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Ernest Marples: The Shadow Behind Beeching

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Central Government had pinned its hopes on the British motor industry helping to pay for a better tomorrow and it backfired. Unemployment 23 Nov 1971 It is a pleasure to follow the former Leader of the Liberal Party, who is a Scotsman, and my hon. The Government was ruthlessly mocked by a new breed of young satirists, with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan coming in for particular attention. On the railway side, he dismantled the British Transport Commission with its replacement by amongst others the British Railways Board under the chairmanship of Dr Beeching who they noted was not initially enthusiastic about electrification. But he mentions a statistic that around 1200 miles of profitable railway was carefully selected for closure.

This book gives quite a lot of Marples’ personal story but also goes into quite some depth on the background of the railways at this time. In 1965, Edward Heath succeeded Macmillan as leader of the Conservative Party and Marples was reassigned to a less prestigious position in the party’s Central Office. In later life, Marples was elevated to the peerage before fleeing to Monaco at very short notice to avoid prosecution for tax fraud. However in the late 80s with the rail union’s neutered, British Rail operated with the lowest subsidy per passenger mile of any national railway system in the 1st world. Quite when Ernest Marples took possession of the car is not known, as he did not officially take ownership of the car until August 1968, when the Mini had evolved into the MkII version and the Cooper 1275S had long supplanted the 1071S.

He both oversaw significant road construction (he opened the first section of the M1 motorway) and the closure of a considerable portion of the national railway network with the Beeching cuts. His departure came in the wake of the failure of a plan to avoid paying tax on his properties by involving a Liechtenstein-based company with which he had been involved for more than ten years. Scoundrel Ernest Marples – the first CTC member to become minister of transport (he and his wife toured by bicycle) – officially opened the M1, Britain’s first city-to-city motorway, in November 1959. As well as commissioning Beeching’s infamous report he also commissioned the Buchanan Report of 1963, one of the most influential – and damaging – reports ever printed. And if the Government did press ahead with the BTC’s plan, how would that go down with voters, who by and large, aspired towards car ownership?

He was director of AHA International (London campus of the University of Oregon, now GEO London), 2004-14. He is accompanied by Sir Owen Williams who handed over the motorway to the Ministry on behalf of the construction companies concerned. Marples Ridgway’s subsequent contracts included building power stations in England, a dam in Scotland, roads in Ethiopia and England and a port in Jamaica.This book should appeal to those interested in Britain's railways and in mid-Twentieth Century British politics. BR British Rail or British Railways could not then carry out the closure until the Committee had reported to the Minister who, having considered their recommendations on easing the resulting hardship, would consent to the closure with or without adopting them. Although nobody realised it at the time, Britain was undergoing a transport revolution that would transform the nation from public transport users to motorists, all by the time of the October 1973 energy crisis. This led to accusations of a conflict of interest in his subsequent responsibility for decisions on the relative merits of road and rail transport. Following the October 1964 General Election, Marples was succeeded as Transport Minster by Labour’s Barbara Castle.

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