Friday 31 August 2012

That Romney Speech In Full

War with Iran from Day One.

War with Russia, presumably to install Boris Berezovsky, and all pretence having been dropped that the missile "shield" that would have been sited in Eastern Europe had any purpose other than to attack Russia for no apparent reason.

And, well, that was pretty much it.

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but it has to be Obama. The only reasons for supporting him have always been his supporters rather than himself, and the sheer ghastliness of the alternatives. That second, in particular, applies again this year.

A Party of Strivers

David Brooks writes:

America was built by materialistic and sometimes superficial strivers. It was built by pioneers who voluntarily subjected themselves to stone-age conditions on the frontier fired by dreams of riches. It was built by immigrants who crammed themselves into hellish tenements because they thought it would lead, for their children, to big houses, big cars and big lives. America has always been defined by this ferocious commercial energy, this zealotry for self-transformation, which leads its citizens to vacation less, work longer, consume more and invent more.

Many Americans, and many foreign observers, are ambivalent about or offended by this driving material ambition. Read “The Great Gatsby.” Read D.H. Lawrence on Benjamin Franklin.But today’s Republican Party unabashedly celebrates this ambition and definition of success. Speaker after speaker at the convention in Tampa, Fla., celebrated the striver, who started small, struggled hard, looked within and became wealthy. Speaker after speaker argued that this ideal of success is under assault by Democrats who look down on strivers, who undermine self-reliance with government dependency, who smother ambition under regulations. Republicans promised to get government out of the way. Reduce the burden of debt. Offer Americans an open field and a fair chance to let their ambition run.

If you believe, as I do, that American institutions are hitting a creaky middle age, then you have a lot of time for this argument. If you believe that there has been a hardening of the national arteries caused by a labyrinthine tax code, an unsustainable Medicare program and a suicidal addiction to deficits, then you appreciate this streamlining agenda, even if you don’t buy into the whole Ayn Rand-influenced gospel of wealth. On the one hand, you see the Republicans taking the initiative, offering rejuvenating reform. On the other hand, you see an exhausted Democratic Party, which says: We don’t have an agenda, but we really don’t like theirs. Given these options, the choice is pretty clear.

But there is a flaw in the vision the Republicans offered in Tampa. It is contained in its rampant hyperindividualism. Speaker after speaker celebrated the solitary and heroic individual. There was almost no talk of community and compassionate conservatism. There was certainly no conservatism as Edmund Burke understood it, in which individuals are embedded in webs of customs, traditions, habits and governing institutions. Today’s Republicans strongly believe that individuals determine their own fates. In a Pew Research Center poll, for example, 57 percent of Republicans believe people are poor because they don’t work hard. Only 28 percent believe people are poor because of circumstances beyond their control. These Republicans believe that if only government gets out of the way, then people’s innate qualities will enable them to flourish.

But there’s a problem. I see what the G.O.P. is offering the engineering major from Purdue or the business major from Arizona State. The party is offering skilled people the freedom to run their race. I don’t see what the party is offering the waitress with two kids, or the warehouse worker whose wages have stagnated for a decade, or the factory worker whose skills are now obsolete. The fact is our destinies are shaped by social forces much more than the current G.O.P. is willing to admit. The skills that enable people to flourish are not innate but constructed by circumstances. Government does not always undermine initiative. Some government programs, like the G.I. Bill, inflame ambition. Others depress it. What matters is not whether a program is public or private but its effect on character. Today’s Republicans, who see every government program as a step on the road to serfdom, are often blind to that. They celebrate the race to success but don’t know how to give everyone access to that race.

The wisest speech departed from the prevailing story line. It was delivered by Condoleezza Rice. It echoed an older, less libertarian conservatism, which harkens back to Washington, Tocqueville and Lincoln. The powerful words in her speech were not “I” and “me” — the heroic individual. They were “we” and “us” — citizens who emerge out of and exist as participants in a great national project. Rice celebrated material striving but also larger national goals — the long national struggle to extend benefits and mobilize all human potential. She subtly emphasized how our individual destinies are dependent upon the social fabric and upon public institutions like schools, just laws and our mission in the world. She put less emphasis on commerce and more on citizenship.

Today’s Republican Party may be able to perform useful tasks with its current hyperindividualistic mentality. But its commercial soul is too narrow. It won’t be a worthy governing party until it treads the course Lincoln trod: starting with individual ambition but ascending to a larger vision and creating a national environment that arouses ambition and nurtures success.

An Infantilizing Speech

Noah Millman writes:

Maybe I am getting older and crankier, but that struck me as an exceptionally infantilizing speech that Mitt Romney just gave, politically speaking. There were good bits in it, particularly in the soft-focus autobiographical stuff. He actually sounded like he choked up talking about missing the days when they’d wake up to find a pile of kids in their bedroom. He got a genuine laugh from a genuine joke. I’ve never cared much whether Romney seems “authentic” or “genuine” because those qualities in a politician are faked – what you’re seeing is the ability to seem genuine, seem authentic. If Romney lacks those qualities, they have practical consequences – people will be less-likely to believe him when he speaks in public – but they aren’t indications of character. But nonetheless, it’s nice to see that he can play this game a little, since he’d be expected to play it if he became President. But the rest of the speech was pretty dreadful, and particularly this section: 

Every small business wanted these to be their best years ever, when they could hire more, do more for those who had stuck with them through the hard times, open a new store or sponsor that Little League team. Every new college graduate thought they’d have a good job by now, a place of their own, and that they could start paying back some of their loans and build for the future. This is when our nation was supposed to start paying down the national debt and rolling back those massive deficits. This was the hope and change America voted for. 

I don’t have the transcript yet (the above is from the pre-released excerpts), but the next line is something like, “That’s what Americans deserve.” Think about that: immediately after the biggest economic crisis since the great depression, Americans deserved to have “the best years ever.” I guess that’s what makes America special, what makes us an exceptional nation. This is the only place where nothing bad is ever allowed to happen, where you are entitled to the “best year ever” because you want it. That was one half of the infantilizing message. The other half: the “trust me” presentation of his “plan” to revitalize the American economy. Romney’s “plan” to create 12 million new jobs had five parts:
  • Energy independence (by 2020)
  • School choice
  • New trade agreements, and retaliation against nations that cheat on them
  • Cut the deficit
  • Cut regulations and taxes on small businesses, and repeal the ACA
Most of these things have absolutely nothing to do with job creation. Energy independence, if taken literally, would mean higher energy prices (if it was economically efficient for us to be independent, we would be). But what Romney really means is simply to roll back regulation against drilling and mining. More energy development will indeed create some jobs – it’s doing so in Western Pennsylvania, in North Dakota, for example. But it won’t make a big dent in a 12 million job goal. School choice, whether you like it or hate it, has nothing to do with the near-term jobs picture. New trade agreements? With what countries? Tariffs are at historic lows. “Trade agreements” these days are mostly about pushing other countries to respect our intellectual property regime. Retaliation is presumably about punishing China for being a currency manipulator. I’m still waiting to hear how exactly that particular chess game is supposed to play out after the first move.

