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Thursday, April 22, 2010

The German state buys Britain's trains- and why it won't stop there

Britain’s neoliberal political elite oppose the British state owning railways and buses in Britain, but it seems they’re perfectly happy for the German state to own them!

Here’s my article from The First Post on this ludicrous state of affairs.

When the sell-off of Britain's state-owned companies started in the early 1980s we were told it would be much better for publicly-owned assets to be transferred to the private sector. State ownership was bad and inherently inefficient, private ownership was good. That was the Thatcherite mantra.

Thirty years on, however, large sections of our economy are back in state hands - only it's not the British state that's the owner, it's the governments of other European countries.

Today's £1.59bn takeover of the bus and rail firm Arriva, Britain's second largest transport provider, by Deutsche Bahn, which is 100 per cent owned by the German government, is just the latest in a series of deals in which publicly-owned European companies have taken over privatised British companies, or firms running services previously operated by the British state.

Even before today's transaction, Deutsche Bahn already owned Britain's largest rail freight company (which operates the Royal Train) and Chiltern Railways: in addition they have a 50 per cent stake in London Overground and the Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway and, since April 1, have also run Tyne and Wear Metro.

It's not just the Germans who are operating British trains: the Netherlands' state-owned railway, NS, is a joint owner of Northern Rail and Merseyrail. France's state-owned railway SNCF, who missed out on Arriva, are keen to enter the UK transport market too.

As for British utilities, EDF Energy, a subsidiary of the French state-owned EDF, supplies 5.5m customers in the UK. Last year, EDF Energy also took control of the privatised British Energy, the UK's largest electricity generator and operator of Britain's nuclear power stations.

The German state running trains in Wales? The French Government providing your gas and electricity? Such a prospect would have seemed incredible in the mixed economy Britain of 40 years ago, but it's the reality of life in the 'everything is for sale' Britain of today.

You can read the rest of the article here.


Nick said...

There's more than one way to win a war, you know! (No, sorry, shouldn't have said that, sorry, entirely inappropriate, sorry!)

Seriously though, I've always been an advocate of state ownership, but I'd never envisaged it occurring in quite this way.

How on earth are the little Englanders going to set about disengaging from Europe now that they're owned by it?

Mr. Piccolo said...

So much for patriotism. David Lindsay also writes quite a bit about the connection between national sovereignty, patriotism, and public ownership. I think he is right. That is why his blog and this blog are among my favorites. You both see things that others miss.

DBC Reed said...

The main problem is that British right-wingers never really accepted the mixed economy and have carried on fighting it like those Japanese soldiers who did not believe it was all over.Since they inveigh against all State action they are explicitly enemies of the British state which is based on a mixed economy.They have seized on the present private sector induced financial crisis as a long-hoped for opportunity to
sack as many public-sector workers as possible in some kind of Gotterdammerung,where to hell with the economy,afterwards the country will rise cleansed from all taint or compromise.

neil craig said...

Perhaps a sign that our economy is tun more incompetently, I should say even more incompently, than France & germany's. Interesting that this gets so much less media coverage than Cadbury being sold to an American company. I also think this is not as important as Corus' Indian owners closing the steel works in Redcar, pocketing a couple of h8ndred billion in "carbon reduction" subsidies from our & the EU governments & using it to build a replacement factory in India. No working person with any self respect can vote for the Labour thieves who enforce this (& probably not for the LudDim & Tory thieves either).

Mr. Piccolo said...

@DBC Reed,

Good point. A lot of right-wingers do seem to think that if only we eliminated gigantic numbers of government jobs, we would be able to return to some laissez-faire utopia, never mind the fact that it would accelerate the downward deflationary spiral and cause even more suffering. It is a bizarre way of thinking, but many of these free market zealots are so fanatical they remind me of some destructive cult.

neil craig said...

After all the fact that 53% of our economy is government spending & not only does it create no goods but actually has a severely negative effect on national wealth is completely irrelevent. Clearly only a "zealot" could ever suspect that having that parasitic burden on the productive economy could ever actually cost it anything ;-)

DBC Reed said...

@neil craig
Does n't it strike you as odd that credit is being created all the time by the banks but that the government has no money of its own and has to rely on taxation and borrowing, incurring charges of parasitism?When Lincoln was presented with a deal by the banks to finance the Civil War,he said sod it I'll just issue my own bank notes and pay the army with them.Worked OK.
The sky has n't fallen in with quantitative easing either
but as with bank nationalisation New Labour was too timid and economically conventional to go the whole hog and create money to spend on their own public services.Instead they channeled it to the banks who in that fine old tradition of private sector get up and go did nothing with it except re-inflate inflated asset prices and enrich themselves.
Truly society is broken: the private sector part.