'Welcome to Brighton'. Welcome to a railway station that has just been redecorated in the blue and yellow colours of Connex, the new owners of South Coast rail services. Welcome to a paradise in which all the staff have shiny new uniforms (and silly hats as an added bonus), in which ten-foot high banners celebrate the new private ownership, in which you can have a look at a full-size model of the Connex trains of the future.... Yes, ladies 'n' gentlemen, privatisation is with us!
But don't let's get too carried away just yet. The train now at Platform 6 is still a filthy, run-down collection of cobbled together slam-door carriages (despite the acknowledgement from all sides that slam-door trains aren't safe). It still stands a pretty good chance of being late, especially at off-peak times when the system tends to operate with all the urgency of a stoned sloth. The toilets are as disgusting as ever. The buffet's probably closed. The ticket prices just rose above the level of inflation again.
There are many Tory policies that I've disagreed with in my time. Rail privatisation just about takes the biscuit, though, as far as I'm concerned. At a time when experts are almost unanimously agreed that we must persuade car drivers to cut down on their journeys (something I know about only too well, since my flat is two yards away from the main road from London into Brighton and is choked with traffic all summer), we have a government that refuses to increase investment in public transport. The Budget saw cuts in
road building schemes - was that money transferred to more socially valuable transport systems to provide car owners with an alternative or was it used for giving tax cuts to the middle classes? I think you know that answer to that one.
Freedom of movement is a vital factor in anyone's quality of life. In ten year's time, maybe we'll notice that the government's sold it off...