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Is Labour's railway plan an election winner? Watch

  • View Poll Results: Is Labour's railway plan an election winner?
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    (Original post by nulli tertius)
    Not quite fair.

    The railways didn't die because they were nationalised. They were nationalised because they were dying. They were a classic example of the "picking losers" theory of nationalisation (British Shipbuilders, British Leyland etc).

    The interesting question is at what point could it have been privatised successfully if Maggie had given a damn about railways?
    There were 120 different railway companies before government stuck its oar in to create the big 4. Granted it was somewhat inefficient (Dewsbury had 3 stations although it did get London services so more destinations). What was needed was better organization in my opinion which could have been done by a regulator (or today anyway).

    Now obviously cars and planes would have led to lower demand and perhaps the cull by Beeching was still a good idea but I'm not sold on the notion that is was dying.

    Its also worth noting how inflexible the current system is. Not only are operators sometimes prohibited from running more services of their own accord but open access operators have also asked to run new journeys (Huddersfield-Birmingham-London) for example and been prohibited. Whether there's a public or private base operator we must encourage open access operators (also worth noting that they run newer trains and tend to rank highest for customer service).
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    the railways are still owned by the tax payer via national rail. the trains are leased from the government. it would not be hard to remove the rail companies from their franchises, you just dont renue the contract at the end of its lease.
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    (Original post by Rakas21)
    There were 120 different railway companies before government stuck its oar in to create the big 4. Granted it was somewhat inefficient (Dewsbury had 3 stations although it did get London services so more destinations). What was needed was better organization in my opinion which could have been done by a regulator (or today anyway).
    Yes but the consolidation in 1922 was because many of the railway companies were economic basket cases that had been shielded by guaranteed returned under the wartime arrangements. The consolidation was essentially a rescue for the weaker companies.

    Now obviously cars and planes would have led to lower demand and perhaps the cull by Beeching was still a good idea but I'm not sold on the notion that is was dying.
    Beeching was a dreadful idea at the time and now. He sacrificed the network to preserve working practices. The Modernisation Plan of the 1950s meant that steam was already on its way out. However, if you read Beeching there is no mention of paytrains and unmanned stations. They are a product of the 1970s. In the 1980s there were still battles about getting rid of firemen from diesel trains! The stations Beeching closed and those he left open still had full complements of ticket clerks and porters and often minor country stations had buffets. Look at railway employment figures from 1961 and 1981.

    http://www.neighbourhood.statistics....2/railway.html

    The labour force reductions were less than the network and and service reductions but even if they had been the same that would have indicated no improvement in efficiency.

    Moreover Dr Beeching does not get sufficient blame for the enormous increase in crime in the 1970s and 1980s by reason of his changes to the criminal justice system.

    Its also worth noting how inflexible the current system is. Not only are operators sometimes prohibited from running more services of their own accord but open access operators have also asked to run new journeys (Huddersfield-Birmingham-London) for example and been prohibited. Whether there's a public or private base operator we must encourage open access operators (also worth noting that they run newer trains and tend to rank highest for customer service).
    Remember the open access operators are trying the game the system as well. The way ticket remuneration is divided up, your company's income largely doesn't depend on how many passengers you carry but on a share of total passenger numbers on particular flows whether you carry them or not. The open access operators' stopping patterns reflect their attempts to steal the revenue of passengers who are actually carried in the main operator's trains and the main operator's success in persuading the regulator not to let them do so.
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    just as a side note here is a cool website detailing all of the disused stations in the uk, it includes history and photos. pretty cool! http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/sites.shtml
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    (Original post by Observatory)


    Nationalisation is poison.
    So the fact that car usage rocketing during that time, and government policy revolved around private car ownership had nothing to do with decreasing passenger numbers on the railways?
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    (Original post by WelshBluebird)
    So the fact that car usage rocketing during that time, and government policy revolved around private car ownership had nothing to do with decreasing passenger numbers on the railways?
    And were cars banned in 1995?
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    (Original post by nulli tertius)
    BL was nationalised because it was an economic basket case and to avoid making politically harsh decisions about its future not the other way around.

