Long long ago, in a galaxy far away, dwelt an actuary with a long memory. He was awakened from his slumbers - for, Best Beloved, he was very old - by noises from within the rail unions that the pensions of their members were under threat. Curiously these noises also emanated from the train operators. He smiled: a chicken was coming home to roost.
The chicken had been started on its journey many years earlier, over 20 years earlier indeed, when The Man In Charge of these things made what seemed to everybody (everybody, that is, except the actuaries and a few others of like mind) a simple change to the taxation arrangements. Too dull to be interesting; too technical. So of grumbling there was little, and of pressing the panic button there was none.
What actuaries (and others of like mind) didn't like was that pension funds would - at a stroke - have the value of the dividends on their investments drastically reduced. Pension funds are, by their nature, very long term investors, and need as much certainty in their decision-making as possible. Having some idiot Chancellor dropping a bomb like that required a dramatic response. The majority of private sector pension funds noticed this pretty quickly and took the appropriate steps. (These protected the long-term viability of the fund at the cost of the size of the eventual pension to most individuals, however.). The public sector, as always, was slower to react, and the railway was in the throes of settling down to privatisation. So little happened.
Recently the Pensions Regulator made a ruling - like Mr Brown's it came from a clear blue sky - that the numbers to be used in the formula which cranked out the required contributions from employer and employee had changed. Result: profound unhappiness. Companies refused to bid for franchises (or made non-compliant bids); Mr Cash is threatening the first all-out rail strike in a generation. One can hardly blame either the Train Operating Companies or the Unions. But who will be buying pins and making waxen images of Mr Brown? Only the odd old actuary.
Jeremy Bentham, father of Utilitarianism, was sitting quietly in his snug in UCL one afternoon. The greatest good of the greatest number, he mused, mentally ticking off Crossrail, Crossrail 2 (it's in the bag, he thought), various extensions to tube lines in the last 50 years, Heathrow expansion - those 9 million Londoners and the oodles of tourists would be so pleased, and so deserving. He allowed himself to dream - Crossrail 3, Crossrail 4...when an unwanted irritant buzzed about him.
The spirit of Victor d'Hondt was muttering something about fairness. A formula floated by ...when those most in number had their fill at the trough they were moved aside by some arithmetical jiggery-pokery, allowing others, fewer in number but also hungry, to have a chance of sustenance...and they, filled, moved on, and yet others, fewer again in number...
Poor Jeremy swatted this away. No, the greatest number would always prevail, must always prevail. Numbers trumped need all the way down. But Victor buzzed annoyingly on. He knew he would prevail in the end, for he appealed to all the hungry, those greatest in number and those least: they might have to wait, but they would be fed. Besides, he had an ambition to join Audrey Hepburn and Hercule Poirot on that oh-so-short list. [Sadly, your Editor had to google that!]