Over the years, the drive to get more copy out of less staff has meant that many newspapers have dispensed with the services of specialist correspondents. So transport matters, for instance, are left to whoever road-tests the latest cars, or a writer on politics or business. So if the transport mode is not the private car, you can be sure that the specialist knowledge on offer will be minimal.
East Coast trains at pre-refurbishment King's Cross
Into this arena, following a non-controversial reply by Mil The Younger on The Andy Marr Show (tm) this morning has been the Telegraph’s assistant Political Editor Peter “Dominatrix” Dominiczak, to tell horrified Middle Englanders “Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, is forced to deny that he is an 'old-fashioned socialist' after signalling plans to bring railway lines back into public ownership”.
This is good in scaremongering terms, but as factual journalism it does not reach floor-of-budgie-cage standard. Miliband has given no such signal, there are no such plans, and in any case, as I’ve had to point out to the Tel’s scribes previously, the railways are mostly in public ownership already, the last confirmed by the Coalition, after it put the Network Rail (NR) debts on the public balance sheet.
But what about all those private firms running the trains? Ah well. Here again, the reality is that they have little control over the kind of trains they run, or the services provided. Government specifies the franchises down to the smallest detail, including the timetable. Operators can suggest new services; Government can equally tell them to forget it and look after the knitting.
And look at what Miliband actually said: “We are looking at all the options on the railways. We are not going to go back to old-style British Rail ... we have got to recognise that the system at the moment has flaws in it ... There is a balance to be struck here because there are some benefits you can have sometimes from competition ... But we do need to look at how we can have a coherent system”.
Dominiczak has had to resort to some distinctly creative journalism to make that sound like the socialist shock horror his editors have no doubt demanded. All that has been said is that East Coast appears to be performing well under a publicly owned body called Directly Operated Railways (DOR). Other franchises could, by implication, follow suit. The change would hardly be noticeable.
But what certainly is noticeable is the rank ignorance of the Tel’s writers when it comes to this subject: Dominiczak is joined here by Robert Colville, “acting Head of Comment” (one is tempted to ask if that is as in “emphasis on acting”), who also talks of “renationalisation” without having a clue where the industry is right now. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, lads, leave it to those who do.
Nobody is proposing anything remotely matching the Tel’s headlines. End of story.