The collapse of the West Coast rail re-franchising process surely spells the beginning of the end of the shambolic and fragmented privatised railway created by John Major's botched break-up of British Rail almost 20 years ago.
The current structure has no logic, offers little true competition between operators, costs the fare- and tax-payer dearly, and is held together only by the semi-nationalised Network Rail. The latter was itself a replacement for the disastrous profit-driven Railtrack, a property company masquerading as a rail firm. One only has to look at the vast improvements to the stations run by Network Rail to see the benefits of a not-for-profit body being in charge.
Passenger services, stations and track infrastructure need to be brought closer together, with just one operator for England and Wales, as is already the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The idea of a unified network should be revived, along with the respected Intercity brand, invented in Britain but now used everywhere but here.
The Coalition should bite the bullet and use this debacle as an opportunity to sort out the railways once and for all. A radical programme of reforms should sweep away the current jumble of liveries, unworkable contracts and legal red tape.
Since the failure of the National Express franchise on the East Coast (EC) line, the service has been provided by the Government's Directly Operated Railways (DOR). From a passenger perspective they have done well, and probably this has also been good for the taxpayer, since none of the profits from operating the franchise have gone as dividends to shareholders.
DOR has been running the EC service now for some two years. Some months ago the Department for Transport held a consultation meeting in Newcastle regarding a new franchise. A friend who was there asked why, since DOR were doing such a good job, they could not be allowed to continue. The answer was that in the Act which privatised the railways back in 1993, DOR only existed as a stop-gap company to be used as a last resort, and it would be illegal for them to continue indefinitely – this would be back-door renationalisation, and this is not permitted.
Perhaps the time has now come for the Government to swallow ideological pride and consider the possibility of the likes of DOR being allowed to run passenger train services for the good of both passengers and taxpayers.
Ian K Watson
Before heaping yet more criticism on civil servants, it's important to remember that their role is to implement government policy. In the case of the rail franchises, that policy is scandalously flawed and in deep need of objective review.
With subsidies from the taxpayer far higher than they ever were under British Rail, absurdly high walk-on fares on many routes, and a plethora of costly operating complexities, the current system is an abomination. The fact that it costs £40m-£50m to put in a bid for a franchise says it all.
Lib Dems hold the only real conference left
Alistair Wood (letter, 3 October) refers to "spin doctored, stage-managed performances" at party conferences. I cannot comment on the Labour or Conservative conferences but I can assure him that he is completely wrong when it comes to the Liberal Democrat conference.
"Hand-picked audiences"? Incorrect. Any party member can attend. Members elected as voting representatives have the right to vote for or against any motion or amendment and their numbers are determined on the relative size of their constituency membership.
The Liberal Democrats are the only party that still determines its party policy on the basis of democratic votes at our spring and autumn conferences. Motions submitted are frequently amended during debate, and control is in the hands of the delegates, not the party leadership.
As to saving our money in these financially straitened times, our conference makes a profit from the many organisations who consider it important to take an exhibition stand, the better to lobby political activists. I can't speak for the other two main parties, but I'd be surprised if they didn't make a profit, too.
Mr Wood is the one in the parallel universe, but he still has time to discover the truth about grassroots political activity – at least as far as Liberal Democrat politics is concerned. If he cares to contact his local Liberal Democrats via the party website, I am confident they will be able to provide him with even more assistance.
Voting Representative, Windsor Constituency Liberal Democrats
Good old idea for access to schools
A radical plan? Surely the "new" idea to allow all children "open access" to many of Britain's top independent schools is nothing more than a welcome return to the days of direct grant schools, which Labour so cheerfully axed in 1976, to the dismay of many.
As someone who benefited hugely from the system – from a very modest background, I attended one of the best schools in the country, with a particularly strong music department, which enabled me to get to Cambridge, which set me up for the rest of my life – I could never understand why such a meritocratic system was destroyed by a party intent on making life chances more even.
But I suppose if I have learnt anything in my career as a teacher, it is that what goes around, comes around. Will governments ever learn to leave the education system alone, and stop trying quick fixes? At least it seems possible that an excellent scheme that was working well in the 1960s and 1970s may be about to make a comeback, and for that, I suppose, I should be thankful.
Extending access for under-privileged children to fee-paying schools does not give them access to the costly out-of-school family activities of their classmates. It only underlines the pain of their own disadvantaged origins. Who pays for the ponies and the overseas holidays?
Canon Christopher Hall
Insults to, and from, Muslims
I assume that D Hussain (letter 29 September), would have great empathy with all individuals – not just Muslims – who chose to react in a violent fashion when "provoked" with the "poke in the eye" of criticism, satire, mockery, lampoonery and cartoons they don't like.
I assume, for example, that he would fully support all Jewish people who responded to insults and threats from the leaders of Muslim countries (and daily, deeply offensive cartoons in the press in those countries mocking the Holocaust) by violently attacking their embassies and staff - and, moreover, that he would be delighted by similar violent outbursts by the multifarious individuals who get continually offended and hurt by abuse and insults from imams: for example, gay people, atheists, agnostics, scientists, historians, rationalists, ex-Muslims, non-Muslims, "wrong Muslims" (that is, tolerant ones), Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, women etc.
Blaming the victim for the crime is an old trick, used by everyone from rape apologists to the Nazis and Communists, to numerous religious dictatorships and their enforcers, such as the Spanish Inquisition.
I can't help thinking that the only way we shall all know that Islam has finally grown up and joined the modern world is when Muslims can laugh at themselves – perhaps when they produce their own Islamic version of The Life of Brian.
P J Vanston
D Hussain may well feel justified in reacting violently to being poked in the eye. Does it entitle him to take it out on everybody else who happens to be within striking distance?
In the case of the film that offended Muslims (as in so many others) the person who did the actual poking is unharmed, while people who are totally innocent have lost their lives.
Your face in the crowd
Andrew Rennison, the recently appointed Surveillance Commissioner, claims that the introduction of powerful high-definition CCTV cameras is a matter of great public concern (report, 3 October). However, he doesn't offer one good reason to back this assertion. On the contrary, he says that they have a "high success rate of picking out your face against a database of known [wanted] faces". How on earth is that a problem?
I get the feeling that Mr Rennison has been reading too much Orwell. If he has evidence of any images being misused, he should present it. My feeling is that the authorities would be very careful in their use of such material. If there was proven misuse, then there would be a public backlash and they would risk losing the facility. It is difficult to imagine how facial images recorded in public places could be misused.
I don't understand the furore over CCTV cameras. I thought their purpose was to be able to identify individuals, while acting as a deterrent to anti-social behaviour. Otherwise, what is the point of them? Unless someone has something to hide, or are in a place they should not be, what harm is there in a camera picking them out in a crowd? I have nothing to hide – more CCTV cameras please.
Woodford Green, Essex
Dr Jacob Amir (letter, 4 October) defends the right of Israel to exist "as the nation-state of the Jewish people" and then has the gall to accuse others of being racist. He also claims that critics of Israel do not oppose "the existence of any other nation-state" – but what other nation state is based on the ethnicity ("race") of its citizens?
Of course Shakespeare would have approved the Reclaim Shakespeare Company's protest against BP (letter, 4 October). He said as much in All's Well that Ends Well – "When oil and fire, too strong for reason's force,/ O'erbears it, and burns on."
Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire
Gaining access to a government record via a Facebook login – what could possibly go wrong?