The Memory Hole

The last few times I’ve spoken with my dad about politics, we’ve talked about the politics of nationalisation vs privatisation. My feelings on this matter are that anything to do with infrastructure should be under the former; anything else, well, fill your boots.

So he said: Give me an example of when nationalising something made it better. And as it happens, there’s a dilly. The East Coast Main Line.

The East Coast Main Line runs from London to Edinburgh (or vice versa) through the Midlands and Yorkshire. It’s spent time in both private and public hands, but what I’d like to talk about is the last 13 years.

In 2009, the then-franchisee, National Rail, walked away from their contract. They were losing money hand over fist and decided that the cost they would pay by walking away was a better choice than to continue running the railway. No-one else wanted to buy the franchise – after all, it was losing money – and so the government nationalised the franchise. 

During the time it was privately owned, the franchise owner was losing £20 million every six months. In private hands, the franchise suffered £40 million a year lossesSource

For the next five years, from 2009 to 2014, the franchise was owned by the British People. During the time it was nationalised, the East Coast Main Line returned more than £200 million a year to the public purse, and had record levels of customer satisfaction. Source

That right there is a pretty clear example of how having a nationalised railway saves you money. Even before taking into account that if it’s privatised, the shareholders want a profit which by definition can’t go into the business paying for things like, ooh, trains, staff, heating. That sort of thing.

In 2015, despite its success as a nationalised service the East Coast Main Line was privatised again. On the eve of the general election. The Coalition couldn’t even bear the thought of the railway being in public hands during the next government, so they made sure it wouldn’t happen even if Labour won. Source 

And the operator returning money to the taxpayer and with  record levels of customer satisfaction wasn’t even allowed to bid for the franchise. Source

A few years ago, when I first had this conversation with my dad, all of this information was available on the Wiki page for the East Coast Main Line. At the time of writing, it’s not mentioned on the page at all.

What with Labour now officially planning to renationalise the railways, I thought it was important to get this information back online. 

I didn’t think they’d want to keep him.

A little over two years ago I wrote on this very blog that if Nick Clegg didn’t resign as LibDem leader before the 2015 election, the party would be destroyed as a political force in this country.

Well, that worked out pretty much as expected.

My other prediction in that short essay, though, was not borne out. It said, basically: “Nick Clegg is not a stupid man. He can see the writing on the wall and will resign before the election.”

I found out today that he attempted to resign a year before the election, but was advised not to.

So my respect for him has gone up, and my respect for Paddy Ashdown and Tim Farron has gone down.

Still shoulda gone. But at least now I understand why he didn’t.

A short primer on the British Constitution as it pertains to the current situation

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the current hung parliament. Unfortunately there’s been a lot of misinformation, even from political commentators, about the Constitution of the UK, and how that should resolve.

So here’s a quick guide to the situation.

You vote for a Member of Parliament

You don’t vote for a party. You don’t vote for the leader of a party. In a general election in the UK, you vote for a single person to represent you in that parliament.

Most MPs belong to a party, which funds their campaign, and expects them to vote along party lines.

If your MP is a member of the Cabinet, they are obliged to vote with the government according to the doctrine of collective responsibility. Otherwise they are free to vote their conscience until the next election – though most tend to vote along party lines, as to do otherwise can invite deselection from the party. And few these days can afford to stand for parliament without party backing.

The sovereign appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister

Her Majesty the Queen is the person who gets to choose the next Prime Minister of the UK.

Not you. Not the press. Not the political commentators on the TV. It’s the Queen, and no-one else.

Having said that, she is bound by one particular convention – that the selected Prime Minister must be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons.

In normal times, this means appointing the leader of the party which has an overall majority of seats in the Commons.

There is currently no majority party in the House of Commons

No party won 326 seats or more in the recent election, and therefore we have what’s currently known as a hung parliament.

The parties are currently negotiating to see if they can form a coalition. For example, if two or more parties can, together, command 326 or more seats between them, the Queen could call upon the person designated to be the leader of this coalition to form a parliament.

If no agreement can be reached, we will have a minority government

If a successful coalition cannot be negotiated, the Queen will choose the person that she believes would be most likely able to command the confidence of the house. This would most likely be the person whose party commands the greatest number of seats, ie David Cameron. However, without a clear majority, every vote would have to be negotiated with people from outside the ruling party.

Many would claim that this would not be a bad thing.

There is no such thing as an unelected Prime Minister

The person the Queen invites to form her government must be a Member of Parliament. And every Member of Parliament is elected.

The role of Prime Minister is not elected directly in the United Kingdom.

This is all perfectly normal

There have been hung parliaments before. There is no vacuum of power; the current government continues until the Queen invites someone to form a new government and he or she accepts.

It’s exciting, especially if you love politics.

But it’s not unusual, groundbreaking, market-destroying, terrifying, or any kind of Constitutional crisis.

Radio Days

Some time ago, I directed a radio play.

I joined a Radio Theatre Group at work. Figured it would be fun and interesting. An email went round a while back saying “Here is an interesting play. Who wants to direct this?” and I thought: Why not. I’ve not directed anything before.

So I volunteered.

In the spirit of passing on what I’ve learned, here are a few useful things to know about directing for radio.

Have a rehearsal

The recording went much more smoothly thanks to the actors knowing who their characters were and what they were doing ahead of time.

It was all quite painless: The actors got sent a copy of the play beforehand, and after a readthrough to get us all settled in, I asked them some questions about their characters, and what they thought the characters knew, thought, felt.

Because we’d thought through these things in the rehearsal, we didn’t have to stop during the recording to ask any questions like “Why am I saying this?” or “What exactly do I mean here?”

Which results in a much more stress-free recording. Which is good for everyone.

Re-format your script

Specifically, number your lines.

A writers’ draft doesn’t need them. For example, check out The King’s Coiner by Philip Palmer for an example of a radio script in the BBC standard format.

But when it comes to recording, it’s immensely useful to be able to refer to an exact line quickly.

So reformat the script with a number next to each speech or sound cue. Try Porshia by Ed Harris for an example.

You could number everything, as this production draft does, or start afresh on each page like I did. Either way, it makes production easier because you can simply say “Let’s have line three again.” or “From line eight on page twelve.”

Listen through after you’ve finished editing

We finished our edit, and didn’t have a listen-through before quitting the edit suite. So of the two takes we could have used for one particular section… we had both. Plus a longish section of me saying “That was it! Let’s have it one more time.” Which isn’t really what you want in the middle of your radio play.

Which leads me to:

Back up your masters

Because if you don’t, and they get accidentally deleted from the computer you’re editing on, you could be absolutely screwed.

Which is what happened.

Fortunately, if you

Always burn a CD of the edit to take home with you at the end of an edit session

You may be able to salvage something.

So, with a special thanks to William Gallagher, who was able to take the edit and cut out the worst of the fluffs and pops and me, here it is.

Politics, by Katharine Way.