Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
6 January 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 2:37pm

Why I made the TSSA film about rail privatisation benefiting foreigners

A TSSA ad has been branded xenophobic. The filmmaker responds. 

By Paul Nicholson

In 2017, a new political ad has begun doing the rounds. Produced by the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, and shared by Labour’s grassroots organisation Momentum, it features Dutch, French and German citizens thanking the British taxpayers for paying European companies to run their trains.

Critics say the left is tapping into xenophobia. Here, filmmaker Paul Nicholson defends the controversial advert.

If you get a train in the UK today, chances are it will be on a publicly-run train. It won’t, however, be run by the British public. Almost every line in the UK is controlled by the state-owned rail companies of Germany, France or the Netherlands.

Nothing highlights the absurdity of rail privatisation more. If the free-market-promoting Tory government truly believed that the private sector is the most efficient, then why do the publicly-owned rail companies of other countries continue to win franchise contracts?

Content from our partners
How trailblazers are using smart meters to make the move to net zero
How heat network integration underpins "London's most sustainable building"
How placemaking can drive productivity in cities – with PwC

The Tories love the trappings of patriotism, the flag-waving and anthem-singing, but when it comes to really believing in the British people they fall short. They would prefer the French government to run British trains rather than let the British people do it themselves. They would prefer the German government running British trains than admit that rail privatisation has been a failure. Meanwhile, fares have increased by 27 per cent since 2010 while wages have fallen, as the quality of services continue to decline and staffing levels are cut, making travel less safe and accessible for passengers and resulting in strike action. 

One of the main reasons I voted for Jeremy Corbyn for leader in 2015 was that he was the only candidate advocating bringing our railways back into public ownership. Although it’s a common-sense policy with with support of over 60 per cent of the public from across the political spectrum, Labour is the only major party supporting this policy. 

Bringing our railways back into public ownership is the perfect starting point to begin the rollback against Tory privatisation. If we can show people the flaws in privatised railways, then maybe we can convince them of the need to take back public ownership of our energy companies. To stop the escalating privatisation of the NHS. To show that selling assets such as the Royal Mail or council houses only results in them being leased back to us for a higher cost.

This is why I made this video for the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association. It has the dual purpose of showing that European countries have a public system that they are happy with, as well as showing the absurdity of our private system that results in these same foreign public companies running our network. I also wanted to make the point that for all the Brexiteer’s language about taking back control, for some reason they fall silent when it comes to privatisation, which will carry on regardless of whether or not Britain is a member of the EU. If we actually want to take back control from economic elites then we need to end the privatisation of our vital services, which enable private companies and other governments to make huge profits from services which are funded by the British public. 

Some have criticised the video as pandering to xenophobia. I disagree. The video is intended to be funny and satirical, and is explicit in pointing out that the question of the EU is irrelevant to rail privatisation.

There was absolutely no intention to suggest that individual citizens of European countries are truly pleased about the privatisation of our rail networks. I’m an immigrant myself and the cast are all European migrants. The Dutch actor in particular was amused by those accusing him of having a dodgy accent! Overall, we’ve spoken for ourselves and hope we’ve injected some humour into the debate and attracted more attention to this important issue. 

Paul Nicholson is a freelance filmmaker and a Labour member. The video ad was commissioned and paid for by TSSA. He is writing in a personal capacity. ​