Posts Tagged ‘London Underground’

Bremner, Bird and Fortune on

February 29, 2016

The satirists Rory Bremner and the ‘Long Johns’ Bird and Fortune have a section in their book, You Are Here (London: Phoenix 2004) attacking Tony Blair’s part-privatisation of the London Underground. They point out that while in opposition, Blair had loudly opposed privatisation. Once in power, he was most enthusiastically for it, and the London Underground was one of those businesses slated to be given over to private investment under the PFI initiative. They write

After the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1986, the London Underground could no longer be funded out of the local rates paid by all London households. Ever since then, the Underground has only had two sources of revenue: central government grants and passenger fares. Government grants to upgrade infrastructure have declined from £398 million in 1994/5 to £160 million in 1998/9. This has resulted in fare increases of double the rate of inflation over the last decade, making London’s Tube system the most expensive in Europe.

The government believed this could be solved by the part-privatization of the Underground. it projected that a PPP will make possible £7.5 – 15 billion of new investment, but the only indication of where this investment will come from is a prediction that passenger numbers will increase by 40 per cent over the next fifteen years. But how can such an increased number of passengers be accommodated without an immediate investment programme?

The Tube system spans 400 kilometres of track, 275 stations, and twelve different lines, and there is also the complex issue of who will be responsible for shared lines or interchange stations. The legal documents dealing with it are said to fill fourteen filing cabinets.

Admittedly, this may not interest people outside London, particularly as with the present system it’s very unlikely they’ll manage to the get there in the first place.

It’s the same system that was so signally successful with the railways: London Underground runs the trains; the private contractors run the infrastructure; and any problems, the lawyers will sort out. (Giving new meaning to the warning ‘Mind the gap’.) No wonder the carriages are full – it’s all the lawyers and accountants desperate to get in on the act.

It’s those privatized public services again. The people who put the Enron into electricity, the Railtrack into railway, and the Edexcel into education … Whatever happened to ‘three strikes and you’re out’?

The government love to call anyone who disagrees with them either a wrecker or a cynic. You don’t have to be either to recognize that separating the running of the trains from the maintenance of the track is exactly where the last privatization went wrong. To add insult to injury, one of the new consortiums includes the company responsible for the maintenance at Hatfield. That’s the trouble with these private consortiums. If you try to do away with them they just go underground.

Let’s go over the points:

Under privatization it costs three times as much for each mile of track. On top of all the subcontracting and regulation you’ve got to build in about 30 per cent profit for the private company. And they’ll still get it if the service is 5 per cent worse than it is now. (pp. 162-3). (My emphasis).

They then go on to describe how massively profitable all this is for the firms involved, their accountants and lawyers.

So the PFI deal is massively cumbersome, and even then was set to deliver even worse service. Just like the privatisation of the railways. Now, Blair massively expanded the PFI system, but it was Maggie and John Major that started the ball rolling with their privatisations in the 1980s and ’90s. And the part-privatisation of London Underground was based on the railway privatisation carried out by John Major’s government. A policy that resulted in a series of disasters, including one at Hatfield, resulting in hundreds of deaths and years of litigation as the various rail companies passed the buck between them. And this privatisation policy is being rabidly pursued in the NHS by Cameron.

It should be scrapped immediately. As indeed should the government behind it. And the Blairites should be removed from anywhere near power in the Labour party. Corbyn is absolutely right to champion the nationalisation of the utility services. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just arguing for more rubbish service for the profit of the big corporations.

Lobster Reviews Ulf Schmidt on British Human Medical Experiments

October 17, 2015

Experimental Human Animals Art

A page of classic comics art depicting humans as experimental animals. I got it from the 70s Sci-Fi art page on Tumblr. Not quite the image IDS wants to project with his comments about the disabled as ‘Stock’.

This is another book review, which reveals something of the dark history of human medical experimentation by the military in this country. It’s a review of Secret Science: A Century of Poison Warfare and Human Experiments, by Ulf Schmidt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015) £25, h/b. This is the type of book the Daily Mail really hates. As their blustering against the Brazilian human rights rapporteur shows, one of the many irritants that really send the Mail into a xenophobic screaming fit is when foreigners dare to criticise Britain’s increasingly poor human rights record. Their usual response is to accuse the foreign critic, whether judge, human rights activist, whatever – of hypocrisy, and to try to smear them by pointing out the human rights abuses in their countries.

