As part of our regular “Remember their Audience” series, we examine Chris Grayling’s attempts to blame trade unions for the UK’s sky-rocketing train fares.
The background: Chris Grayling is the Conservative Party Transport Secretary who has presided over this year’s 3.1% rail fare increase.
The claim: “The reality is the fare increases are higher than they should be because the unions demand – with threats of national rail strikes if they don’t get them – higher pay rises than anybody else.”
Who he isn’t talking to: (you)
As usual in this series, I now take the opportunity to remind you that most things in politics are misunderstood because most of us think we are the audience when in fact we rarely are.
Let’s be honest here, you probably don’t trust or believe Chris Grayling – and nor does anyone who knows much about railways or business or politics.
Railways in many countries with more active trade unions have less expensive and less delayed trains than the UK. Indeed, even in the UK three railways with the same trade unions – London Underground, London Overground, and the DLR – have not put up their fares at all.
Furthermore, pay-rises are a management decision not a staff decision. Sometimes people in charge of a business have to fight high pay demands that they believe would damage the company and its clients and consumers. At other times a firm will actively push up pay-rises (and other benefits) to boost retention and/or recruitment and thus boost continuity and/or production.
So the Transport Secretary is not talking to you if you know a bit about railways in the UK, a bit about railways in other countries, or a bit about how business works. Likewise, he is not really talking to upset passengers who want solutions not excuses, and who have sufficient skin in the game to realise he is a politician, and politicians are untrusted anyway.
So who is he talking to: The Party Faithful
When a politician says something like this, there can be little expectation most people will believe it. So who does Chris Grayling expect to believe him?
Well, no one really. At least not from him.
A party faithful (not the millions of people who happen to vote for it, but “true believers”) want to defend their party from each day’s criticism, and in this case probably want to defend privatised railways structure from calls to nationalise them by their opponents (Labour).
Chris Grayling has given those people a line for the occasion. It fits the party’s aged inclination towards anti-unionism, and it empowers them to refute – or at least not admit – the more honest appraisal that our private railways are expensively run and the government has done things wrong.
The important thing here is that those people will parrot the line. It was quickly parroted for example, by the loyal Tax Payers Alliance in CityAM.
So if you hear the line about unions being to blame on what used to be called “the doorstep” (though nowadays probably on social media) remember that the line has thus worked on the audience it was intended for, and factor that into your response.
Because while most people don’t believe politicians, most people also don’t think too deeply about the insight proferred by Jimmy at the pub, or Carla on our lunch break, and so on. So when Jimmy or Carla parrot Grayling’s lie, they give it the credibility of not being a politician making excuses for his personal failings. Indeed they add the emotional value of being part of a trusted group – people we feel belonging with, rather than scepticism of.