I've been watching the furore over the West Coast Mainline franchise with interest. To recap: the franchise has been awarded to First Group following a bid process that has lasted over a year. Virgin's boss Richard Branson is irritated by this and has voiced his disapproval very publicly. His criticism has helped a petition on the government's official E-Petitions website reach 153,000 signatures. A lot of people seem very tanked up about this issue.
I understand the concerns in all honesty. First Group haven't got the greatest track record with franchises (handing one back very recently without fulfilling their contract) while Virgin have managed the line fairly well over the last decade. However, my personal view is that we should be starting to renationalise the railways and, if I had my way, the West Coast Mainline would be brought back under public ownership instead of being handed out in this way. My thoughts on this are a sideshow - something more important struck me as I was considering the issue.
153,000 people have expressed their disgruntlement via this e-petition. 153,000 people are irritated about a business decision that may or may not affect them. In the meantime, a very worthy petition by Mrs Pat Onions entitled 'Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families' has only reached a paltry 43,000 signatures. I'm honestly appalled. More people care about trains than the very serious difficulties being faced by disabled people as a direct result of government policies. Richard Branson has got Jamie Oliver onside and that's apparently helping his case. Perhaps that what disabled activists need - a celebrity to fight for them. Personally, I think the people affected by what Pat Onions calls 'piecemeal change' need Jamie Oliver a damn sight more than Richard Branson does.
People are actually dying because of the government's policies towards disabled people. Others are being confined to their homes and locked into poverty. Now, I'm not saying don't get angry about the West Coast Mainline if you want to. I'm just saying that if you've taken five minutes out of your day to make your voice heard about a train franchise then surely you can take another five minutes to try and protect the most vulnerable in our society. And if not...why not? I don't understand.
You can sign Pat's petition here if you haven't already.