Cutting the deficit is a meaningless goal if you don’t say how you’re going to cut it. Romney called out Obama for threatening the economy through his Medicare cuts and his (nonexistent) defense cuts. We don’t know what spending Romney plans to actually cut; he plans to increase spending on Medicare and defense. We know he has promised not to raise taxes, but to cut them. How the deficit is going to go down is a mystery. How, if it did, that would feed back into the job market is also a mystery. And then we have cutting regulations and taxes on small businesses, and repealing the ACA (repeal is somehow supposed to lower healthcare costs). I’ll buy that actions to make our regulatory regime more efficient would have a positive economic impact. But a huge one? Big enough to pull us out of the biggest economic slump since the depression?

And that’s the “plan” to generate 12 million new jobs. The mismatch between the scale of the challenge and the proposed solution is almost laughable.

Mitt Romney is a very smart guy, and a successful businessman. He knows the mismatch is laughable. So why doesn’t he close the rhetorical gap? Don’t just tell us that President Obama doesn’t know how to end the economic crisis – explain to us how you think we wound up in this mess (in 2008, before Obama took office) and what President Obama should have done and could still do to get us out of it. But, quite plainly, Mitt Romney has no intention of saying anything that his audience doesn’t want to hear, and what he thinks his audience wants to hear is that America is great, and the only reason everything isn’t hunky dory is that we are led by a man who doesn’t understand that America is great. So believe in Mitt Romney, who believes in America, and trust that he will do the right things to steer America toward brighter shores.

That’s the whole speech, and it’s the whole campaign. It’s really that infantilizing.

Personally, I like Mitt Romney. He was a decent governor. By all reports, he’s been a wonderful husband, father and grandfather. He reminds me of some of the people I worked with on Wall Street whom I liked best – the people who were stand-up guys who you’d feel confident doing business with, not the raging egotists that you too often find in that business. But even if he were running on policies I support, which he isn’t (and which is the main reason I’m opposed to him), I’d call this speech a lousy one. He’s condescending, flattering and generally treating the American people like children. And I don’t think the American people should take kindly to that.

The Usual Abuse

Peter Hitchens writes:

A person grandiosely describing himself as ‘Policy Director’ at the Adam Smith Institute has placed an article on the Internet, under the imprint of that Institute, in which he denounces my new book on drugs without having read it. Indeed, he proudly announces that he has not read it, and has no intention of doing so. Is this what ‘Policy Directors’ at the Adam Smith Institute do? Apparently. You may read it here.

I have this picture in my mind of some teenage ideologue, barely out of university, brusquely giving orders to a roomful of cowed and shamefaced policies, which have fallen on hard times and must therefore submit to this treatment without complaint. ‘Stand there!’ He barks. ‘Underpin this!’. ‘You two! Yes, you, over there! You should be more consistent with each other!’ The poor policies have been enticed off the street with promises of warmth, food and wages, and now find that they must pay an awful price for this. Inwardly, they think bitterly ‘How has it come to this? That I should be Directed about the place by a person who proudly says he hasn’t read the books he criticises? ‘ Outwardly, they smile and obey. I rather hope that Unison, or some even more stroppy trade union, sends an organiser to sign up these poor mishandled policies, and gets them to stage a strike. My suggested slogan for their placards, as they picket the Adam Smith Institute, would be ‘No Bloviation without Cogitation!’ and ‘Read first. Pontificate afterwards!’

I have not, it is true, paid much attention to the Adam Smith Institute for a while. Though the name suggests an august establishment, reached by climbing a flight of marble steps and passing through a pillared classical portico, into a cool and thought-inducing inner courtyard, I don’t think it quite lives up to its title. If its policies are directed by the person whose smirking portrait adorns this article, then you might be more likely to find it, surrounded by 4X4 motor cars, on some industrial estate near a Motorway interchange and service area on the M25. It has long struck me as a rather tiresome body which – like the BBC and the fashionable Left – has confused classical liberalism with conservatism. It therefore has no problem with the cultural revolution, since (unlike Adam Smith himself, who wrote, amongst other things ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’) it is uninterested in the moral conditions without which freedom rapidly becomes licence, and worse.

The author of this attack upon me also appears to be an enthusiast for Miss Ayn Rand, that anti-religious apostle of the higher selfishness. So an attack from this quarter isn’t really much different in quality and nature from the regular assaults I receive from straightforward leftist cultural revolutionaries, who openly despise conscience, morality and self-restraint. It is one of the two tragedies of modern conservatism (the first being that political Toryism is more interested in office than principle) that the think-tank world is dominated by nominal conservatives who support intervention abroad and licence at home.

Now, I would be the first to recognise that it is hard to summarise a book of around 300 pages in a single extract in a newspaper. I am untroubled by anyone who says that the extract in the Mail on Sunday did not fully address all the issues involved. But the author of the attack on me must surely recognise that, until he has read the book, it is unsafe to dismiss it with words such as these:

But his [my] argument – that cannabis is much more dangerous than is commonly believed – was staggeringly weak. His justification for this premise in full: “The cannabis user can cause terrible distress to others. He could wreck his life and the lives of his friends and close family through irreversible mental illness. He could destroy his good prospects. Its use by teenagers is associated with under-achievement in school. Many who fail in school go on to fail in life, and so become an unquenchable grief to those who love them, and a costly burden to us all. Campaigners for cannabis legalisation often claim that the drug, especially in comparison with alcohol, promotes peaceful behaviour. I am unconvinced by this broad claim, partly because of the frequent newspaper accounts of violent acts by people who are known cannabis users. . . . There are also several cases, which I have for the most part set aside, of killings by mentally ill people who have been taking cannabis. It is not possible to say whether they were ill in the first place because of cannabis, or whether they were already ill for some other reason, and cannabis has made their problems worse.”

