The Misery Quota

Boris’s impassioned ‘exclusive’ in the Telegraph sounded the familiar gong – Europe Bad, Britain Good. This deep-seated loathing of Europe, the fear of being colonised, taken over and ruled and of having one’s sovereignty removed lies at the heart of the xenophobic desire for a UK exit. The question is whose sovereignty? Never mind Brussels, is it the democratic will of the UK people to have their lives dictated by parliamentarians whose political objectives coincide with the tax avoiding strategies of big business? How does this fit with the health and well-being of the nation?
What is so wrong about Europe’s way of doing things?
Much has been written about the revolutionary Thatcher era, a politician whose shadow still dominates this island, and whose greed-is-good philosophy underpins much of British social and cultural life. Over two decades later, this is still the country that Margaret envisioned.
But what of it? Are we happier, healthier, than our European counterparts? Do we have a better way of life? Are our roads and infrastructure any better, and is our tax money being better spent? What about the quality of life?
Let’s take the privatised UK railway system, the most overfunded, overpriced, and overcrowded in the world. The privatisation of the railways signalled a disaster for the general happiness quota of British workers. How does this UK phenomenon compare to Europe?
Britain’s public transport system faces constant crippling delays despite rail fares going up by 25% in the last five years – ticket prices rising three times faster than wages. Therefore, a huge chunk of salary earned goes on getting to and from work. No amount of cynical coaxing from the driver, (thanking us for travelling on the delightful train and wishing us a pleasant onward journey, as though we have just enjoyed a glass of Sauvignon and a plate of Chateaubriand), alleviates the utter misery of a sardine-packed carriage at 7 am, London time. At what hour do city workers need to rise to ensure and a half decent train trip to work? Dawn?
What about trains in Europe?
The UK train network falls far behind countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Italy, according to the union-commissioned report by think-tank Just Economics.
A season ticket costs twice as much as Germany, France and Holland, and is only slightly less expensive than Switzerland. An interesting study would be the average wait time between trains at rush hour in the UK compared to the rest of Europe.
Train Technology? Take the S-Bahn, Germany’s ultra-efficient high-speed rapid transit system within the commuter rail networks of urban areas in Austria, Germany, German-speaking Switzerland, Northern Italy, Denmark, and the Czech Republic.
The S-Bahn serves city centre traffic as well as suburbs and nearby towns. It’s renowned for its high efficiency and a synchronised timetable, train doors at platform level (never mind the gap) and the tracks are either underground or elevated.
Who says Europe doesn’t work? Well, at least, her trains work, and cheaply by comparison to the UK. The happiness quota of Germans has got to be affected by their superior transport system.
Why does this matter? Well, because it does. So much of life is spent getting from one place to the next. Perhaps for the super wealthy, public transport is not an issue, but for ordinary people, living out their lives and paying heavily into the system in the hope of getting something back, it’s everything.
Of course, Boris cycles to his plum mayor’s office on his jolly old bike, so he’s not bothered.


About Alice F Wickham

Chief bottle washer of New London Writers; would be ruler of the entire planet. (There would be far more trees, I promise you that!) Modest megalomaniac; thinker, dreamer, and milk chocolate eater. Co-creator of a brave new universe where poetry comes before profit, and you ALWAYS get a seat on the train.

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