Archive for November 6th, 2008

Mystery train

Thursday, 6 November 2008


Gone Dead Train. Photo

(Click to see original context.)

While half the world stayed up all night anxiously glued to their TV sets and the other half partied, I slept soundly, oblivious to all. Now don’t be alarmed, Behind The Water Tower is not going into wade into the murky waters of party politics. We are strictly non-partisan here. But on the other hand, much as I would have personally liked to have headed today’s post with a picture from a recently rediscovered cache of Polish narrow gauge railway photographs, it seems somewhat churlish to ignore recent events across the pond altogether. So as a compromise, I’ve decided to post an anthology of extracts from the latest posts by some fellow bloggers across the political spectrum. Just please don’t run away with the idea that I agree with everything that these people post in their blogs!

Caroline’s Blog

(The blog of Caroline Lucas, MEP, The leader of the Green Party.)

“changing the soul of man”…

An interesting title, but on closer inspection her post is about taking part in a BBC World Service debate about capitalism and the environment. Clearly Caroline thinks that whoever sits in the White House is totally irrelevant to the USA’s carbon footprint. The frightening thing is that she may just be right.


UK TOP SECRET Postman Patel

(The blog of Baron Patel, FMedSci, FRSE)

” Railway Property has been found very valuable since 1845.In many cases shares have doubled in their nominal value in a few days and often afterwards fallen as rapidly.”

A Million of Facts. Ward Lock. London 1850 by Sir Richard Phillips

I was delighted to see that my friend, Lord Patel, is returning to his family’s railway roots. The new strapline is much more tasteful than his earlier quote from The Unabomber Manifesto. But what’s this, his last post is about a programme on the BBC World Service! What is it about these guys? Is it something that’s been added to the tapwater or what?


And another thing…

(The blog of Tom Harris, Labour MP for Glasgow South, former Under Secretary of State, Department for Transport, responsible for Britain’s railways.)

Gosh, not one, but six posts praising Obama’s victory. I’ll just quote selectively from the first of of them.

I was wrong. Phew!

WELCOME to the Oval Office, President Obama.

So, I was wrong. You can hardly blame me for being pessimistic.

Amazing. Astonishing. Quite genuinely, tonight has restored my faith in the good sense and judgement of the American people.

Obama has rewritten the rules of American politics, and this is a very exciting time for the world.

Our Tom does get rather emotional. His lament on Ruth Kelly’s departure from the post of Secretary of State for Transport cost him his job.



(The blog of Iain Dale, one of Britain’s right wing political commentators. He was the host of Britain’s first political internet TV channel, 18 Doughty

Three pithy posts from Iain: the first, a brief invitation for comments when he retired to bed as soon as the result was known; the second, an analysis of the boundary of possibilities within which Obama will have to work; (See below for a sample.) the third, an analysis of BBC TV’s election night coverage.

A lot of Democrats will be expecting radical things from President Obama. I suspect they will be disappointed, at least initially. He may have campaigned on the slogan of ‘change’ but I suspect he will be far more conservative that many of his most enthusiastic supporters expect. He won’t want to rock the boat too much until he has proved his competence to the nation. There may be one or two headline announcements in the first 100 days, but from a military point of view I am not sure much will change initially.


Peston’s Picks

(The blog of Robert Peston, the BBC’s business editor)

In a post called “Obama shackled by debt” Peston reviews Obama’s campaign slogans:

a) a windfall tax on the “excess” profits of oil companies;

b) a redistributive tax cut for those on middle and low incomes, funded by a claw back of tax cuts received by the wealthiest 2% during President Bush’s two terms;

c) serious public spending on roads, bridges, transport and infrastructure;

d) subventions for renewable energy and for the development of green technologies, especially in the automotive industry…

And then there’s the cold wind of political reality:

Because Obama may turn out to be less red in the practice of his presidency than his words and aspirations would imply.

For example, on that windfall tax – which much of the Labour Party would love to see imitated here – there’s already been a strong hint from Obama’s advisers that it’s on hold, following the collapse in the oil price.


Christian Wolmar

(The blog of Christian Wolmar, Britain’s leading rail pundit)

At last a mention of both BTWT’s keywords ‘environment’ and ‘transport’.

But what will he mean for the environment and transport? I suspect he will send out the same mixed message that Brown has done. He will talk Green but at the same time support low gas prices and do nothing to try to wean Americans out of their cars. Already during the hustings, he began to falter, for example, over the issue of drilling in Alaska. He may well throw a bit more money at Amtrak and possibly help finance light rail schemes in urban areas, but I doubt that he will really take on the issue of climate change. He cannot, however, be worse than Bush and the most positive aspect is that he is an intelligent man not in hock to crazy fundamentalists. He will, at least, accept that climate change is happening and needs to be tackled. The real test is what will he do about it?


Behind The Water Tower

So what do I think? Well by complete coincidence I watched an episode of The Prisoner as America went to the polls. It was the one where ‘No. 6’ is persuaded to take part in the election for the post of ‘No. 2’. Very apt I thought.

Do you remember the heady days in the 1950s and 60s when rail travel was affordable and British Railways ran ‘Mystery Excursions’ to the seaside? You never quite knew where you would end up, and sometimes the locomotive hauling the train was a nice surprise, but the possibilities of where you were going to were somewhat constrained by the train’s starting point, its time of departure, its return time and the fact that you were promised six hours at the seaside.

In a similar manner, political leaders in much of the West (and this certainly includes Poland, the UK and the USA) are constrained by the people who fund their campaigns; by the treatment that they receive from the mass media and the financiers who control their economic policies. No wonder they always arrive at the same familiar destinations!

So now you know. Tomorrow we return to railways, and that’s a promise!