That’s it. No survey data, no medical evidence – nothing, except some specious anecdotes and flimsy correlations. Contrast this with actual, you know, medical research which says, basically, that it’s not good for you, but you could do worse. There isn’t a clear link between cannabis use and violence to others. The risks of psychosis are slim. And Peter Hitchens may be surprised to learn that there have been several cases of killings by mentally ill people who have not been taking cannabis as well.’ Can you spot the flaw? Ah, yes. It’s those two little words ‘in full’. He has not read my case in full. We know he hasn’t because a) he says he hasn’t and b) he says he isn’t going to. So there! Jolly well shan’t! So he can’t in that case state that he is aware of my case in full, or purport to rebut it here. Can he? What do they teach them in those schools?

I recognise, and in my book acknowledge and discuss the difficulties of obtaining hard, indisputable evidence on this subject. I do so partly because I listen carefully to my opponents in this debate and I am aware of how much they rely on two lines of argument – one that ‘correlation is not causation’ and the other, that even the use of those surveys which tend to suggest that cannabis is dangerous is usually dismissed as ‘cherry-picking’. You’ll have to read the book to see how I deal with this problem in detail, and how careful I am to make no claims beyond what the facts support.

The difficulty is that, confronted with the great cloud of ‘anecdotal’ evidence such as the fate of Henry Cockburn and many more like him, and of the mental declines (charted, since my book went to the printers, in the recent study of Persistent Cannabis Users, and so no longer ‘anecdotal’), and also faced with the extreme difficulty of measuring such concepts as ‘mental illness’ ‘psychosis’ , ‘schizophrenia’ or ‘paranoia’ , and combining that with the general lack of enthusiasm among research bodies for examining the cannabis phenomenon,  what should a responsible society do? My critic thinks we should do nothing.

The jury is out, he says. But what if the jury never comes back? What if the evidence remains forever anecdotal and dispersed, and yet in thousands of homes tragedies are unfolding, as catastrophic for those involved as a terrorist attack would be for a city, but private, unrecorded, lacking the gravity and the media force to become politically important? Must we then do nothing, and watch as Hell strides brutally into the lives of our fellow-creatures? Is no preventive action to be allowed at all? Apparently so. If it doesn’t affect our Policy Director personally, then it doesn’t count.

He states, apparently as fact rather than as his opinion ‘As an adult, I should be able to stick whatever I damn well like into my body. Provided that I am aware of the risks, nobody is better placed to make my personal cost/benefit calculation for any given action.’ How grown-up and how awfully brave to swear a bit while making this declaration. But has it never occurred to this Policy Director that others, either his close family, or his neighbours, or his work colleagues, or the taxpayers who may later have to shoulder the potentially lifelong consequences of the immeasurable risk he takes by sticking ‘what he likes’ into his body, might have some say in what he does?

Even the most primitive instrumental moral system, quite uninterested in the abuse of divine gifts or the moral squalor of deliberate self-stupefaction, might have something to say about that. Listening to the Policy Director is like watching an infant running gleefully about on a clifftop, shrieking with innocent laughter as he plays on the lip of death.  Like so many people in our immature society, given responsibilities and platforms far too early in life to be worthy of them, he has no idea of the dangers he runs. But we will have to clear up the broken pieces afterwards, if the dangers turn out to be greater than he thought.

I’ve dealt here at other times with (and so am not silent about, though I am very bored by) the puerile Nutt-like comparisons between drug-taking, a meritless activity innocent of skill, self-discipline, careful training, courage or other moral qualities, and such risky activities as horse-riding (though as it happens, now you ask me, I would happily see boxing banned by law). He then diverts into bizarre comparisons such as ‘What about sex with people in high STD risk groups? What about driving to work instead of getting the train (twelve times less lethal than driving)?' I am unable to see any particular connection between these two. The first (if, as I suspect, he means undertaken without careful precautions) would be an act of self-indulgent folly comparable to drug-taking.  The other is a choice forced on most of those who do it by the simple fact that no train is available, or they can’t (thanks to the ‘free market ’ which subsidises roads and cars far more than trains) afford train travel.

And he opines: ‘He [me] might believe that the pleasure that some people take from driving is more important than the pleasure that some people take from using cocaine.’ Might I? What is he talking about? I don’t. On what basis can he suggest that I might? As it happens, I loathe driving and do it only when I must, though I recognise that some people enjoy it. Though very few people, I think, drive primarily for pleasure, not is it an activity which needs to be justified by the pleasure it gives or doesn’t give. After misrepresenting my position on alcohol, and then claiming that I am inconsistent because his mistaken version of my position is inconsistent, the Policy Director declares ‘ If he does, then he is simply advocating for a law based on Peter Hitchens’s own preferences, and is certainly not a serious thinker.’

I don’t much care if the Policy Director believes I am a ‘serious thinker’ or not. Accolades and criticisms of this kind are only valid when the person involved has proved that he is qualified to issue them. I see little evidence of serious thought, or even of unserious thought, in this construction. But the jibe about ‘preferences’ is surely without merit. Here am I, trying through open debate to influence a free society in a direction which I think wise. I think it wise because I think it would be beneficial to many people. I present in my book, which the Policy Director will not read, both moral (for those who understand them) and utilitarian arguments (for those who are open to them) to explain the basis of this opinion. To that extent, and to that extent only, I am advocating (not ‘advocating for’, this is a redundancy, as this lofty critic of my writing abilities should surely know) laws based on my own preferences. But isn’t that what everyone does, who enters the debate about how we should govern ourselves?

Amusingly, the Policy Director (having criticised my writing), then pronounces (or perhaps directs) that my writings should be ‘mocked’ and ‘ignored’. Well, as Bertie Wooster almost said of Roderick Spode when he found that Spode was simultaneously leading a fascist organisation and designing frilly ladies’ underwear , ‘One or the other, Mr Policy Director. But not both.’ There’s even this priceless barb: ‘Apparently Hitchens has admitted trying 'illegal drugs'. Why hasn't he handed himself into the authorities?’ Well, since my (many times stated) argument relies rather heavily on the proposition that the authorities cannot be bothered to prosecute current offences of drug possession where there is clear material evidence of it, what logic or consistency would require me to, or even remotely suggest that I should, turn myself in to the police over an offence committed in (I think) 1965 for which there is no such evidence?

