July 13, 2002

Will Self Takedown

Patrick Crozier | LU PPP | Potters Bar Crash | Rail Safety

Will Self, trendy London's trendiest writer is not without merit, even if very little. Any man who can (allegedly) take heroin on the Prime Minister's plane or propose that the police should sell drugs (I thought they already did) cannot be all bad. Just mainly.

It is in the above article that he justifies the "mainly". In it he tackles the situation on the Tube - something he knows little about - or to put it in civil service speak: he knows f*ck all about f*ck all. He says:

No one who's a regular and observant user of public transport in this city can fail to appreciate that private investment, plus decentralisation of line operating, is a recipe for potential safety disaster.
Now let's just unpick this statement. First of all, the terms are garbled. It only makes sense if you substitute private sector for private investment and vertical fragmentation for "decentralisation of line operating". Second, the statement that disasters have happened and that this structure has been adopted does not in and of itself prove that private sector involvement is to blame. It could just as well be the (state-induced) fragmentation. There is also the amazing claim that a passenger is equipped with all the information necessary to assess the safety of the rail network.

He then says:

It now emerges that Chinese whispers between Railtrack and the maintenance contractors Jarvis may well have been responsible for the Potters Bar disaster in which seven people died and many more were injured.
Now he is correct in saying (or rather implying) that in this case there is a private contractor ie Jarvis and that there is a split between maintenance and whatever it is that Railtrack does. But what he is trying to prove is that without this split the Chinese whispers would not have happened. The only way that could have happened is if the off-duty rail worker had got off the train and inspected the track himself. Not likely, not particularly sensible. In reality, no matter what structure had been adopted, the worker would have had to have made a call to some central authority and that central authority would have had to have made a call to the inspection team.

He goes on:

Yet, while no one doubts that these failures are a direct result of rail privatisation
Not so fast. Remember what I just said? It may be private sector involvement, it may be fragmentation (which I believe to be the case) or it may be a combination of the two. Isn't it also interesting that in this paragraph Mr Self has abandoned the form of words he was so keen on just two paragraphs ago?

He then excels himself:

Anyone over 40 who grew up in the city, will remember the horrors of the Moorgate train crash and the King's Cross fire.
Moorgate, 1975, 43 dead. King's Cross, 1987, 31 dead. But hang about, in those days London Underground was both integrated and nationalised. How could these two accidents have happened? Saboteurs, perhaps? Actually, this brings us on to a rather wider point about tube safety. To the best of my knowledge, the only other fatal tube crash occurred in the 1950s (again under nationalisation). There were no fatal crashes involving passengers when the tube was in private ownership (again, to the best of my knowledge). This, is in fact no great surprise. Tube trains have a number of advantages over mainline trains: they are slower, there is very little mixing of fast and slow services and there are very few complex movements.

Self then goes on to praise the proposed RMT strike. One can almost detect the strains of the Internationale floating in the background before he has one final side swipe:

It'll be an opportunity to contemplate the smoke-and-mirrors [Hang About - that's my phrase!] economics which lies behind all the Government's PPP plans, as they flog off British infrastructure to the corporate fat cats.
Ah, yes, that favourite phrase of the left - corporate fat cats - summoning up images of corpulent, pinstriped, balding, middle aged men with a f*ck you attitude. Except that the only institutions big enough to buy infrastructure are pension funds which in turn are funded by... er... us.

Not satisfied making a total fool of himself talking about railways, for an encore, Self starts talking about roads and the chaos at Vauxhall Cross. In doing so he slags off the urban planners who of course come under the state and that part run by his mate, Ken.

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