    The Big Four had serious problems before the war. The "glamour" fast passenger services hid a multitude of problems. By the outbreak of WWII only the GWR was paying dividends and then out of reserves rather than current profits. By the end of the war the track and equipment were worn out.

    In many ways the railways after WWII were in the same position as the mines after WWI. If they hadn't been nationalised they would have needed wholesale recapitalisation. My guess is no-one would have bothered and preferred to invest in road and air services (of course non-urban buses, road haulage, canals and civil aviation were also nationalised so we don't really know what a post-war private sector transport sector would have looked like).
    I'm intensely sceptical of all claims that the government took over some industry because the market was allocating capital inefficiently in that industry. The government has never successfully allocated capital in any industry; it seems much more likely to me that the government's proposed diagnosis and solution were just wrong and that there is nothing more to it.

    The Big 4 were a half-way house: real private companies but operating according to a pattern decided by the state. The purpose was supposedly to promote efficiency yet the data shows it turned an exponential growth trend into stagnation. Full nationalisation wasn't a response to any pressing need but an ideological goal of the Atlee revolution and seems to have turned that stagnation into a solid decline. I don't think this can be fully explained by exogenous factors; BR made bad decisions even by the standards of other countries' nationalised rail industries, continuing to invest in steam sets when other countries were going electrical, etc.

    Nationalisation was an intellectual fad in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the serious intellectual heft behind it has disappeared decades ago. Today it's a social fad and the clear target of these sorts of policy announcements is not the faculty of the LSE, but the readership of the Daily Mirror.
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    (Original post by Rakas21)
    There were 120 different railway companies before government stuck its oar in to create the big 4. Granted it was somewhat inefficient (Dewsbury had 3 stations although it did get London services so more destinations). What was needed was better organization in my opinion which could have been done by a regulator (or today anyway).

    Now obviously cars and planes would have led to lower demand and perhaps the cull by Beeching was still a good idea but I'm not sold on the notion that is was dying.

    Its also worth noting how inflexible the current system is. Not only are operators sometimes prohibited from running more services of their own accord but open access operators have also asked to run new journeys (Huddersfield-Birmingham-London) for example and been prohibited. Whether there's a public or private base operator we must encourage open access operators (also worth noting that they run newer trains and tend to rank highest for customer service).
    In regards to beeching, there is no way you can call the cuts a good idea. The amount of money that has been spent over the last decade or so re-opening closed lines and stations is just crazy. And even lines that weren't closed still suffered as some lines were singled and passing loops removed. Rather ironically those lines are now being redoubled and more infrastructure put in place, s we are now spending a load of money that we wouldn't have had to spend. Essentially, Beeching didn't understand the for a mainline network to flourish you need the branch lines to allow a larger number of people easy access to the rail network.

    And with the current system, yep it is broken. Hugely. As I said earlier we effectively have the worst of both systems. One thing that a lot of people ignore is that there is really no incentive for a ToC to invest much money in its route as the franchise lengths are so short. If we are going to stick with a franchise based system then have a look at what is happening with Chiltern. A longer franchise term has meant they have been willing to put money into the route and even look at infrastructure upgrades and line / station reopenings that simply would not have happened if they were on a shorter franchise length. The worry some people have with open access companies is they would potentially put off ToC's from this kind of investment.

    (Original post by nulli tertius)
    And were cars banned in 1995?
    Nope.
    But the time coincides with an increase in the cost of motoring (partly to do with petrol prices) that would have made people reconsider their transport methods.

