 Palestinians were slaughtered by the Falange, the fascist de facto allies of the Israelis.
The Falange took their name from a stridently fascist group formed before the Spanish Civil War. What you see is what you get. The Israelis allowed a fascist group into the camps to slaughter their opponents. Does that chime with anything that has happened in history?
What explains that shift in the moral balance? Israel is a nation of about nine million people, the vast majority Jews, maybe a quarter others. More than a million have arrived before and since the fall of the Wall, mostly since then.
They have come from post-Soviet states and share a different world view than that of David Ben-Gurion and the other mainly Sephardic founders of the largely liberal and secular state of Israel.
Several years ago I heard an interview with both sides of the conflict, a Palestinian family displaced by the Nakba, the dispossession of the Palestinians from their ancestral lands in 1948. Which they are commemorating as Israel celebrates the founding of its own state.
On the other side was a settler on one of the illegal settlements on the West Bank, not long arrived from the former Soviet Union. How could he justify taking the land that had belonged to another family for generations?
Well, he had this book, three thousand years old, that said he was allowed to. Actually, compelled to.
Right and wrong on both sides. But against such stupidity, and the reliance of holy text three millennia old to justify your actions today, the gods themselves contend in vain.

On Leaving The World Of Business

After 41 years as a business journalist I have now left The Times, where I have worked for the past 30. I shall not write full-time again about anything. I am however restarting this blog. Ten things I have learnt over those four decades:
One: Most London restaurants are overpriced.
Two: Businesses cannot be trusted to behave ethically or responsibly. They require constant scrutiny, by journalists and others, and tight regulation. A totally free market, as called for by the more libertarian commentators, is a license to fleece the customer.
Three: As a rule, the larger the business, the less inclined it is to behave ethically or responsibly.
Four: As a very broad rule and with plenty of exceptions, the smaller the company the nicer the chief executive.
Five: Plenty of business people are genuinely decent and honourable. Many just have difficulty resisting temptation where money is concerned. In this they are no different from the rest of the population except that more temptation comes their way.
Six: The best way to get on with a business person is to demonstrate a genuine interest in and understanding of what his or her company does.
Seven: Having interviewed thousands and thousands of corporate executives and hundreds of entrepreneurs, I have concluded that entrepreneurs are often more interesting.
Eight: Economists are generally wrong.
Nine: Anyone who claims to be able to invest in a way that substantially and continuously outperforms the stock market is a charlatan. That includes both individuals who send out ill-written tip sheets from a grotty flat above a kebab shop in Hounslow claiming to have identified the next big oil explorer stock and City fund managers.
Ten: Minneapolis is a pleasant enough place but you don’t have to visit twice.