Talking of prosecutions, a reading of my book, when it comes out, will set him right on another point. He says: ‘Even still, it's quite an overstatement to say that there is a “de facto decriminalization” of drugs in Britain. There are over 10,000 people in jail in the UK for specific drugs offences, and many more for drugs-related offences.’ Yes, but what offences are these? And what, more importantly, are they not? A large part of my argument is that the de facto decriminalisation of drug possession has been accompanied by a propaganda hysteria against ‘evil dealers’, and that the misrepresentation of cannabis as ‘soft’ has been necessarily accompanied by the portrayal of heroin and cocaine as bogeymen, rather than as substances comparable to cannabis, equally dangerous in their different ways, or (in my view) in some ways less dangerous because the damage they do is not always so irreversible. Thus it is still quite possible to go to prison for selling or growing drugs which it is effectively legal to consume. I agree that this is absurd, but it is an absurdity rooted in the whole nature of covert, rather than overt, decriminalisation. My book will explain this to those who choose to read it, but not to those who do not.

I will however, provide here a sneak preview of the closing words of the preface: ‘I can only hope that this book manages to open a few generous minds to the truth, while preparing myself for the usual abuse.’

Thursday 30 August 2012


The Muslim Brotherhood's President of Egypt cheers on the Syrian "uprising".

Have you got the message yet?

Don't Mess

Defend Blair's Wars and revisit the fight for apartheid South Africa? No wonder that some people just cannot resist.

Certain others, however, need to ask themselves what it says about them that they now line up with those against Desmond Tutu, as persistent a critic of the ANC as he ever was of the previous lot.

Leaving It To Leninists

"Leaving it to Leninists is why we keep having wars and keep having cuts."

Thus ended a comment so good that I reproduced it as a post.

The author was referring to the role of the SWP, an astonishing phenomenon in itself. The followers of Tony Cliff, heterodox even within Trotskyism, have filled the void left by the almost unique decision of the CPGB to dissolve itself in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Everywhere else, apart from in the Eurocommunist homeland and heartland of Italy, the Communist Party kept going and subsumed into new blocs its own and the USSR's previous ultra-Left critics. Such as, in Britain, the SWP.

Those blocs have not been without electoral success and other influence in several countries. We are constantly subject to their legislative will in the European Parliament, not to say in the Council of Ministers, the present President of which, President Demetris Christofias, is a Communist. His party was the largest in pre-independence Cyprus, one of the numerous standing contradictions of Marxist historiography in the form of the places where Marxist parties do, and do not, gain popular followings. But this old Tankie is doing nothing to halt the EU's austerity and marketisation. No surprise there.

After all, no party could be more neoliberal, or more warmongering, than the one that united old Tankies and old Trots around, unless I am very much mistaken, a globally unique constitutional commitment to Gramscian Eurocommunism, albeit as mediated through the pages of what, even then, was a long-defunct 1980s lifestyle magazine. I refer, of course, to New Labour and the new Clause IV. Or, rather, to the Labour Party, since what is now the hilariously dated 1995 text, copied and pasted out of Marxism Today in all its glossiness, remains at the heart of that party's Constitution to this day.

"Leaving it to Leninists is why we keep having wars and keep having cuts."

The Conventional Paul Ryan

Wooden and leaden. Over-edited and over-rehearsed. Condoleezza Rice was better, whether or not one happened to agree with what she was saying. And in point of fact, her paean to the spending programmes of the Bush Era was better received by the Convention delegates.

Well, of course it was. They are there to nominate Mitt Romney, the choice of Republican primary voters. The Tea Party needs to get over itself. Never mind the general electorate: it has demonstrably little influence even within its own party.

Coming Down, Coming Round

Leaf Fielding writes:

Reports suggesting that cannabis has a deleterious effect on intelligence, attention span and memory for youngsters under 18 who use the drug follow the insights of a piece of research by King's College and Duke University using data going back to 1972.

I first smoked cannabis in 1967 when I was 18. I enjoyed the experience – it seemed to heighten my sense of aesthetic appreciation and stimulate my creative juices. And it continued to do so, time after time, year after year. I'm not alone in these perceptions: many artists, musicians, writers and people working in all areas of creative endeavour have experienced the same or a similar reaction. I smoked fairly regularly for 44 years. I quit at the beginning of 2011 because of concerns over the state of my lungs.

All through this period various medical and governmental bodies issued advice about the dangers of taking illegal drugs. However, two of the world's most lethal drugs were legal. This fact totally undermined the warnings concerning drugs like cannabis and the psychotropics, which, though illegal, were demonstrably less dangerous than tobacco and alcohol. As an unfortunate consequence, a whole generation learned to ridicule and ignore all governmental advice on the subject.
I believe that my long-term use of cannabis, while being bad for my lungs, has had no adverse effect on my mind, but two factors have made me consider again the potential problems of cannabis. I was an adult when I began smoking hash and grass and so were the friends I smoked with. Cannabis at this time was little known outside the Jamaican community in the UK and was not a drug taken by children or youngsters. That changed with time.

The other change is the wider availability of high-strength varieties of cannabis, known as skunk. These produce a range of effects which vary from the psychedelic to the catatonic. It is difficult to think, let alone talk, under the influence of many of these powerful substances. Even so, experienced adult users can generally handle and enjoy the mind-bending effects of skunk. It's a different matter with neophytes and youngsters.

I smoked openly in front of my daughter, but never encouraged her to follow my example, thinking that she would be able to make up her own mind when she was an adult. She did, deciding it wasn't for her. At that stage I had no scientific basis for my decision, it just seemed right.

All parents know that teenage brains don't work in the same way as adult brains. If you accept the findings of this study – as I do – it would appear that the best thing you can do for your children is to explain to them why premature use of these psychoactive substances could have a negative effect on their future prospects.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

We Are Coming For You, Atos

Johnny Void writes:

A well attended ceremony took place yesterday evening outside City Hall, London to make the opening of the Atos Games. Disabled people and supporters held speeches and a mock medal ceremony to launch the Week of Action Against Atos timed to coincide with the Paralympic Games. Atos are paid £100 million a year to carry out the brutal and demeaning Work Capability Assessments on behalf of the Government. This short computer based health assessment has led to tens of thousands of sick and disabled people being stripped of vital benefits.

