Traingate: Corbyn Kills the Case for Public Ownership

Traingate: a news day that should have been about NHS ended up being about whether or not Jeremy Corbyn lied about having to sit on the floor. Whether or not he did, the Labour party is currently in the hands of people so incompetant that they can let that happen, and no mansplaining by an angry Corbyn is going to take it back.

This goes to the heart of the complacency of the middle class left. They are so dogmatically convinced that rail renationalisation is universally desired by all that they don’t bother actually providing any arguments for it. They just walk around, stating it, referring to that poll a few years ago that said that about 80% wanted renationalisation to happen (although no one actually voted for it when Labour ran on that ticket in 2015).

Lets look at Corbyn’s exact words in that video of him sat on the floor:

This is a problem that many passengers face today on the trains, commuters and long distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed. The staff on the train are absolutely brilliant working really hard to help everybody. The reality is there’s not enough trains, we need more of them. And they’re also incredibly expensive, isn’t that a good case for public ownership?

I wasn’t planning to make this point, but when I tried to transcribe the above I noticed it was very hard to punctuate. There are hardly any linking words in what Corbyn says, its just a list of statements. Anyway, the important point completely missed by the collapse of this stunt is that Corbyn did not give a good case for public ownership at all. Here is the argument in logical form.

P1 The problem with trains in this country is there aren’t enough of them
P2 Private companies are unable to put more on the tracks because they’re too expensive
C The train services should be nationalised

Premise 1 is suspect, premise 2 is false, and the conclusion is invalid. Even if we accept the two premises, what Corbyn has actually argued for is public subsidisation of the cost of buying new trains! But, no one bothered to criticise this because, as usual Corbyn is speaking to people who already agree with him.

Corbyn’s so-called unelectability is not a matter of him being too left wing (he isn’t) or a matter of him not playing some sort of game in the media, although that would help. It isn’t that, like in traingate, he and his team are terrible with the press. It’s really that he is a very poor arguer. He speaks always as though what he is saying is obvious, which hardens the resolve of people who agree with him but comes accross as condesending and nonsensical to those who do not.

If renationalisation of the railways is to happen, it has to be on the basis of a clear argument for it. More than that, a business case. For example, a publically owned railway can invest more money into the service as would not be running for a profit.

The idea that Corbyn was presupposing but neither implying nor explaining was that for-profit companies will always provide a poor service because their motivation is profit not quality of service. But, again, this is not an argument for nationalisation, it is an argument against the current franchise system. A potential solution could easily be that the trains should be run like buses, so that the companies don’t have a franchise for a line but have to compete with each other on the same line. This gives the incentive for the companies to invest in the service and in more trains.

The fact is, I believe most people would be happy to accept a free upgrade to first class as a solution for the fact that they couldn’t find a seat on their privately owned train. The case for nationalisation is much harder to make than it seems. It has to be argued for, but Corbyn does not seem to be interested in convincing anyone of anything.

As [hopefully] Trump will learn, the ability to pack a room with people who agree with you is no sign of electability, but only a sign that you can pack a room with people who agree with you. The Corbyn plan, although he originally presented it differently, seems to be that an election can be won by getting people who already agree with him to start voting Labour. But I’d like to see the Wenn diagramme of people who have never voted Labour and who believe in rail nationalisation.

And now, in the effort to make the public case for public ownership, we will now be forever referred back to an elderly man sat on the floor claiming that the reason nationalisation needs to happen was that he couldn’t find a seat.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply