Saturday, 11 October 2008

Beeching's Axe, nothing changes!

Just watched a very good documentary program presented by Ian Hislop about the Beeching Axe of the railways. Excellent example of when pounds, shillings and pence (as they were then) are applied without any allowance for the social and human impact of the decisions. Of course it was before global warming and environmental issues were being given any weight but the thing that came across to me was how little government thought processes have changed in the last 50 years.

In the the 1960's, Beeching, a respected industrialist, was hired to justify decisions already made. The Minister in charge was a committed road builder who didn't want anything that might throw doubt on his policy. There is no evidence that vocal local protest managed to save a single line once Beeching had identified It for closure. Wilson campaigned to save the railways but as soon as the votes were in the bag what he "really meant" by what he said wasn't how it sounded and he discovered that Beeching was actually right. Labour party campaign promises somehow got lost or redefined once they were in power and of course there was a wonderful quote that Hislop unearthed about potential closures in Wales. Apparently one line couldn't be closed as "it runs through seven marginal constituencies".

Fast forward to the present day. Professor Darzzi, a respected surgeon, was hired to justify decisions already made. The government is committed to large PFI Building projects and don't want anything that might throw any doubt on the wisdom of mortgaging our children's futures with off balance sheet spending that makes huge profits for certain favoured construction firms. There is no evidence that vocal local protest managed to save a single hospital once Darzzi has identified it for closure. Iain Wright campaigned in the Hartlepool by-election to save the hospital and rolled out the big guns from Westminster to provide reassurance, but as soon as the votes were in the bag it turned out that the hospital wasn't quite as safe as he claimed and the re-assurances Labour gave during the campaign wasn't actually what they meant now they were in power. The admission that campaign promises are "aspirations" rather than concrete policies and of course there were the "heat maps" prepared by Labour Ministers to identify where hospitals under threat are in marginal constituencies and so closures are directed only to Tory Constituencies or safe Labour seats (like Hartlepool is thought to be!) where it was assumed the Labour vote wouldn't be affected by a small thing like the loss of a hospital.

So the battle ground might have been different but the government's attitudes are remarkably unchanged in 50 years and of course don't even mention Post Office Closures!

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