1960s >> 1963 >> no-705-may-1963

News in Review: Beeching’s rail cuts

Doctor Beeching’s casuality list was as long as anyone could have expected.


Nearly a third of the passenger route-miles to be withdrawn; almost a half of the stations to be shut down; seventy thousand railwaymen, by one means or another, to be got rid of.


The Tories have always claimed that they are the party of free competition, which is supposed to be something which will bring enormous benefits to us all. According to Conservative propagandists, the worst thing that can happen to us is to be left at the mercy of a monopoly, which will do dreadful things to our standards of living. Yet the Beeching Plan will give, over large areas of the country, a transport monopoly to the road interests. What if these interests act as the Tories have assured us monopolies always act?


This is not the only example of how flexible is the Tories’ regard for their own consistency. At one time the British capitalist class, with the support of the Labour and Conservative Parties, thought that nationalisation of certain industries was in their own overall interests and was, therefore, inevitable, desirable and morally sound.


But since 1945 the capitalist class have been taking a second look at State control. Slowly but definitely they have changed the internal structure of some of the State industries; nowhere is this so apparent as on the railways.


Which brings us to the question of whether nationalisation, apart from being a fraud upon the working class, has also disappointed the capitalists?


The Beeching Plan seems to be going out for an immediate profit from the railways, without providing the kind of facilities which the capitalist class as a whole must require from a railway system. That was exactly what nationalisation was supposed to avoid.


There will probably be a big row over the Beeching report, with both sides representing their case as the one which has everyones’ interests at heart. And inevitably the working class will be wasting their time in another fruitless controversy while the real problem—the private ownership of society’s means of life—is left to do its worst.


Minister’s morals
Macmillan’s government, perhaps on its death bed, continues to provide the popular press with some juicy front page copy.


The Vassall case, as far as the TWTWTW set is concerned, is still going strong. Jokes about the Admiralty are still sound social currency.


The case of the junior minister who lent his car to a delinquent youth was deprived of its news value just in time by the minister’s quick resignation.


And on top of all this, the missing model—missing, at any rate, until the press ran her to ground in Spain. (The Guardian reported her discovery with a sober couple of inches; The Daily Express with a giant, predictably leggy picture of her.)


The ministers’ denials that they were engaged in what are coyly known as “improper” relationships in any of these cases, are convincing enough. Yet however subtly it has been done, mud has been thrown; the kind of mud that sticks.


A capitalist government can do all manner of unpleasant things to the working class who put it in power. It can break strikes. It can try to hold down wages. It can take the working class into a war which they know a lot of them will not survive. The working class do not seem to object to this kind of treatment sufficiently to turn the government out.


But a government cannot for long get away with anything which smells of corruption or sexual licence. Perhaps the working class, whose teeth are cut on capitalism’s morals, feel that their leaders should themselves be beyond reproach. And perhaps there is an element of envy, at the easy, glamorous lives of rich men and powerful politicians,, contrasted to the drab existence of most workers.


In fact, the personal morals of members of a government are quite unimportant. There is no evidence that impeccable family men administer capitalism any more humanely than those whose private life is rather more complicated.


While workers click their tongues over the front page stories, capitalist society—the real scandal—quietly continues.


The budget
The theme of this year’s Budget, claimed the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was expansion. Cheers, it seemed, all round. They are all Keynesians now and therefore believe that reducing taxes and increasing government spending will actually stimulate an industrial revival.


If this were so, then capitalism would have solved one of its big problems. There would never be any more recessions; no industry need ever collapse again.


But facts say, quite plainly, that economic setbacks are as much a part of capitalism as ever. In fact, the Chancellor’s financial juggling, far from preceding and guiding economic trends, is the result of those trends and trails some way after them. Maudling’s tax cuts, for example, were widely forecast to happen in some shape or form, because the economic and political situation indicated that the time was ripe for them.


In any case there is nothing new about “expansion” Budgets. Butler introduced one in 1953. So did Amory in 1959. A short time after these Budgets, both Chancellors forgot that they had been telling us that the way to prosperity was to expand by cutting taxes and increasing spending. The government brought in other measures which increased taxes and reduced spending. There is no reason to assume that Maudling’s optimism will not be similarly forgotten.


This is the economic switchback of capitalism, which Budgets and the other measures try to control.


They never succeed; the problems of capitalism live on, long after the Chancellors who try to solve them are forgotten As each Budget Day draws near, the Chancellor is swamped with advice from all manner of reformist organisations. Some of these have recently come to the conclusion that the financial affairs of British capitalism are exceptionally complicated and need an enormous administrative effort to keep them going.


In The Guardian on April 2nd, Christopher Layton was hoping:


  Will tomorrow’s Budget be a milk and water affair, or will it at last demonstrate that the Government is seeking, to get to the roots of the country’s economic sickness?

And his question was partly answered by Samuel Brittan in The Observer on April 7th:

   . . . Mr. Maudling will need luck as well as skill if the gamble is to come off.




  Unfortunately the international financial system is full of weaknesses; the U.S. economy lost its zip several years ago and the European boom looks very old and tired. It is on these world uncertainties that we must keep our fingers crossed.  . . .


Budgets, just like the rest of capitalism’s efforts to control its own anarchies, are a gamble. Maudling’s may be designed to allow Britain’s ruling class to breathe more freely, but it is just as likely to fail in this as its predecessors.


Typhoid in Zermatt
One by one, some ugly facts have trickled out about the typhoid outbreak in Zermatt.


At first it may have seemed like a simple case of bad luck, the sort that could happen anywhere, any time.


Then an article in the Swiss paper Gazette de Lausanne suggested that the first case of the disease was diagnosed last September, that the village’s water supply had a doubtful origin and was not properly cleansed. A couple of letters in The Guardian of April 1st, written by people who had recently returned from Zermatt, offered additional evidence that all has not been well in the Swiss resort for several months. The lid was really blown off by a merciless TV programme. Later in the year, we shall probably know the full facts and it will not be a pleasant story.


In the height of the holiday season the population of Zermatt usually rose from its permanent 2,000 to about 15,000. Its prices were high, its hoteliers thriving. To keep up its attraction for winter sports enthusiasts, Zermatt installed a lot of machinery to take the visitors up to the top of the snow slopes. But behind this facade, it seems, the resort was neglecting essentials like a pure water supply.


Its own water resources were not sufficient to cater for the . influx of holidaymakers and so Zermatt has been tapping other, more risky, sources. Some of these were damaged by severe frost and that, possibly, is where the disease started.


In other words, Zermatt preferred to concentrate upon the gimmicks which it knew would bring in a quick profit and to take a chance on the safety of its public health facilities. Capitalism in general has come to realise that this is a short-sighted policy which can lead to serious loss of profits in the long run.


This is how it has worked for Zermatt, The typhoid outbreak has ruined the image of Switzerland as a hygienic country of sun and snow and healthy holidays.


And it has brought the unfortunate typhoid sufferers face to face with a principle which capitalism, in one way or another, always applies; profit first, the rest a long way after.


– Who’s Nicky ?
– You mean what’s Nicky. It’s the National Incomes Commission.
Who commissioned it?
– It was set up by the government.
What for?
– To consider wage settlements which the government thinks are too generous to the workers.
– Has it got a chairman?
– Yes.
– Paid?
– Yes.
How much?
– Er — £12,500 a year.
– But . . .
– No more questions, please.