Atos have recently won the contract to assess all those claiming Disability Living Allowance, a process which has the stated aim of removing financial support from a fifth of disabled people. Astonishingly Atos are also sponsors of the Olympics Games. At the mock ceremony last night, Paralympic Gold medal winner, Tara Flood was stripped of her medals as she was declared no longer disabled by Atos assessors. Speakers from Disabled People Against Cuts and Transport For All, who both helped organise the event, spoke of their experiences at the hands of the company and their fury at Atos attempting to gain positive publicity on the back of the Paralympic Games.

Those assembled were warned that Paralympian Athletes will also soon face assessment by the company who have shown no mercy to even those with life threatening conditions. A recent investigation found that 32 people a week die after being judged ‘fit for work’ by the company. Atos were warned that we are coming for them – in the Courts, in Parliament, in the Courts and most importantly on the streets.

Protests will take place around the UK outside Atos offices today as part of the Week of Action. A Mass Die In will take place in Cardiff on Wednesday whilst a Memorial Service will be held outside their London Headquarters on the same day. Thursday will see a day of online and telephone action and on Friday DPAC will link up with UK Uncut for a spectacular Closing Atos Ceremony. For full details of events this week visit: here.

Also, sign the petition to the Government here, to stop being bullied by a company which its own watchdog has found to be gravely at fault.

To Work Less So That All May Work


Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian village in southern Spain that is prosperous thanks to its farming cooperative. In a country in the grip of austerity, the village mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, heads a grassroots resistance movement. Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, made the headlines recently by leading a "forced expropriation" of food stuffs from several supermarkets. Aided by his allies in the Andalusian Farmers' Union (SAT), the food was then distributed to the most needy. Clearly, the mayor of Marinaleda stands out among Spanish politicians.

Sánchez Gordillo is a historic leader of the Farm Workers' Union (SOC), the backbone of the current SAT. He has been the mayor the little village, which numbers fewer than 3,000 people and is in the Seville region, since 1979. There, thanks to the participation and support of the local population, he launched a unique political and economic experiment which turned the village into a kind of socialist stronghold in the midst of the Andalusian countryside. With the economic crisis, Marinaleda was given the chance to verify that its 25 square kilometres of utopia is a genuine solution to market forces.

Its current rate of unemployment is zero per cent. A good part of the residents are employed by the Cooperativa Humar-Marinaleda, created by the farm workers themselves after years of struggle. For a long time, the farmers repeatedly occupied the land of the El Humoso Farm, which belonged to an aristocratic family. Each time, they were dispersed by the Guardia Civil [police] and would chant: "The land belongs to those who work it." In 1992, they were finally beat the authorities. They now own the farm. They grow beans, artichokes, peppers and produce high-quality olive oil. The workers themselves control each phase of the production while the land belongs to "the community as a whole". The farm includes a canning facility, an olive mill, facilities for livestock and a farm store. No matter what their position, the workers all get a salary of € 47 per day.

They work a 35-hour work week over six days and earn a monthly salary of €1,128, at a time when the minimum wage in Spain is €641 per month. In high season, the cooperative employs about 400 people and never less than one hundred. But positions are not attributed to a specific person. They are done on a rotation basis so as to insure a revenue for all. "To work less so that all may work," that is the basic principal. In addition, some people work their own small land parcels. The rest of economic life is made of shops, basic services and sporting activities. In practice, all of the residents of the village earn as much as a worker at the cooperative.

In an interview in Público last month, Mayor Gordillo himself explains the repercussions of the crisis on Marinaleda. "In a general way, the crisis was less noticeable in farming and food production," he says, adding "What happened was that those people that had left the countryside to work in construction came back, looking for work. As a result, existing employment needs to be not only maintained but increased. But remember that organic farming creates more jobs than traditional agriculture." For decades, as Spain was gripped by a real estate boom. Speculation took over the construction sector. Marinaleda decided to swim against the current. Here, it is possible to rent a house of 90 square metres, in good condition, and with a terrace for only €15 per month. The only catch is that everybody must participate in the construction of their home, in accordance with the philosophy that guides all of the activities in Marinaleda. The local council obtained some land through a mixed policy of purchase and expropriation.

Thus, it offers the land and provides all the building materials needed to construct the house. The labour is left to the tenants themselves, unless they pay someone to do it for them. Furthermore, the council employs professional masons to provide advice to the residents on the more complicated tasks. One last point, the future tenants do not know which home will be theirs, which helps fosters a community spirit.

"A person working to build a house is paid €800 per month," notes Juan José Sancho, a resident of Marinaleda. "Half of the salary is used to pay for the home," he says. Aged only 21, this young man is already a member of the village "action squad", whose mission, through the village assembly, is to manage daily business. According to him, "if this measure was taken, it was so that real estate speculation would not be possible". Previously, a large number of the farm workers barely knew how to read. Today, they have a kindergarten, a primary school and a secondary school. School lunches cost only €15 per month. Yet, according to Sancho, "The dropout rate is a little high. People have a home and are assured a job, so many don't see the need to study. That is one of the points on which we can improve."

In Marinaleda, there is no police force and political decisions are taken by an assembly in which all citizens are asked to participate. As for the "action squad", it deals with "all urgent questions, on a day-to-day basis," explains Sancho, adding, "It is not a group of elected officials. It is people who, together, decide how to allocate tasks and what needs to be done in the best interest of the village." As for taxes, "They are very low. They are the lowest in the entire region," if Sancho is to be believed. The budget is decided in a plenary session of the assembly, which also approves budget items. The process then shifts to the neighbourhood level, with each neighbourhood having its own assembly. It is at this level that the decision is made on how to invest each euro of each budget item devised by council.

Israel, Obama, and The Curse of John Wayne

One of several reasons why the Daily Mail is these days a far more serious forum for Tory comment than the Daily Telegraph, Andrew Alexander writes:

There are 10 weeks left before the U.S. presidential election. During that time the Western world may face its most perilous moment for decades. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks he has found an ingenious way of dealing with Iran’s programme for nuclear weapons: if Israel launches an air attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities before the election, President Obama will have no choice but to support him for fear of losing the Jewish vote in various key areas. He might also pick up votes from those who always like to see a hawk in the White House — the John Wayne syndrome.

American popular opinion, it must be said, shows no sign of supporting yet another war in the Middle East. Any attack by Israel on Iran would be very hazardous militarily. The targeted installations are deep underground, the distance between the two countries is immense, and it poses the usual problem about fighting far from home against vigorously defended targets. The retaliation and repercussions of such an attack could be appalling, whatever President Obama might say, if the shooting begins.

There is no chance of a neat, brief surgical strike, as some think, leaving Iran’s forces disabled and the country too weakened by decades of sanctions to be a top power in the Gulf. Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, cheerfully argues that Iranian retaliation would produce minimum casualties in Israel. In reality, Iran would retaliate against Israel on all fronts, including through Hezbollah in the Lebanon, once more plunging that country into conflict.

If Washington actually gave Israel any support for having attacked Iran, then America and its allies would be dragged into an ever-widening conflict, certainly including the U.S. forces in Afghanistan and those who remain in Iraq. The danger this poses for oil supplies and prices is all too plain, especially for a Western world faced with a severe recession. At one level, Iran could close the Straits of Hormuz, through which 40 per cent of the world’s oil tankers pass. Or, as a senior Iranian general put it, it would allow through only tankers of nations that shared Iran’s interests. That would rule out much of the Western world, regularly tightening the sanctions programme against Iran that has already lasted decades.

The Americans may have its Fifth and Sixth Fleets patrolling the Gulf, which may suggest immense and even glamorous power, but in reality they are as useless as a series of Potemkin villages. The military initiative would pass to Iran, which needs only its small craft to close the straits. Netanyahu and his friends, still arguing with the doubters, may like to think that Israel would be seen as at last dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But the U.S. military says such an action could only delay — not prevent — Iran shouldering its way into the world nuclear club.

Iran is deeply split today with a majority of voters wanting to end clerical rule. But nothing would unite them more than an external attack. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may even see an attack as usefully prolonging his own position — just as Netanyahu does in Israel. Historians will note the dangerous symmetry of the two leaders’ positions. Hope of avoiding a cataclysm turns on Netanyahu being dissuaded from his plan by the hostility in the Israeli press and by nagging doubts among colleagues.

In Washington itself, the advice to Obama from the State Department and the military is plain: that Netanyahu’s plans should have no U.S. support. And, as already noted, a clear majority of American voters have no appetite for new military adventures in the Middle East. Obama must do more than wait and see. He should make a public declaration against military action by Israel before this possible event, not afterwards. We need a pre-emptive declaration before any pre-emptive war.

Britain, for its part, at all costs must avoid waiting to see what lead it gets from the U.S. Our role as the Americans’ lickspittle involved us in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both have had the effect of convincing many Muslims that we are part of a Western war against Islam and thus a logical target for terrorism. Foreign Secretary William Hague backed both disasters. Now he should make it abundantly clear we will in no way, shape or form, support American backing for an Israeli attack.

In all this, we assume that Iran must be prevented from becoming a nuclear power. But this is arguable. If Israel ceased to be the region’s only nuclear power, as it has been for 40 years, the way may be opened to greater, not less, stability. India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers, may hate each other, but no one seriously fears that either side will use the bomb. The rules of nuclear balance still work. Israel’s attacks on Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007 were against the possible development of nuclear power. Neither contributed in any way to stability in the Middle East, any more than the current sanctions do. A nuclear Iran, however limited its arsenal, might well feel that its new status would make it a proper diplomatic power, not an outcast. We should not ignore this possibility.

A Gap That Should Not Exist

I could not agree more with the following comment on one of yesterday's posts:

"People looked askance at the role of the SWP in the Stop the War Coalition. They look askance at the role of the SWP and other Trot outfits in the anti-cuts movement and so on. But the Trots have only filled a gap that should not exist in the first place. We need something with a broad enough base from which to organise everyone opposed to the war agenda and everyone opposed to the loss of their local library or whatever. Leaving it to Leninists is why we keep having wars and keep having cuts."

Evil Auntie

Put out at the award to Channel 4 of the rights to cover the Paralympics, the BBC has resumed in earnest its longstanding campaign for assisted suicide. (Although last night's Accused did explore quite what sort of person would wish to carry it out professionally, as well as the reality of the effects of cannabis use on adolescent mental health. Only Jimmy McGovern could have got that broadcast, so thank God that he did.)

It gave over much of last night's Newsnight to the odious eugenicist Professor John Harris. Who next, David Irving? That said, this year's Reith Lectures were delivered by Niall Ferguson. And the entire media are of course blacking out the anti-Atos protests. Imagine if they, and everything else that is routinely reported nowhere with Lobby access apart from Tribune and the Morning Star, were being co-ordinated by a broadly based party with 70 or more MPs.

A Cross of Gold

The United States came off the gold standard under that underrated President, Richard Nixon. Generally, I like the economy to be grounded in reality; in farms, factories, mines, shops, and so on, themselves intimately related to families and communities, including nations. The gold standard ought to appeal to me, as it does very strongly to my paleoconservative friends. But, as Lord Keynes, for so he rather splendidly calls himself, writes:

Some human beings are charismatic and spell-binding orators. William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) was such a person. Bryan’s speech to the Democratic National Convention in 1896 was one remembered in history, for good reasons. Of course, human beings are human beings. I suspect that no human being can be right on every social, economic and cultural issue of his/her day. William Jennings Bryan was wrong on prohibition and in his opposition to Darwin’s theory of evolution, though not in his opposition to the vile Social Darwinism that was popular in his time.

He was also absolutely right in his denunciation of the gold standard. To this day, his speech opposing it it remains one that will inspire all those fighting against wrong-headed, false, and pernicious economic doctrines. His metaphor of the “cross of gold” is a vivid one, which invokes images that will move anyone with a Christian cultural background. You do not need to believe in god (I personally don’t) to find the metaphor and speech poignant and powerful. The metaphor has also been used by Post Keynesians and progressive New Keynesians like Paul Krugman in denunciations of modern neoclassical economics. The crescendo of William Jennings Bryan’s speech can be heard in an audio recording he made later in 1921 that captures the mesmerising spirit of that speech.

At the end of his address he proclaimed: “If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

The Untold Story

If, as Channel 4 would have them, Muslims ever did succumb to "higher criticism", then they would be mad, and indeed rather behind the times.

That strange and increasingly unfashionable thing, Biblical criticism, purports to read the Bible "as if it were any other ancient text", but in fact subjects it to a series of methods that would be laughed out in any other literary of historical discipline. Those methods are carefully constructed to "prove" the presuppositions of that strange and increasingly unfashionable thing, liberal theology.

