When Tony Blair looked young

My programme for BBC TV Wales on First Great Western was screened last night (available on BBC iplayer till next Tuesday – just put ‘week in week out’ in the search engine) and contained that famous clip from Tony Blair when he told the Labour Party conference that there would be a publicly owned, publicly accountable railway under Labour and that no one would be able to profit from the railway.
What intrigues me about this clip is whether it was just a straighforward lie or whetherit merely reflects a genuine change. I am convinced it is the former. Blair’s politics were never about nationalisation or running public services directly and obviously he was just pandering to conference delegates. But the sheer brazen nature of the lie is quite shocking. There are not many examples where a major politician is caught out so blatantly telling an untruth. But because transport is somewhat a political bywater, Blair has never been properly held to account for it.
Contrast, now, the interview I did for the programme with Tom Harris the rail minister, which will be published in full in the next issue of Rail magazine. In answer to a question about renationalising the railway, not only does Harris say that there is no question of Labour ever doing it, but he goes onto say that had British Rail still existed at the time of Labour’s election victory, the party would have sold off the railways anyway. You don’t get U turns that are sharper than that!
It does show, too, in the wider context that the notion of Labour being a left of centre party is increasingly false. That is supported by something else Harris says, which is that the party is ‘modally agnostic’ about what transport methods people use – that is an extraordinary admission. In other words, the government should make no attempt to influence people to use more environmentally more friendly methods of transport, or even those which are better for the economy. One has to begin to ask, what exactly is the Labour party for?

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