So, the big issue today is: what is the connection between the re-structuring of peak hour rail fares from Kemble to Paddington and the government’s failure to uncover WMDs in Iraq? Stumped? I thought so.
The topline answer is that the political and corporate institutions involved both use the same PR tactics to deal with objections to their actions. They are both monopolies, and they both create smokescreens of confusion and perplexity to enable them to do exactly what they want, regardless of the wishes of the people they are supposed to serve.
To take matters in order of importance: obfuscation, obfuscation, obfuscation is New Labour’s great unsung policy, and the one employed to argue away the government’s failure to fulfil its unambiguous electoral promises.
Currently, a desperate administration sees this tactic as central to retaining Blair/Bush credibility over the WMD debacle. The facts are that the putative smoking gun was never more than a rusty penknife; the portentous intelligence that proved the weapons’ existence was lightweight, out-of-date, and cut-and-paste; and the idea that Saddam and Osama were cuddled up together in bed was absurd to anyone with the most basic political understanding.
All of this was pointed out before the invasion. Now that the WMDs are stubbornly refusing to come to light, and the ostensible justification for war has vanished, obfuscation has come into play. The latest series of leaks, counter-leaks, and accusations has stirred up a blame game drama designed to submerge the substantive issue.
It’s part of a delay-and-complicate tactic that will dump ultimate responsibility for the declaration of war in an administrative, interdepartmental black hole, which will be everyone’s and no one’s fault. This is rich for a government so obsessed with monitoring performance and imposing standards rigorously in all areas of social policy.
The government discounted reports that the dossiers were flawed; it dismissed the opinions and protests of millions as well-meaning but misguided; in short, it did what it wanted, and clearly declared that it exists to serve its own interests, and not the needs of the people who put it there.
Credibility is totally shot. If evidence of chemical weapons and WMDs is discovered, a large proportion of the population will simply reckon it’s a load of second-user anthrax, spare ricin and a few rusty autoclaves hastily shipped in by British forces from Porton Down to get the whole stupid story to stand up.
Talking of standing up neatly brings me back to the woes of commuters in the thrall of First Great Western’s alleged service into London. It’s no huge global concern, but to cut to the chase, the company stopped a long-established discount fare on peak-time trains into Paddington. For many commuters, the change translates into a potential annual increase of thousands of pounds.
FGW pulled this stunt without pre-warning any of its passengers, and seemingly without informing some of its own ticket office staff. The guards (sorry, “customer service representatives”) were forced to face the wrath of the travelling public. Unsurprisingly, they declared in favour of their customers’ cause, but management proved less understanding.
One executive, Richard Green, wrote two pages of corporate gibberish to cover up the company’s basic two-fingered message to its customers. Through all the obfuscating blah about train pricing manager reviews, generic network practice and reliability charter triggers (98.2%), it became apparent that FGW has decided to avoid the need to lay on more trains during rush hours by the simple expedient of pricing passengers out of the market.
This is cool for FGW (yes, your company too can earn more money by doing precisely nothing!), but distinctly uncool for perplexed passengers. In these strange days, they are forced to conclude, when “rail” and “service” are conjoined, they produce not an efficient, cost-effective means of transport, but an oxymoron.
If Mr Green had said “I’m really terribly, terribly sorry about all this. It was wrong of us not to inform people properly. Here’s a refund voucher with my compliments. I actually can’t do anything about the fare availability at the moment, but we’ll be looking into it”, we put upon commuters wouldn’t – actually, couldn’t – have got worked up about all this.
But you see, Mr Green didn’t need to say that, because Mr Green works for a monopoly supplier, a monopoly supplier that does what it wants. In his correspondence, Mr Green clearly declared that FGW exists to serve its own interest, and not the needs of the people who pay and whom the company is supposed to serve.
Which, ultimately, is the same song as the government’s, repeated in a corporate environment. Both make the arrogant assumption that they (a) know best, and (b) will get away with it anyway. Unfortunately, these two messages are beginning to shine through, whatever smoke and mirrors have been thrown up to disguise the truth.
Once credibility has sunk to this level, whilst a government or business may survive, it has no integrity in the eyes of the consumer, and if it has no integrity, ultimately it has no future.
If that’s any consolation.