I am not quite as far to the left as Owen Jones and don’t agree with everything he says. But he does make some compelling arguments. Renationalising the railways is one, and it’s not a particularly controversial argument.
The privately run railway companies do not often actually compete with each other, and they remain beholden to government policy. There would be some benefits to renationalisation, but most of them would not bring many of the improvements that rail users are crying out for.
For me, there is a more interesting angle to the way in which the government manage the rail franchises and the accompanying employment disputes which have lead to crippling strikes. It’s the Brexit angle.
People voted Leave at the EU referendum for a variety of reasons, but there were two core messages that the electorate sent the government. Immigration and jobs. Even here, the former is related to the latter due to a perception that Johnny Foreigner is either stealing jobs or drives wages down. Britons want jobs. Specifically, they wanted properly paid jobs .
Theresa May has stated that she has listened to and respects the will of ‘the people’. So Brexit means Brexit. But what exactly is Brexit beyond the obvious quitting the EU part? Does May intend to address the core reason behind the Leave vote? What will she do to make sure Britons have properly paid employment.
It is generally accepted that the threat to jobs going forward will not come from factories in the far east or immigrants from Poland. The threat comes from automation. If the government really listened to the people, how will it manage the progressive march of job automation? The railways are the Brexit litmus test for the Tory government.
Is it possible, for example, for trains on the rail network to be operated solely by the driver with the aid of cameras? Yes, it is. Is it better, safer than the current system of driver and guard combination? No. Do we have to automate these jobs? No we don’t. The unions are fighting hard. More strikes will come. Strikes are a weapon of last resort, but it’s a more effective means of keeping jobs than voting to leave the EU in an effort to get them back.
But the government want to do so anyway as part of a decades old policy to drive down costs, at all cost. Including the cost of properly paid jobs. If the railways are indeed the litmus test, then the result is acidic and people will be getting burned. Brexit might mean Brexit, but it doesn’t seem likely to me that Brexit means what many Leavers hoped it might mean.