When did we unlearn the language of priorities?

The language of priorities is the religion of socialism — Bevan

Perhaps it is working in a university, where the wheels of academic bureaucracy turn slowly, but I’m a realist when it comes to getting things done. There are only so many hours in the day, so many meetings where ideas can be signed off, and of course only a certain budget to spend on making things happen.

Parliament is an extreme case. With long recesses for MPs to get back to their constituencies and work in their local communities, time for the business of lawmaking is limited. Throw in time for backbench and opposition business, urgent business and set-pieces like budgets, statements and PMQs, and the days available to change existing or pass new leglislation quickly dwindles.

So it’s clear that any incoming government has to prioritise what it wants to get done. With Whitehall behind you (not always pushing you forward, admittedly!), you can achieve a great deal — but trying to get too much done at once risks achieveing only a little.

Which is why I can never understand the emphasis given to renationalising the railways. I’d love to be in charge of trains — who didn’t love Thomas the Tank Engine? — but we have far more important things to worry about first.

Ending franchises would cost billions in compensation to the companies you’re kicking out. Rail subsidies in nationalised Germany cost many times more than in Britain. And what would it achieve, in reality, beyond being able to say that railways were now nationalised? It wouldn’t automatically bring fares down (they’re already subsidised); it wouldn’t bring additional investment (we already do); it wouldn’t immediately reopen routes closed by Beeching.

Instead, we’d have wasted precious time and resource tinkering with governance, when that could be better spent.

Here’s a thought: let’s eradicate food banks before we renationalise the railways.

Let’s end homelessness before abolishing the House of Lords.

Let’s invest in early years education before worrying about the number of LA representatives on school governing bodies.

Let’s focus on things that will positively impact on people’s daily lives, before worrying about philosophical commitments to the governance arrangements of public services.

Just a thought.