Monday, 25 October 2010

London transport spending

London Reconnections reproduces a Transport for London statement about the funding settlement.

Four points caught my eye:

(a) It implies that some sort of Piccadilly Line upgrade is still going ahead, despite the cancellation several months ago of the order for its new rolling stock. Maybe we are to get new signalling but with old trains.

(b) The East London Line extension to Clapham Junction is going ahead "and will be delivered by the end of 2012", though presumably still without the new station at Surrey Canal Road. It will be good to have more frequent trains from Denmark Hill, though I am not sure how far the new journey opportunities will compensate for the forthcoming reduction in Victoria-bound trains (and their removal altogether from Clapham High Street and Wandsworth Road).

(c) The congestion charge is increasing to £10. This is a step in the right direction, but I think it ought to be at least £15. Most car journeys in central London are unnecessary and should be penalised accordingly.

(d) Parking on the TfL road network will be charged for. And so I should think. Why on earth that's not already the case is a mystery.

Probably the worst news is the confirmation that fares, already quite high, will rise by a lot more than inflation. On buses, especially, this will hit the poorer citizens disproportionately and is therefore regressive. Ken Livingstone always did his best to keep bus fares as low as possible within whatever financial settlement was available, even when there was no alternative to putting tube fares up.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The cuts

A predictable response to yesterday's Spending Review comes from, among many others, TV's Polly Toynbee and TV's Johann Hari. This is not to say that they are wrong, just that we already know what lefties are bound to say about it.

But now comes the not-at-all-left-wing Institute for Fiscal Studies, confirming that the changes announced are essentially regressive, and that the Chancellor was not being completely honest when he said that the broadest shoulders will bear the biggest burden. It is true that the richest 2% are hardest hit in absolute terms, and so I should bloody well think, but poor families are the biggest losers as a proportion of their income.

This is just what one would expect from a normal Tory government, but this is a coalition government in which the Lib Dems (who say they believe in progressive taxation) are supposed to be a moderating influence. That is the only justification for their being there. I think the LDs are going to struggle to retain much credibility for the foreseeable future. Perhaps they will claim that, if they weren't in the government, it would have been even worse.

Of course, few people actually voted for any of this. But we do not live in a democracy. It is the unelected bond markets who decide what actually happens. It seems that, if we do not have these cuts -- if, for instance, we solve the problem by instead imposing a big one-off levy on the very rich (as advocated, entirely fruitlessly I fear, by the Glasgow University Media Group) -- the bond markets will attack the pound and interest rates will shoot up and then we shall all be even further up the creek than we are already. It is all very undemocratic and very unfair.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Why aircraft carriers?

We read today that the Ark Royal is to be scrapped, but two new aircraft carriers will still be commissioned.

What I want to know is this: Why does Britain need any aircraft carriers at all? I have looked into this, and I find that most countries do not have any aircraft carriers. What most countries have are enough soldiers to defend their territory and enough aircraft to defend their airspace. Only nine countries in the whole world have aircraft carriers. As one would expect, by far the largest fleet of these phenomenally expensive vessels belongs to the USA.

The Prime Minister is quoted today as saying: "Britain has punched above its weight in the world and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come". But why should Britain punch above its weight? What's the point? This idea seems to be a silly post-imperial hangover. Why can't we just be like Scandinavia or Holland?