    Also you have to look at it from an investment point of view. Under a private system, the government is spending more money on the railways that it was when the railways were owned and run by the state. There is a very reasonable argument that if public investment in the railways was as high when they were nationalised, then passenger numbers would have been higher.
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    (Original post by WelshBluebird)
    So the fact that car usage rocketing during that time, and government policy revolved around private car ownership had nothing to do with decreasing passenger numbers on the railways?
    Did car usage rocket in 1914 specifically, then collapse in 1996? Seems like a bit of coincidence. And if we give nationalisation benefit of the doubt for cars (despite the dodgy dates), why ignore the fact that the newly privatised railways saw exploding usage right in the face of no frills airlines (Easyjet founded 1995)?
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    (Original post by Observatory)
    Did car usage rocket in 1914 specifically, then collapse in 1996? Seems like a bit of coincidence. And if we give nationalisation benefit of the doubt for cars (despite the dodgy dates), why ignore the fact that the newly privatised railways saw exploding usage right in the face of no frills airlines (Easyjet founded 1995)?
    You know what did happen in 1914? WW1. So there's the answer there.
    In regards to passenger numbers increasing around the time or privatisation, the very fact the government are investing more money into a privately run system than what they were into a state run system explains quite a lot of that. As does the fact rail travel has started to be more affordable when compared to the price of motoring since the mid 90's anyway (because of the increasing cost of fuel). And then you have the fact that new rolling stock (which would have happened anyway) has helped ease some overcrowding, again making the railways more attractive (and thus increasing passenger numbers).
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    (Original post by WelshBluebird)
    You know what did happen in 1914? WW1. So there's the answer there.
    What was the direct effect of WWI on private ownership of transport? There is no data from the war years themselves - but why does usage collapse right after the war, rather than reverting to the growing trend?

    In regards to passenger numbers increasing around the time or privatisation, the very fact the government are investing more money into a privately run system than what they were into a state run system explains quite a lot of that. As does the fact rail travel has started to be more affordable when compared to the price of motoring since the mid 90's anyway (because of the increasing cost of fuel). And then you have the fact that new rolling stock (which would have happened anyway) has helped ease some overcrowding, again making the railways more attractive (and thus increasing passenger numbers).
    If the price of fuel were controlling then we would expect to see a huge spike in usage in the late 70s and early 80s, when the oil price was more than twice as high in real terms as in 1995. There's simply no sudden change in either 1919 or 1996, other than the institutional arrangements. Other factors could be expected to produce a gradual fade in or fade out, but not a sudden step change.
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    It probably is an election winner, but that's not to say it's a good plan.

    I've had issues with lots of trains in my time, and there are others which have been great. I've had nothing but problems with Cross Country Trains, but on the other hand East Midlands Trains have been absolutely flawless. Having privately owned trains doesn't mean they're all bad, nor does it mean they're all good. Having a state operator compete against them would hopefully guarantee that the taxpayer gets a good deal, but it doesn't mean the traveler will get a good service. In fact I'd wager that none of us will notice a difference if this gets put into practise.

    The trains right now are pretty good in my opinion, not perfect of course, but neither were the days of British Rail. In fact, with the exception of when I have to use CCT, I get a fantastic service for a reasonable price 9 times out of 10. I'd say that a better thing to do would be to just shorten the length that the franchises are provided for, maybe try to operate a system where multiple franchise operators can provide the same service (because lrt's face it: right now we have privatization without any true competition which renders it partially redundant) and introduce better measures for removing franchises when the operators are doing a **** job. Just having them compete against the state is going to change a great deal.

    I'm also a bit skeptical about the unions and how they seem to be running a big contingent of the party policy machine. of course we all know that this has been going on for years but at least they used to try to hide it a bit and downplay it. I don't particularly want a government run by a consortium of special interests groups (though sadly the Tories are inflicted with the same problem, just with big business in the place of big unions)

    Can I just conclude by saying that trains in this country are usually fine, but that buses are the real problem? It seems like no-one ever talks about buses, but they are so ****ing ****. I can't even put into words how much I despise the bus services in my area. I live 9 miles from Leicester yet I could genuinely get to London quicker by train than I could get to Leicester by bus at peak times.
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    (Original post by Observatory)
    I'm intensely sceptical of all claims that the government took over some industry because the market was allocating capital inefficiently in that industry. The government has never successfully allocated capital in any industry; it seems much more likely to me that the government's proposed diagnosis and solution were just wrong and that there is nothing more to it.
    I am sorry in the care of the railways this is nothing to do with allocation of capital. This is shortage of capital. There may have been an outside chance immediately after the war of American recapitalisation of our railways but obviously that would have soon passed.

