Sometimes the unthinkable becomes reality. Step forward, market fundamentalist Chris Grayling. The transport secretart becomes only the second living person to nationalise a rail service in Britain - his Labour nemesis, Lord Andrew Adonis, is the other.
Let’s be clear, crystal clear, Grayling would have walked barefoot on broken glass before vindicating one of Jeremy Corbyn’s top policies, if it hadn’t been the only means of ensuring the trains on UK’s East Coast Mainline kept running. Making his announcement last month, Grayling struggled to use the “n” word the Tories hate most - nationalisation. Instead, he mumbled on about services being taken over by the ‘operator of last resort’. Nevertheless, it is the Department for Transport (DfT) which is now in control of the new London North Eastern Railway (LNER) services. Virgin’s Richard Branson and Stagecoach’s Brian Souter have been booted out. And the British public are now the new owners - no wonder the Tories aren’t shouting about it. Long may such nationalisation continue!
Word is in our industry that two other private train operators are also teetering on the brink and the DfT is getting ready to assume control of those too. Whisper it, but Grayling may yet come to be remembered as the man who initiated the beginning of the end of the Tory Frankenstein privatisation experiment and ordered a new nationalisation programme. Frankly, a better man hoisted on his own ideological petard has never existed. John Major’s botched rail privatisation job is the spectre haunting this new, even more strident, generation of Tory market fundamentalists. I’m enjoying the irony that it is this most neoliberal of transport secretaries, who is conceding in his actions that our franchise model is long past its sell-by date and the demise of the privatisation of our railways is in sight.
Of course, the country has had more than enough of being fleeced by privateers left, right and centre. From rip-off energy bills to eye-watering rail fares, the public are sick, to their back teeth, of being taken for a ride. The Tories and their ideological blindness have rendered policies of public ownership more popular than ever. Their naked pursuit of an economy that only works for the top 1% is the muse for Jeremy Corbyn’s popular ‘Manifesto For The Many’. We now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put in place a new economic settlement. We must continue to expose the Tories’ crony capitalism and argue, like hell, for Jeremy’s vision of a country where no one is left behind. The wind is in our sails and victory is firmly within our grasp.
We must unite a country riddled with divisions, none more so than those based on class. From life expectancy to opportunities to move on in life and aspire for a better future for our kids, the class we’re born into remains the predeterminer of the breaks we’re likely to get. The dice is still firmly loaded in favour of the rich and powerful. Labour’s raison d’etre is to build a society in which our life chances are not determined by the accident of birth, while Tory Brexit will only exacerbate inequality. And, sadly, their bitter Brexit war with Europe has amplified the bitterness along those fault lines in 21st Century Britain.
At the last election, the transformation promised in Jeremy’s ‘Manifesto For The Many’ began to permeate the Brexit despair. It is a programme by which Labour can be both tough on Brexit and even tougher on the causes of Brexit. Its success at combating the deep alienation so many of our people feel and turning on the long-forgotten youth vote is a triumph of hope over Brexit adversity. Labour’s 2016 conference bound it to a People’s Brexit – putting people before anything else. Like the phrase coined by Jeremy himself of austerity, continuing Brexit is now a political choice not an economic necessity. And if we are straight talking and honest, it’s true to say neither Jeremy nor the Labour Party have a mandate to intensify austerity, which Brexit’s catastrophic economic consequences will cement for at least a generation. Better not to go there.
The popularity of Jeremy’s 2017 manifesto may have taken pundits and even parts of the Parliamentary Labour Party by surprise. Its social democratic, at times socialist, redistributive policies are the counter-revolution to Westminster’s triangulated neoliberal consensus which made so many vote leave. It knocked the strong and stable Tories down like skittles. More bold Labour manifesto pledges and less risk averse class-collaborating Brexit compromises will knock down more Tories and see us home at the next election.
Project reality is now firmly here. The nine-month countdown to 29 March, 2019 divorce day is underway. Our movement is upping its game. Other unions are looking certain to join our own, Prospect and the Royal College of Nursing, in demanding a popular vote on the Brexit deal. This will turn the screw on arch-Brexiteers like Grayling, Farage and Gove. Before winter arrives, Labour will be at the forefront of giving back control of Brexit to the British people. The Tories simply can’t win their extremely dangerous game of deal or no deal. This ain’t a TV show, our jobs and our livelihoods are on the line.
David Cameron dealt the Tories the ultimate unwinnable hand, and Jeremy holds the killer ace. Rejecting the Tory deal in a popular vote is the winning card which will also usher Labour into Number 10. Defeating Brexit and Jeremy as Prime Minister may have looked impossible in May 2017, as Grayling does now as Commissar of Rail Nationalisation, but if he can take back control of our railways, Jeremy can force control of Brexit for the people. A big win is on the horizon for my very good friends in the Labour leadership - let’s cheer them on!
Manuel Cortes is general secretary of TSSA, the union for people in transport and travel