Thus, if two Biblical books are word for word alike, as Matthew, Mark and Luke certainly are in parts, then they must have been copied from each other, since there is no way that God could have inspired them all and, funnily enough, done so in such a way that they confirmed each other's accounts. Hence the theory of Markan Priority, that Saint Mark's Gospel was the first to be written, and that  Saint Matthew and Saint Luke copied out great chunks of it word for word. And hence the theory of Q, no copy of which exists anywhere.

Likewise, if Mark ends with what looks like a sort of synopsis of the post-Resurrection events recorded in the other Gospels, then that ending must be a later accretion, since there is no way that those events could actually have happened. Jesus simply did not claim divinity for Himself, so that rules out John at a stroke. Miracles simply do not happen, a position not even compatible with agnosticism. Style simply does not develop (seriously), so Saint Paul cannot have written several of the Epistles beginning with the words, "From Paul". And so on, and on, and on.

Academia is at last moving away from this sort of thing. When will the Church in practice, since of course She has never adopted it, and cannot do so, in principle? It is amazing that the account of the Ascension in Mark 16 is not the Gospel either for Ascension Day or for the following Sunday even in Year B. For that matter, it is astonishing that there are only Years A, B and C, with no Johannine Year D. Or, at least, it is amazing now. It was only too predictable a generation or two ago. But those days are, mercifully, gone.

If, like the Eastern Orthodox with whom they have always had considerable contact at ground level, the Muslims will have absolutely nothing to do with all of that, therefore continuing to believe, for example, that Jesus was the virgin-born Messiah promised to the previous Prophets, then good for them.

Incredibly, Atos

Paralympic gold medallist and world record holder Tara Flood faces a test that could see her lose her disability benefits, she told Socialist Worker. [I know, but whose fault is it that she has nowhere else to go?] Tara is a seven-time Paralympic medallist. In 1992 she set a world record for 50 metres breaststroke that still stands today. But that hasn’t saved her from the Tories’ harsh benefits clampdown. “I’ve already had my letter,” she said. “At some point next year it will be my turn to be assessed.”

Tara is one of hundreds of thousands of people in the Tories’ sights as they try to slash benefits for sick and disabled people. She said that receiving Disability Living Allowance made a huge difference to her everyday life. “Without it I wouldn’t be able to get out of the house,” she said. “It’s a fundamental benefit, not linked to work.”

As the Paralympics begin, Tara pointed out the government’s hypocrisy. “They’re calling us scroungers and benefit cheats at the same time as they celebrate the Paralympics,” she said. “It’s like disabled people are either elite athletes or workshy scroungers.” Tara spoke out on a protest against Atos, the private firm that carries out humiliating assessments to decide who gets benefits and who doesn’t.

Incredibly, Atos is an official sponsor of the Paralympics. “Atos destroys disabled people’s lives,” Tara said. “It gets me so angry. It is carrying out a government contract and a government agenda to punish disabled people for the financial crisis. It’s no coincidence that hate crime against disabled people has increased massively since the coalition government came in.”

But Tara added that this week’s action against Atos could encourage more resistance against the Tories. “It’s a scary time,” she said. “But there’s a growing backlash against the government’s right wing agenda. So many people who would never have gone out and protested before are saying enough is enough.”

Want to get a ticket to the Paralympics? If you’re a wheelchair user, it could cost more than you think. The only way to get wheelchair tickets is to wait on hold on a premium rate number—at a cost of up to 41p per minute.

They Can't Be Disabled, They Can Swim

Mark Steel writes:

There's a company called Atos, that you may have heard of, and the achievement it's best known for is to be despised by thousands of the disabled. Graffiti such as "Atos kills" is common on some housing estates, which must be why Atos is one of the main sponsors of the Paralympics. It makes sense, in the way that if you had a gay Olympics, you'd get it sponsored by the Pope, or you'd get an Olympics for people who idolise tall buildings automatically sponsored by al-Qa'ida.

The reason Atos is unpopular is that it receives £100m a year from the Government for assessing the claims of the disabled. The method Atos chooses is to interview each claimant, ignoring old-fashioned nonsense like medical records and asking them a series of questions such as "Do you look after your own pets?" You get points for each answer and your final score determines whether you keep your disability benefit. Because, as the old saying goes, if you can pat a hamster you can do an all night shift as a security guard.

Of the thousands who have appealed against Atos decisions, 40 per cent have been successful. This is admirable, seeing as you'd get half of them right if you decided each claim by asking them to guess which hand you were holding a peanut in. So maybe Atos should be in charge of deciding who has won each event at the Paralympics. Instead of using unreliable data such as who came first, the company can interview each athlete, declaring one the winner because, although they came seventh, they gave correct answers to the questions "Who was your favourite Doctor Who?" and "Have you ever been to Runcorn?" And commentators will have to shout, "GREAT run from the Kenyan, but answered 'Andy Pandy' when asked to name a 1980s kids' TV show so not likely to make the final".

Atos could also conduct the post-race interviews. Rather than the jaded old format of congratulating the winner, we can have an enlightening conversation led by an Atos clerk that goes, "Can you swim?" "Of course I can, I've just won the blind swimming race." "Well, if you can swim, you can't be blind, you cheat. Now apply for this job as a crane driver."

Maybe Atos will get itself in a complete philosophical tangle during the games, applauding each event, then thinking, "Hang on, they can't be disabled, they've just been playing basketball", until the entire Paralympic village is disqualified, unless one country enters a couple of dead athletes, giving them a 40 per cent chance of being accepted into the table tennis.

Protests against Atos by the disabled have been planned throughout the games, so this shows that sponsorship pays off. Before the games, few people had heard of Atos, but by the end millions will know them as the bastards who make a fortune out of ruining the lives of the disabled. They'll have brand recognition – proof that advertising works.

A Gigantic Scam For Siphoning Off Public Money

Seamus Milne writes:

Barely a month since the private security firm G4S crashed and burned in the runup to the London Olympics, we're back in outsourcing la-la land again. This time the battle is over the monopoly franchise to run passenger trains on Britain's most lucrative rail route, the west coast mainline. Ministers have given the 15-year contract to the privatised bus operator FirstGroup, with a licence to increase fares by up to 11% a year, reduce services, downgrade catering and close ticket offices. Richard Branson, whose Virgin Trains has had the franchise since the 90s, is crying foul, and on Tuesday launched a legal action to halt the handover.

