Political Commentary By JAN US
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
Cheek by Jowl
MANY users of transport find difficulty in distinguishing between nationalized and free-enterprise concerns. British Road Services still run vehicles under the name of the former proprietors. The existence of a Pickfords Division is misleading, and calls forth complaints from hauliers who wish to emphasize the cleavage between themselves and the British Transport Commission.
As time goes on, the emphasis will tend to bring about the desired distinction. The sensitive observer must have noticed how often, in spite of stout protestations, the man who has gone over rapidly acquires the B.R.S. mentality. He has been compared with the poacher turned gamekeeper, and this analysis of the situation, not very flattering for either side, does help in the understanding of numerous small points, all suggesting indirectly the respectability of nationalized transport and the raffishness of free enterprise.
Far be it from me to say that no hauliers ever make any concession to outward show. Many of them have premises that would be hard to match for appearance and functional efficiency. Their vehicles gleam with bright metal and new paint. The run-of-the-mill haulier, however, whom most people regard as representative of the industry, sets little store by refinements. His premises are where he lives. His family form the clerical staff. An untidy bookcase is his office, his desk the dining-room table. The vehicles, parked somewhere round the back, may have every attention to their internal needs, but to outward view often look on the point of falling to pieces.
Rarefied Atmosphere Several times Maj.-Gen. Russell and other spokesmen of the Road Haulage Executive have scarcely concealed their disgust at the revolting old faithfuls that an unkind Parliament has forced them to take over. A writer in "The Economist," his lungs presumably purified by recent contact with the rarefied atmosphere of the Ivory Tower, has gone so far as to state that "the unavoidable acquisition of much poor stock and inadequate maintenance facilities" is one of the "more cogent reasons for the high operating costs of B.R.S." Why those costs sttauld be any higher than those of the hauliers who surrendered the vehicles is not clear; but the condemnation by "The Economist" gives accurate expression to the feeling that what is good enough for free enterprise is certainly not good enough for the State.
The R.H.E, appreciates the advantages of display. More and more of its vehicles come on to the road glittering from the paint-shop. New depots are opening up. The impression is of a transformation scene in a pantomime; Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp, possibly. although the rude counter-suggestion of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is, it must be admitted with regret, to be expected from the unregenerate tents of the disp3ssessed.
Publicity is an important item in the B.R.S. balance sheet, In 1948 it cost 05,520, and £60,588 in 1949. For last year the figure is likely, to be •higher still. " British Road Services Deliver the Goods" is the theme of a series of Press advertisements that has won general praise from publicity experts. The strip-cartoon technique is used to show how nationalized road transport tackles various tasks that presumably were left to the railways in the old days before the R.H.E. started to abstract the traffic.
One or two voices have protested that the fortunate customers featured in the advertisements receive a much better service from the R.H.E. than most other traders. Outsize loads, it is whispered, were carried satisfactorily even before the Pickfords Division came into existence. There have been unworthy doubts cast on the actual existence of some of the companies posing the problems that B.R.S. appear to solve so consistently and triumphantly. The celebrated "Whale of a Job" announcement was described by captious critics as a somewhat fishy story.
Sniping of this character is largely beside the point, and does not disturb the general effect of the advertising. The public is being skilfully taught that Maj.-Gen. Russell and his Men are showing for the first time how to execute a Peries of brilliant transport rnanceuvres without dirtying their hands, using bad language or breaking the law.
Roaring Lion: Sucking Dove Even the symbol of the R.H.E. plays its part in the story. The hungry lion, as it has been called, is obviously a fastidious creature, tbo well-bred to make a decent meal of Christian. Like Bottom, it might say: "1 will roar you as gently as any sucking dove; I will roar you as lwere any nightingale."
Hauliers in the aggregate may spend as much on advertising as the R.H.E., but their effort is dispersed, and, in fact, their publicity is totally different in character. Scarcely bothering to draw attention to the excellence of their service, they plaster their lorries with posters proclaiming their wrongs, and rush into battle with loud war-cries and white elephants. One day they hire the town halt in order to put over their case; the next day they send their vehicles in procession round the town, come rain, come shine, come blizzard.
Such methods of attracting the public the newly refined R.H.E. cannot but deplore. It may have its own troubles, hut would certainly hesitate to air them as part of its publicity programme. The correct policy is to ignore its vulgar rival and continue with the pantomime along its own lines.
Unfortunately, the bludgeoning methods of the hauliers do not meet with the failure they deserve! No sooner does the Fairy Godmother wave her wand and turn everything into a glittering integrated monopoly than the low comedians Caine in with a bucket of whitewash and start to splash rude words on the wall. And the deplorable low-brow British public loves its pantomime played this way. It insists on taking the Beast to its heart and giving Beauty the bird. It applauds the goose that lays the golden egg, and hoots the more decorative swan. "Better free enterprise in a hovel," it says, "than integration in the Ivory Tower."
So long as there are two sides to the industry, we must be reconciled to the existence of two distinct types of carrier. The more distinct they become, the easier will it be for the public to recognize which is which, smooth nationalized cheek by leathery free-enterprise jowl. Which should at least satisfy the customers who now complain that they cannot tell the difference before it is too late