Tuesday, September 01, 2009

What do our politicians control?

Plenty has been said about the EU and how it rules us, withour ever having had our consent to do so. But equally, our daily lives are governed by giant firms, often foreign-based.

For example, (and I offer this merely as a tiny, representative instance) I now have to pay a Frenchman to talk to a Welshman.

On September 8, 1966, the first (and very beautiful) Severn Bridge opened. It was constructed with the inventive help of the Royal Engineers (my father included), who floated prefabricated sections of the roadway on pontoons down the river, to be hoisted into position by cranes atop the towers that would hold the suspension cables.

I stood on the Welsh side with my mother and brother, listening to the Queen's speech from across the water, and watched as the Royal car came through. (Only a West Indian family near us had had the forethought to buy some flags on sticks to wave as Her Majesty passed.) The toll for cars was the then-equivalent of 35 US cents.

30 years later, a second bridge was completed, crossing further down the estuary to Cardiff and West Wales. A new holding company was formed (Severn River Cossings plc), as a partnership between John Laing plc, a French firm, GTM-Entrepose, and others.

John Laing plc is based in London and controls assets worth £698 million (December 2008 accounts); but the revenue from both bridges went to GTM-Entrepose which was subsequently taken over by Vinci Concessions SA, a subsidiary of Vinci SA, which controls assets worth almost 52 billion Euros and is based in Rueil-Malmaison, France.

The toll for cars is now £5.40 (you pay to get into Wales; any fool who wishes to leave can do so for free), and as late as last month there were protests that this highwaymanning is hampering trade and transport. But what, exactly, can the private citizen, the commercial haulier, or even the professional politican do? Doubtless any attempt by HMG to intervene would be challenged in a European court.

I think our national politicans are little better than a species of fraudster, pretending that they can do something for us but (I suspect) privately agreeing among themselves that they are powerless. In which case, all they can do is take instructions from their wealthy patrons and (perhaps partly out of impotent spite) divide and bully the insignificant people, some of whom (at permitted intervals, to be determined by their masters) vote them into office.
And now, I want to wave my little flag.


OldSouth said...

Well-written! It's happening on both sides of the pond.

Note in Massachusetts the Keystone Cops efforts to ensure the correct 'succession' to Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. Heaven forbid there be a truly competitive election (aka referendum on Obama) in Massachusetts!

John Adams is owed an apology.

sobers said...

Its very simple - if you don't like paying £5-40 to cross the bridge, you drive all the way up to Gloucester and back down the other side of the river.

Its called paying for convenience. Without the bridges you'd spend a lot more cash on petrol for all those extra miles.

There is an obvious demand for a bridge, so who should pay for it, the people who use it, or the taxpayers of the UK as a whole, most of whom will never go across it more than once or twice in their lifetime?

Sackerson said...

Sobers, I agree entirely, except I don't want to pay a French conglomerate. More money going out of the country, every day. Though the hauliers use it much more often than you say, and the cumulative cost does affect them.

My other point is that, in the face of ever-bigger companies, we as consumers are being progressively disempowered, as we have been politically by the "ever-closer union" of the EU (BTW, that's a perfect description of a black hole, isn't it?).

OS: Yes indeed. I watched the John Adams series - rather fun.

James Higham said...

take instructions from their wealthy patrons

That's what Them is called these days?

dearieme said...

Well buy it from them, Sacks.

Sackerson said...

With what, when the great ones of the world have all the money?