Thursday, March 23, 2006

Set Piece

I have just returned from a couple of days in Switzerland, and as always, I am struck by the efficiency of the Swiss infrastructure. I caught a train, punctual to the minute, from Zurich to Geneva. The trains link with the major airports and all major towns. In Geneva I read of the new infrastructure projects to improve transport in the major cities and across country. The budgets are transparent and agreed amongst the various cantons. Given the very mountainous terrain of much of the country, it is even more impressive to see how easy it is to get around.

Returning to a cramped and heavily congested Heathrow (now fallen to only the fourth busiest airport in Europe) I take the most expensive mile for mile train journey in the world to get to Paddington station. The difficulty of travel is obvious. In Switzerland I can take a train direct from Zurich Airport to Geneva Airport. Simply to travel between Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted- different airports of the same city- is not possible without multiple changes and about three hours of time- the approximate time it takes to get between Zurich to Geneva airports. In Scotland, the runways of all except Prestwick are relatively short, which limits the access of intercontinental flights- and given the global nature of the oil business this is a major brake of the future development of Aberdeen. Access to all the airports of Scotland is restricted, with no rail links yet established. This is just not acceptable, and will continue to damage competitiveness and efficiency until we fix the problems- as the Swiss continue to do every year.

As I Return to the UK I see that the tired farrago of the annual budget farce is upon us. This tawdry spectacle is what passes for a Parliamentary set piece under the current constitution. The scale of Gordon Brown's failures is obvious- yet all the Conservatives can argue is that not enough money is being spent on health! No mention of the astonishing waste that takes place in most government departments. No mention either of the amazing inefficiency of taxing people and then giving money back to them through a labyrinthine structure of benefits and tax credits. If our physical infrastructure is tired and inefficient, the infrastructure of government is morbidly obese, and will choke to death without major restructuring. The posturing drivel of the Parliamentary set piece- Cameron dancing around in response to the misleading and distorted numbers served up by the arrogant Chancellor- leaves me cold and very angry. Our constitution is not holding those who spend government money properly to account- which is the minimum that I would expect that it should do.

On the other hand the gathering scandal of the fund of the Conservative and Labour parties simply underlines the problem of money in our political system. I was deeply angry to hear Blair respond to Ming Campbell's question on Lord Sainsbury's loan to the Labour Party: How dare he draw a moral equivalence between the declared donations to the Liberal Democrats and the secret loans to the Labour party.

No Mr. Blair we are NOT all the same: the Liberal Democrats have disclosed their donations at every stage- to the point that those donations have been challenged. Labour and the Tories took undeclared loans for years and made the people who provided them into members of our Parliament. Unconstitutional and probably illegal. As I settle into my dirty train seat, I grow even more angry with the implosion of leadership at the heart of our constitution.

No comments: