Monday, 13 August 2007

John Redwood: Right Diagnosis, bit fuzzy on the cure front

Reading John Redwood's article in the Telegraph was disappointing. It starts out promising but then does not deliver.

His diagnosis is correct. He detects the symptoms, identifies the disease but is a bit off target in my view for some of the remedies. He also does not articulate any real crystalline policy or mindset to move forward. It is not good enough to say 'privatise', for that is not enough. There is no point just swapping a State Monopoly for a private one. It is even worse, frankly, if badly done.

A couple of points he raises:

1. The school run. To me it is not an issue of public transport, but an over-supply of quality schools properly distributed. I say over supply on purpose. Over supply is THE way to ensure we have enough. If schools have space to tempt more kids and even more importantly their competitors have spaces to lure away THEIR pupils, then standards will be vigorously maintained. Plenty of good schools enforcing order and attitude will make walking or cycling to school both practical and safer. How do we get an over-supply of good schools? Vouchers and the dismantling of the LEA monopoly.

2. Railways. Some of the suggestions put forward are tricky. They ignore the issues in regard to mixing different kinds of rail traffic. Our trains are heavy because they share tracks with very heavy freight vehicles. This is for safety reasons. Imagine a road bus being shunted - a 14m double-deck crumple zone, or even a light rail car. The ideas presented would work on a new, isolated network. If you are going to isolate it, better to have a guided busway or a frieght version, both powered by electricity. If properly designed, such systems will allow buses and freight to easily move from the guided to normal roadways. Our ports should be the hubs for such guided freight routes, preventing the need for diesel tractor units to drag freight all the way to the port on the roads. With the right tractor units, they could perform the last miles from a 'guide rail head' on battery and/or series hybrid power.

3. Airports. I think I have outlined my view on what we need to do with England's main international hub here.

To me, the argument for privatisation does need to begin with showing where State monopolies cannot work effectively and to be brutal in showing where Private monopolies, PFI and other experiments do not work effectively. We need the "least worst" option. John Redwood's article does not land the punches I was expecting.

Still, I have not read the full report yet. Let us see what meat and what bones lie within.

p.s. I have a sneaking suspicion poor old JR is being lined up to be shot. Let John talk in the silly season, get slated, dent the polls, blame him and so Cameron the Cuckoo can oust another chick from the nest.

1 comment:

Mark Wadsworth said...

Agreed. JR is sincere to the point of madness. He (like IDS) knows that all they can do is point out what's wrong, but are not allowed to come up with solutions, because that's Dave The Chameleon's job.