    You are allowing ideological views to cloud the historical narrative.

    The Conservatives in 1945 hadn't got a clue what to do about railways.

    http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/con45.htm

    By 1950 whilst the Conservatives were minded to reverse all Labour transport nationalisations with the exception of rail, where they proposed a collection of regionalised but publically owned rail operators.

    http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/con50.htm

    In 1951 that was repeated

    http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/con51.htm

    The plain fact is that the railways were incapable of being de-nationalised.


    The Big 4 were a half-way house: real private companies but operating according to a pattern decided by the state. The purpose was supposedly to promote efficiency yet the data shows it turned an exponential growth trend into stagnation.
    The motor vehicle caused the stagnation. For goodness sake they had to hamstring both the bus and the domestic airline industries to provide protection to the railways.

    Full nationalisation wasn't a response to any pressing need
    I am sorry this is rubbish.
    but an ideological goal of the Atlee revolution
    Of course it was, but the reason there were no screams was finding an alternative

    and seems to have turned that stagnation into a solid decline
    .

    The decline was inevitable. The rate and form it took was not.


    I don't think this can be fully explained by exogenous factors; BR made bad decisions even by the standards of other countries' nationalised rail industries, continuing to invest in steam sets when other countries were going electrical, etc.
    Again, this is just plain wrong. The decision to pull out of steam was taken very early (despite a few dalliances with new steam technology). The arguably poor decision was to prefer diesel over electric propulsion but the legacy has been a much greater level of service density in the UK than in most of Europe.

    The really poor decision was the external one of sacrificing the network to protect obsolete working practices.

    The legacy of nationalisation is still there which is the wish to operate the railways in the interests of those who do not travel by train.
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    (Original post by Observatory)
    What was the direct effect of WWI on private ownership of transport? There is no data from the war years themselves - but why does usage collapse right after the war, rather than reverting to the growing trend?
    Lots of men with driving ability and a bit of money came back from the war and there were a lot of war surplus lorry chassis on which bus bodies could be built.

    http://www.delainebuses.com/history.htm

    Delaine remained sufficiently small that it wasn't nationalised in 1947. A lot of the history of these early bus companies has been lost.

    Likewise a lot of folk with lorries and vans went into competition with the enormously profitable railway parcels traffic.
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    (Original post by nulli tertius)
    I am sorry in the care of the railways this is nothing to do with allocation of capital. This is shortage of capital. There may have been an outside chance immediately after the war of American recapitalisation of our railways but obviously that would have soon passed.

    You are allowing ideological views to cloud the historical narrative.

    The Conservatives in 1945 hadn't got a clue what to do about railways.

    http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/con45.htm

    By 1950 whilst the Conservatives were minded to reverse all Labour transport nationalisations with the exception of rail, where they proposed a collection of regionalised but publically owned rail operators.

    http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/con50.htm

    In 1951 that was repeated

    http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/con51.htm

    The plain fact is that the railways were incapable of being de-nationalised.


    I am sorry this is rubbish.


    Of course it was, but the reason there were no screams was finding an alternative

    .

    The decline was inevitable. The rate and form it took was not.
    You've got it all wrong if you think my interest is to defend the record of the Conservative Party. They were willing fellow-travellers in the statist consensus. Rather, I regard the whole period as one of collective madness, with a handful of marginal thinkers who could see more clearly (Hayek, Popper, etc.)

    Whether there is a "shortage" of capital is a question of the market capital allocation. If the Big 4 were bad managers, they should have been liquidated. If the liquidated assets were worthless, they should have been scrapped. That is the worst case scenario. There's never a case where the market simply produces no answer; it may be an answer you disagree with, but then as I indicated, if "you" are the government I ask on what record "you" claim to speak on these matters with even a scrap of authority.