That won’t work here, for the simple reason that Mr Schmidt is professor of Modern History at the University of Kent, and has been Wellcome Trust’s Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford. He has also published several works on Nazi experimentation on humans during the Third Reich, such as Medical Films, Ethics and Euthanasia in Germany, 1933-1945 (2002), Justice at Nuremberg (2004), and Karl Brand: The Nazi Doctor: Medicine and Power in the Third Reich (2007). He is clearly very definitely both a senior, respected academic and someone, who has not been afraid to confront his country’s Nazi past, and the experimentation on humans there that would make most civilised people sick. Also, as an academic text, the book is far outside the type of book the Daily Mail and its readers are likely to read or review. And so you can be quite sure that the Tory press are very definitely going to ignore it.

Much of the book is about the experiments on humans to judge the effect of chemical and biological weapons. Although the book includes America and Canada, much of its focus is on Britain and the research carried out by Porton Down. Schmidt acknowledges that the soldiers upon whom the experiments were carried out were volunteers, but raises the awkward question of whether they were properly informed of the possible consequences of the experiments. Several squaddies have died and many left seriously disabled. He mentions the case of one serviceman, Leading Aircraftman Ronald Maddison, who died after being exposed to Sarin in 1953. If the death alone was not scandalous, there is the fact that it took his family fifty years to find out the true circumstances of his death. He also notes that the Americans were interested in the resistance of different racial groups to mustard gas, and that Porton Down released a ‘plague-like bacterium’ on to the underground in 1963.

The review also states that the book also has a lot of loose ends and opportunities for further research. Like the case of British officers, who were sent to investigate Nazi medical experiments and the gassing of the Jews for Nuremberg. Nobody, however, seems to know what they did with the information and there remains a strong possibility for an ‘Operation Paperclip’, in which the Nazi doctors involved were recruited by their former enemies. He also discusses how Porton Down followed America in pursuing research into the military application of LSD, like the US’ MKULTRA. One of the doctors involved was an American, who sought other human guinea pigs amongst the mentally ill shut up in America’s psychiatric wards. The book’s reviewer, Frewin, discusses the possibility that some of the British doctors mentioned in the book seems just as shady. He raises the possibility that one of two of them were conducting similar experiments over here.

It’s interesting that, just as this book’s been published, Points West, the Beeb’s local news programme for the Bristol, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire are did a feature on Porton Down and its history. It seems the facility had been making some kind of public outreach, which looks like a bit of PR to allay possible public fears. Rather more disquieting is the way Ian Duncan Smith referred to disabled people as ‘stock’, and suggested that the poor could make money by offering themselves for medical experimentation. Mike over at Vox Political pointed out that his was very close indeed to the attitude of the Fascist doctors experimenting on humans in the dystopian future Britain of V for Vendetta.

There’s a problem here in pursuing research into human experimentation in Britain by the massively secretive nature of the British political establishment. Americans were informed about the true extent of their nation’s experimentation on service personnel, the poor and disadvantaged racial minorities with the passage of the Freedom of Information Act by Clinton in the 1990s. This resulted in the release of a torrent of declassified documents revealing a very dark history of drug and nuclear experimentation, frequently on people, who had no knowledge of what was being done to them. One of the documents revealed how an Indian woman was regularly injected with radioactive material at a nuclear facility, which she was led to believe was a hospital and the doctors were treating her for cancer. It’s secret history that forms the basis for American conspiracy culture and the massive suspicion many Americans feel towards their own government, from Alex Jones and Info Wars to the type of people portrayed in the X Files in the form of the Lone Gunmen.

The problem is that, for all America’s faults, they are a much more open society than Britain. Possibly because of its origin in aristocratic political discourse, where important decisions were to be kept to responsible gentlemen in smoky rooms, and the proles kept at arms length, the British state has always been very reluctant to divulge any kind of potentially embarrassing information. It might upset confidence in the Establishment, as well as cause some ex-public schoolboy various other ministers and civil servants went to school with to lose his pension and his career. It was, for example, only a few years ago that Britain acknowledged the true extent of the terror tactics it employed to quell the Mao-Mao rebellion in Kenya. Blair’s passage of a British version of the Freedom of Information Act has done much to make the British states less secretive, more open and transparent. This is, however, now being undermined by the Tories and their collaborators in this from New Labour, like Jack Straw. So we probably don’t know the true extent of human experimentation over here. Another factor that makes me wonder if we ever will is that at the time some of these experiments were performed, Britain still had an Empire and the tests were done in some of our former colonies. Nuclear weapons, for example, were tested on south sea islands. So many of the victims may well now be the citizens of independent nations, and so considered less important and more easily ignored than British citizens.