Paul Foot

Capitalism is stripped bare

(12 August 1995)

From Socialist Worker, 12 August 1995.
Reprinted in Paul Foot, Articles of Resistance, London 2000), pp. 279–280.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Here is the capitalist argument in all its bare beauty.

Private enterprise breeds competition. Competition forces firms to cut prices, and this leads to an endless spiral of cheaper goods and services. It also leads to variety, since capitalists are always looking for ways of doing something new.

Born again Christians Brian Souter and his sister Ann Gloag believe in capitalism. They are a dream – Dick Whittington capitalists who started off in Dundee with a couple of old buses and now run the second biggest bus company in the country.

The very name of the company, Stagecoach, has a romantic ring about it. It follows, of course, that they got where they are today by dint of hard work and competitive free enterprise.

Well, no, actually. They got where they are today chiefly because of the government’s obsession with flogging off the old publicly-owned bus companies.


The Monopolies and Mergers Commission is a very sedate and moderate body composed almost exclusively of Tories and entrepreneurs.

In its report just out on the activities of Stagecoach in Darlington, however, the commission has resorted to regrettably extreme language. ‘Predatory, deplorable and against the public interest’ were the exact words used.

What happened in Darlington? After studying the Tory bus laws, the Labour council decided to privatise the municipal bus company and called for bids. By far the lowest bid came from a firm called Yorkshire Transit, which employed a lot of the bus drivers from the old publicly-owned company. The council made it quite clear that Yorkshire Transit, according to the basic rules of free competition and tendering, had won the contract.

At once Stagecoach recruited the best and most hard working of the council drivers on fantastic bonus rates of up to £1,000 and guarantee of three years work.

For the first few weeks in which Yorkshire Transit struggled to meet its new obligations, Darlington was flooded out with Stagecoach buses from all over the country.

The drivers had instructions to watch out for the scheduled buses and to nip in front of them at the bus stops and nick their custom. If the drivers weren’t quick enough it didn’t really matter – because the Stagecoach services were entirely free. Even the most principled supporter of public ownership in Darlington was reluctant to pay for a bus ride when another was offered along the same route with no conductor and no fare.

In five weeks flat Yorkshire Transit was smashed and Stagecoach, which had lost the tender on the first call, was awarded it. Ever since it has hardened and toughened its monopoly in Darlington – and of course now (since there are no competitors) Stagecoach charges high fares.

This is the eighth time either the MMC or the Office of Trading has slammed Stagecoach. From northern Scotland to eastern Kent, its companies have gobbled up the former public bus undertakings, driven the competition off the road, cut wages, smashed the unions and sacked loyal drivers.

None of its fantastic growth is due to competition or free enterprise. On the contrary, Stagecoach used its strength in numbers of buses and in cash in the bank to knock out the competition.

The privatisation of the bus industry has had exactly the opposite effect to that promised by the Thatcherite think tanks in the 1980s. There are now less people travelling by bus – because the fares are higher, there are less bus routes in the unpopulated areas and much less accountability.

Last updated on 30 June 2014