    The motor vehicle caused the stagnation. For goodness sake they had to hamstring both the bus and the domestic airline industries to provide protection to the railways.
    In 1920, but not 1910. Possible, as I said, but a startling coincidence.

    Again, this is just plain wrong. The decision to pull out of steam was taken very early (despite a few dalliances with new steam technology). The arguably poor decision was to prefer diesel over electric propulsion but the legacy has been a much greater level of service density in the UK than in most of Europe.

    The really poor decision was the external one of sacrificing the network to protect obsolete working practices.

    The legacy of nationalisation is still there which is the wish to operate the railways in the interests of those who do not travel by train.
    The UK also has a much greater density of population than most of Europe.

    Lots of men with driving ability and a bit of money came back from the war and there were a lot of war surplus lorry chassis on which bus bodies could be built.

    http://www.delainebuses.com/history.htm

    Delaine remained sufficiently small that it wasn't nationalised in 1947. A lot of the history of these early bus companies has been lost.

    Likewise a lot of folk with lorries and vans went into competition with the enormously profitable railway parcels traffic.
    "The first motor bus a Ford T with Economy 14 seater bodywork was introduced. Services were introduced to Spalding via Twenty, Stamford via greatford and Grantham via Corby Glen." ?

    And was there a lot of bus driving on the Western Front? Really? From what I've read, there was more light rail, and it's not hard to see why.
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    (Original post by Observatory)
    You've got it all wrong if you think my interest is to defend the record of the Conservative Party. They were willing fellow-travellers in the statist consensus. Rather, I regard the whole period as one of collective madness, with a handful of marginal thinkers who could see more clearly (Hayek, Popper, etc.)

    Whether there is a "shortage" of capital is a question of the market capital allocation. If the Big 4 were bad managers, they should have been liquidated. If the liquidated assets were worthless, they should have been scrapped. That is the worst case scenario. There's never a case where the market simply produces no answer; it may be an answer you disagree with, but then as I indicated, if "you" are the government I ask on what record "you" claim to speak on these matters with even a scrap of authority.
    Of course the market will produce an answer but that answer may be economic collapse and penury.

    Government is not an instrument to serve economic theory. The asset base of the railway network was sacrificed in a struggle of national survival, and if that had not happened Hayek would probably have been hanged as a traitor to the Germany of which he was never a citizen rather than writing The Road to Serfdom.

    And was there a lot of bus driving on the Western Front? Really? From what I've read, there was more light rail, and it's not hard to see why.
    There was a lot of bus driving on the Western Front (which is why London Transport as successor to the old London Bus Companies lays a wreath in the Remembrance Day service). I am not however dealing with that. I am dealing with the men who learned how to drive and repair military vehicles during WWI and who, all over England, at the end of the war bought an army surplus vehicle converted for use as a bus or lorry or van and set up business, hiring men who had served with them to work for them. (Do you know the story of the Slough Trading Estate and the huge army surplus disposals after WWI?)
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    (Original post by nulli tertius)
    Of course the market will produce an answer but that answer may be economic collapse and penury.
    Maybe. But in practice, market decisions result in prosperity while state economic control results in collapse and penury.

    Government is not an instrument to serve economic theory.
    Hence it does things like nationalisations, which serve peoples' emotional needs at the expense of causing economic damage.

    The asset base of the railway network was sacrificed in a struggle of national survival, and if that had not happened Hayek would probably have been hanged as a traitor to the Germany of which he was never a citizen rather than writing The Road to Serfdom.
    I think this is a conflation of two very different issues: ownership and management. If the railways have underlying profitability but the companies are bankrupt because of war taxes or whatever else, the companies will be liquidated and the assets bought by someone who will use them. That someone may be American rather than British, but in terms of providing an efficient service that is irrelevant. There is only a problem if the railways do not have underlying profitability. In that case, scrapping them won't result in economic collapse or penury; quite the opposite, since preserving the railways would by definition require expenditure of resources of greater value than their product.

