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This week: The true cause of the rail strike; how free money has turned the LLDC soft; and, finally, the perils of dress-down Friday


What is it that the rail unions actually want? It cannot be better pay and conditions because those they enjoy at the moment are an embarrassment of riches.

So what’s left? The fight for the status of rail workers has come a long way since the 1911 riots where picketing in Llanelli was brutally suppressed by police and soldiers, leaving two dead. How those Llanelli railwaymen would have scratched their heads at the anaemic battleground of work-life balance.

What the rail unions want is, I suspect, something more complex. An impossibility, in fact. To stop time. To stamp their feet and watch progress shudder to a halt.

• Also online: Why train drivers are part of the privileged elite

It is not as futile a fight as the second law of thermodynamics might suggest.

The Victoria line featured world-first driverless train technology on its opening in 1968.

The Queen bought a 5d ticket and travelled to Green Park by ATO (automatic train operation) – a system that now sits quietly beneath much of the network, silenced for 50 years by powerful union time lords.

So London Underground can offer more holiday and another £500 bonus and appoint Nocturnal Transition Consultants to massage fretting temples but what they cannot give is what the sad union strivers really, really want – a one-way ticket to an era when they were still actually necessary.


Private capital comes with auditors, scrutiny and a sense of money hard earned.

Public money is too often delivered in unfettered panic for political reasons (the avoidance of opprobrium) and too often received like a birthday bonus.

There comes, over time, a dark compact between donor and recipient. The former cannot get off the merry-go-round (the avoidance of opprobrium again) while the latter develops a sense of entitlement where there was once obligation.

The BBC and the Kids Company are two examples that have hit the headlines while Tower Hamlets Borough Council could write the book on dysfunctional largesse.

It now appears that public money turned the London Legacy Development Corporation into squidgy puppies when it came to striking a deal with gimlet-eyed West Ham over the Olympic Stadium.

Free money clouds judgment.

That Friday feeling

I have always subscribed to the idea that “casual Fridays” are anything but. I’m with Barclays chairman John McFarlane on this one. He has let it be known that sandals and T-shirts are a no-no around the bank’s prestigious Canary Wharf HQ.

Seems to me the effort required to find the right level to dress down to and the assessment of “what this tells you about me” would leech all the supposed fun out of the exercise. It’s all very David Brent and “you don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps”.

• Read Giles Broadbent’s daily journalism at

Everyone becomes dead keen to let their colleagues signal that outside this corporate jungle they are real human beings with needs and interests. Their clobber becomes statements, manifestos, pitches, yearnings.

So Geoff from accounting dons a Hawaiian shirt to show he’s not just the guy who frowns at your travel expenses and Peter from dispatch wears an artisanal cheesemaker’s smock to show that, yes, he has ambitions too.

One day he’ll be dispatching his thyme-flecked Tyrolean grey to the palace, don’t you know.

You can’t fight the system with flip-flops.