Labour wants MPs to be able to scrutinise the deal. But the transport secretary, Justine Greening, is determined to plough ahead regardless, potentially tying the hands of government for the next three parliaments. And the controversy follows uproar over plans for an average 6.2% rise in rail fares from January. Commuters now routinely spend 15% of their income travelling to work on what is now the most expensive rail network in Europe. No wonder coalition MPs are lobbying for some relief from the drive to load more of the costs on to passengers: it is now cheaper to fly on half the popular routes around Britain than travel by more environmentally friendly rail.

The heavily subsidised rail privateers, whose top five executives paid themselves an average of £1m last year, are also supposed to cough up a bigger share. But there's little sign of that happening – and the west coast mainline deal helps explain why. Forget the special pleading by Branson, who's made over £200m from rail privatisation. Virgin's own record is poor. But his accusation that FirstGroup is gaming the system is widely shared by industry analysts and insiders.

Greening claims FirstGroup offers the best deal for taxpayers. In reality it's based on heroic growth expectations of 10.6% a year and payments to government that are heavily loaded on to the contract's last few years. The company in fact has an incentive to dump the franchise as those payments come due, because they dwarf the cost of the bond penalty. If FirstGroup – which is walking away from the Great Western franchise – defaults, it wouldn't be the first time. That's what happened with Bermuda-based Sea Containers and National Express, who had the contract for the east coast mainline before the last government was forced to take it over. But by then, both ministers and corporate executives would likely be long gone.

Nearly 20 years after John Major's disastrous privatisation, this is the reality of Britain's railway: a byword for bewildering fragmentation, unreliability and exorbitant cost – and a gigantic scam for siphoning off public money into the pockets of monopoly contractors. Branson has raged at the government's "insanity" in awarding the west coast mainline franchise to FirstGroup. But it is the system itself that is irrational. Privatisation was supposed to cut public subsidy by boosting competition, investment and innovation. In fact, it has done the opposite. Government funding has at least doubled in real terms, while fares have also increased, largely because of privatisation – including the costs of fragmentation and duplication; dividend payments to investors; contractors' profit margins; debt write-offs; and higher interest payments to keep Network Rail's debts off the government's balance sheet.

Taken together, those privatisation costs amount to around £1.2bn a year, according to a new thinktank report (Transport for Quality of Life's Rebuilding Rail), while genuine private investment is estimated at barely 1% of the total funding of the railway. It's hardly surprising that the mainly publicly owned rail systems in the rest of Europe – several of which now run bits of Britain's privatised rail – are cheaper. The solution could not be more obvious. It's to rebuild a publicly owned and integrated railway. That can be done at zero or minimal cost, by bringing back each franchise into public ownership as the contracts expire. Freight apart, it can also be done under EU law, and with built-in local control. And saving the £1.2bn-a-year costs of privatisation over time would be the equivalent of an across-the-board cut in fares of 18%.

Rail renationalisation has long commanded large majorities in opinion polls. So you might imagine politicians would fall over themselves to sign up to a policy that's popular and saves money. The fact that they don't says something about the continuing grip of discredited ideology and corporate interests on Britain's political culture. Even a respected public transport pressure group like the Campaign for Better Transport, which now relies on funding from privatised transport companies, shies away from campaigning on the issue. 

Labour is at last inching in the right direction. Its transport spokesperson Maria Eagle has floated the possibility of extending public ownership to rail services, and this week called for the east coast mainline to be kept in public hands. But with Tory defence secretary Phillip Hammond declaring the Olympics has changed his mind about privatisation and Liberal Democrat Vince Cable pressing the case for the outright nationalisation of banks, Ed Miliband can afford to be a bit braver. Last year he called for a break with the neoliberal model. Rail could be the place to start.

Planes Cheaper Than Trains

Oliver Smith writes:

It is more expensive to travel around Britain by rail than it is to fly on about 50 per cent of popular routes, research by Telegraph Travel has revealed.The study comes after it was announced this week that train fares are to rise by between five and 10 per cent, and would appear to undermine both the ongoing efforts of the Government to discourage Britons from taking domestic flights, and VisitEngland’s recent advertising campaign urging more Britons to consider a holiday at home this summer.

We compared the cheapest available return fare when travelling by plane, train, coach and car, for those booking at a week’s notice (for travel on August 20, returning on August 27) and for those booking in advance (for travel on October 15, returning on October 22), on various routes around Britain. Departures were limited to sociable hours, and - where possible - for travel on direct services. Travelling by coach proved to be the cheapest mode of transport on 47 of the 50 journeys selected, with only advance rail fares to Great Yarmouth from London, Manchester and Edinburgh proving more cost effective. On the 24 journeys that could be tackled by both train and plane, air travel was found to be cheaper on 13 occasions; in some instances travelling on the rail network was found to be almost twice as expensive as flying.

For example, the best available rail fare from London to Edinburgh and back, found using the “Best Fare Finder” on the National Rail’s website, was £121.40, whether booked at short notice or in advance. The same journey could be made with easyJet for £111 or £63, respectively, while a National Express coach ticket would have cost a little over £50. Despite soaring fuel prices, travelling by car proved cheaper than taking the train on 16 of the 50 journeys. Anyone wishing to make a return journey from London to Newcastle by car, a 570-mile round trip according the AA’s online route planner, can expect to fork out around £98 for petrol.

This was calculated using the fuel economy of Britain’s best-selling family car, the Ford Focus – around 35 miles to the gallon, according to the motoring website – and the average cost of unleaded petrol. The same journey by train, when booked a week in advance, cost £117. These figures don’t take into account car purchase, depreciation and servicing, however, nor do they make allowance for the fact that several travellers can share the cost of fuel on a car journey. A spokesman for The Campaign for Better Transport said the latest rises in rail costs were “worrying”. According to its research, some fares for equivalent journeys on the Continent are 10 times cheaper than in Britain. He added that while average rail fares in Britain rose by 17 per cent in real terms between 1997 to 2010, air fares fell by 35 per cent.

A spokesperson for the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: “Train companies have doubled the number of cheap Advance tickets over the last few years – almost a million are now sold every week. “Improved journey times, more frequent services, good value deals and recognition of its green credentials all mean that rail travel is more popular now than at any time since the 1920s.”