A new political party appears in the UK, the “Free Railway” party. Its members passionately believe that all of the UK’s problems began when we privatised the railways, in fact they believe all rail travel should be completely free.
However, they realise that this isn’t necessarily something the majority of the UK care about (most people don’t use trains all that much) so, how do they stir up some interest? They put together an exciting manifesto:
- All rail travel to be free
- Free rail travel will create an economic boost, leading to tax cuts for everyone and more money for public services
- Our roads are far too congested & towns too polluted, free railway travel will save the country
Almost all Experts* however are far from convinced. They point out that most people cannot use trains on a day to day basis. They also say that the figures don’t stack up, that any boost in the economy cannot possibly pay for the tax cuts and public services improvements in the manifesto.
Furthermore, they say that the existing Railway companies have long term contracts and own all of the infrastructure. Buying the railways will be hellishly expensive. In essence, they say the manifesto is a fantasy, that it cannot be implemented.
However, the Free Railway party mount an effective public campaign. They accuse the experts of “Project Fear” & tell them to “stop talking down our railways”. They point out that we were a world leader in steam trains 150 odd years ago and can be a leader in trains again. When its pointed out that getting the railways back might not be that easy, they say “Nonsense, the railway companies need the government more than the government needs the railways”. “Think of all the savings we’ll make when we don’t need ticket machines and train guards, we’ll save a fortune” they say.
52% of the public are convinced, many of them don’t actually use the railways, but some are really concerned about pollution & some are constantly getting caught in traffic jams. Others really care about the NHS and public services and everyone likes the idea of a tax cut. So they get behind the Free Railway party and its message of “Take back control of the railways”.
The party sweeps to power. The 52% celebrate, the 48% (and all the experts) are a bit confused and concerned. Ticket machines are burned in ceremonial bonfires.
However, it then turns out that the Free Railway party got their figures wrong after all. There won’t be any cash for tax cuts or for public services and in fact tax rises will be needed as:
- The economic boost wasn’t all that big
- Subsidizing the railways is far more costly than the Free Railway party said it would be
- The bill to buy back the railways is far higher than originally stated
It also transpires that the previous government agreed to a set of long term rail investment commitments with the railway companies, and these need to be paid for. The contracts have been signed by both sides and so the government has no option but to meet the costs of these commitments for several years into the future.
As for the roads, they’re just as congested and just as polluted. Traffic isn’t reducing at all. In response the Free Railway party says that they never promised to reduce congestion, only to control the types of cars on the road. But this doesn’t make any sense, because all types of cars are still needed, and if numbers don’t reduce, how does congestion get better? Many people swear that they heard the Free Railway leaders say that they would reduce cars on the road, in fact that’s why they voted for them.
And so, after 12 months in power:
- The railways are free, that’s one promise met
- Taxes have gone up rather than down
- There’s no more money for public services
- Traffic congestion is no different and neither is pollution
- There’s a massive unexpected Railyway bill
- Paying for all the free trains costs far more than any extra tax received
The experts reappear. “We told you all of this” they say “we said this manifesto was impossible”. And the 48% say “Almost no-one has what they wanted, the only people who are happy are the leaders of the Free Railway party, this election was based on lies and fantasies”. And behind closed doors, the civil servants say “we can’t afford this, it’s going to set us back years and money was already tight”.
To which the Free Railway party say “Tough, its the will of the people”.