    There was a lot of bus driving on the Western Front (which is why London Transport as successor to the old London Bus Companies lays a wreath in the Remembrance Day service). I am not however dealing with that. I am dealing with the men who learned how to drive and repair military vehicles during WWI and who, all over England, at the end of the war bought an army surplus vehicle converted for use as a bus or lorry or van and set up business, hiring men who had served with them to work for them. (Do you know the story of the Slough Trading Estate and the huge army surplus disposals after WWI?)
    You have not really engaged with the point: it isn't clear to me from what you have said that motor vehicles were more important than light rail during WWI. It also isn't clear that very many people (as opposed to some - no doubt) learned to drive in the army during WWI.
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    (Original post by Observatory)
    Maybe. But in practice, market decisions result in prosperity while state economic control results in collapse and penury.
    On balance that is of course right but that doesn't mean the same is true of individual decisions. RBS had to bailed out. It was too big to fail. That doesn't mean that nationalised banks are a good thing. They aren't.

    I think this is a conflation of two very different issues: ownership and management. If the railways have underlying profitability but the companies are bankrupt because of war taxes or whatever else, the companies will be liquidated and the assets bought by someone who will use them. That someone may be American rather than British, but in terms of providing an efficient service that is irrelevant. There is only a problem if the railways do not have underlying profitability. In that case, scrapping them won't result in economic collapse or penury; quite the opposite, since preserving the railways would by definition require expenditure of resources of greater value than their product.
    You still don't have the point.

    What happened during the war was that the physical assets of the railway were depleted both by damage by enemy action and worn out by overuse. For example it was not until the 1960s that the railways regained pre-war running speeds.

    Before the war, with proper maintenance schedules, the railways didn't make money.

    If the railways had been offered in a liquidation sale, a buyer would have needed the capital to reinstate the physical asset base and to provide working capital but there was no way in which any such investment could have provided an economic return on capital.

    Yet in the 1940s railways remained vital to our economic prosperity (petrol is on severe ration), all of the coal for electric power and gas is being moved by rail, most of our food is moving by rail and a large proportion of the workforce is also moving by rail.

    What could not happen is that the prices of rail freight and passenger tickets could not go up to accommodate the need to provide a return to a new owner of the railways. A economy cannot remodel to reflect that transport is now scarce and expensive that quickly. Rather like a run on a bank, you would have had a run on the economy. Railway customers would go bust faster than the economy could recognise a new orthodoxy of higher prices (which is why inflation is always damaging to the general public even though most of the population are not capitalists)

    Any potential buyer of the railway would realise that he could not achieve an economic return and simply not purchase.

    A related factor is that railways were always a boom and bust industry. Much railway infrastructure was originally built with lost capital. The people who paid for the railways were not the predecessors of the railway company shareholders in 1945. They were the people who had invested in railway companies that had gone bust in 1845 or 1870 or 1890. In other words the physical assets of the railway cost far more to build than the capital of the railway companies. But it was the physical assets that were damaged so the damage that had to be paid for in 1945 pounds represented a much greater percentage of the financial capital of the railways. If you have an asset that costs £50K to build that you buy off a receiver for £10K and half of it is destroyed, it will cost you 21/2 your capital (25K to 10K) to repair it.


    You have not really engaged with the point: it isn't clear to me from what you have said that motor vehicles were more important than light rail during WWI.
    The short answer is I have no idea. However we are not discussing the military impact of different kinds of land transport and wartime light rail had no impact on UK post-WWI civil transportation.


    It also isn't clear that very many people (as opposed to some - no doubt) learned to drive in the army during WWI.
    I can't give a better source than Wikipedia at present

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_tra...tween_the_wars

    but this is absolutely standard stuff. Any social history account of Britain between the wars deals with this.
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    Not an election-winner, but he's almost certainly won my vote.
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    People will vote based on the economy. Always.
 
 
 
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