Don't rely on Labour to derail gravy train

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The Independent Online
The popular explanation for the resounding success of the Railtrack sale is that it has been so loaded with sweeteners that it is a buy whatever the risks of an attack on the company by a Labour government.

There is certainly a lot of truth in this. The shares would have to fall nearly 10 per cent by next February for the net return over the nine months to reduce to the level of a building society account, so generous are the incentives.

As it happens, the shares look set to start trading at a premium on Monday, helped by a squeeze on institutions, which may be cut back to 50 per cent or less of the issue. Sir George Young, the transport secretary, will not lose any time reminding Labour that 650,000 investors ignored its warnings.

But it is also possible that the public's blithe disregard of the threats to Railtrack's profitability by Clare Short, the shadow transport secretary, tell us something about Tony Blair's record in convincing the electorate that Labour has changed its spots. Could it be that people are actually believing his generalities and disregarding Ms Short's detailed threats?

Labour's transport policy is being considered this weekend at a policy forum in Manchester, and there is nothing in the transport document that will be debated to change the impression that the threats contain more sound than fury.

For example, the prospectus said a proposal to convert government investment in the railways into shares in Railtrack was to be considered at the meeting. But there is nothing in the policy document about this zany proposal, which had the City scratching its collective head.

The threats about re-regulation, political control and all the rest remain. But the Blairite sub-text is clear in the prospectus where Labour's contribution says, "There is no question of existing contracts being cancelled against the wishes of the parties to them." There will be tinkering, yes, but that sentence does not smack of anything remotely resembling expropriation.