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What if…British Rail had never been privatised?

Prospect’s counter-factual column

By Christian Wolmar   January 2014

Margaret Thatcher counselled one of her most faithful acolytes, Nicholas Ridley, against selling off the railways on the grounds that they were too deeply engraved on the nation’s hearts. Although British Rail was not as fondly viewed as the trains themselves, she thought the upheaval involved would be too risky.

Not so John Major, who allowed rail privatisation to be included in the Conservative Party’s 1992 election manifesto. But once the Tories had won that election, with a majority of 21 seats, they realised that the commitment to sell off the railways hadn’t been thought through. By July 1992, the…

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