This article is from the May issue of Total Politics
A transport legacy
Congratulations on a fascinating interview with Justine Greening (TP, April). It certainly highlighted her thinking on many of the topical transport issues, such as motorway speed and the Olympics. Her reaffirmation of the commitment to press ahead with rail investment and reforms will be welcome to all of us who wish rail to be as successful in the next decade as it has been in the last. Moreover, I detected a realisation that the UK needed a long-term solution to aviation capacity, which would be economically and environmentally viable as well as future-proofed.
However, the most reassuring remark was that Greening claimed “that the Department for Transport is slap bang in the middle of what the government is trying to do in getting the economy back on its feet”. In the past, transport watchers will testify that potential for DfT to drive economic and social objectives was under-recognised. If DfT under Greening can be seen as one of the leads on economic policy, then that will be a ministerial legacy worth having.
Stephen Hammond MP
Joint chair, APPG on rail
Justine Greening (TP, April) obviously spins optimism in regard to the future of the rail network. She is, of course, concentrating on the south, and that is understandable. However, the grim reality is that there is a lot of customer dissatisfaction up north with regard to the above-inflation rise in the cost of rail tickets and the persistent overcrowding on trains. My experience pertains to the Manchester to Lancaster service that is bound for Glasgow at the weekend, but I would guess that many other services have the same issue. Overcrowding on trains on a weekly basis smacks of poor customer service and planning. To add insult to injury, rail users are being forced to pay more for their rail travel without any signs of improvements to services.
I would like to challenge Justine Greening and Norman Baker to gain a true insight into the problems that are afflicting the rail service. I would like them to join me on a journey between Manchester and Lancaster at peak time and for them to see the disorganisation, lack of seating and the health and safety issues. The solution – investing in more carriages – is common sense but that is currently lacking from the higher echelons of the rail network.
Cllr David Whitaker
Labour, Lancaster City Council
Old New Labour
After Andy Burnham spent a year swinging wildly at Michael Gove but with only occasional contact, Stephen Twigg’s arrival as shadow education secretary brought a much more conciliatory approach, at least to the government.
Stephen’s provocations seem entirely aimed at the leftist educational establishment, rather than the Tories. In his interview (TP, April), he says he wants greater involvement of private business with and in schools and doesn’t think it has to be the state that directly provides. Much more Tony Blair than Red Ed.
He is focused on raising standards not playing tribal politics, which is smart politics. By treating free schools on their individual merits he allows Labour to embrace them and woo their parents’ votes. Distance from the teaching unions gives him freedom of manoeuvre depending on how Gove’s reforms work out. If there’s room for a Blairite in Miliband’s Labour, then Twigg is one to watch.
Graham Stuart MP
Chair of the education select committee
In praise of free schools
Free schools are all about parents and groups wanting to establish new schools to meet parental demand to improve choice and quality. The work behind setting one up and the motivation to do so is proof of the appetite for them in certain areas, particularly with failing schools.
Good governance is part of the story of free schools as it must become so for all schools. The role and selection of school governors is now on the agenda as accountability issues come into sharper focus because of increasing school autonomy. This has been underlined by recent comments by Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of Ofsted. Free schools are here to stay, proving the value of strong leadership and effective governance in delivering high quality outcomes for pupils. They will be a reminder of the value of challenging assumptions.
Neil Carmichael MP
Education select committee member and chair of the APPG for education leadership and government
An English identity
Responding to Sadiq Khan’s excellent article on Britishness, Englishness and Identity (TP, April), it is important to ask why English identity has risen. We all carry identities and loyalties to communities, ethnicities, teams, the nation, or communities around the world. But it is only at certain times that we find one identity a powerful way of describing ourselves and our collective interests.
National identities usually strengthen when people feel hard done by. Today’s English identity reflects a growing sense that English people lack a real voice on the things that matter to them, as the IPPR report that Sadiq refers to shows clearly. Worse, they feel they are losing out and being treated less fairly than others.
English Labour needs to respond to this perception – justified or not – by bringing an English dimension to our cultural, economic, political and democratic policies. We should also acknowledge our own English identity, starting by letting candidates stand as English Labour alongside our colleagues who stand as Welsh and Scottish Labour.
John Denham MP
Labour MP for Southampton Itchen
The pick of online comments from TotalPolitics.com
Amber Elliott’s MPs Try To Overturn ‘God Can Heal’ Ad Ban provoked a very lively debate online. N S said: “If people want to believe in the power of prayer then that is their right to do so. We are supposedly an intelligent nation that can make informed decisions for ourselves, so when presented with the idea that prayer can heal, surely we should be able to make our own informed choices on whether we personally want to belief it.”
Duncan Moore commented: “What a shame to see Tim Farron’s name in there. He’d always seemed like a reasonable person but evidently I was mistaken. In any case, there are papers that definitively show prayer is no more effective than placebo. These MPs have done nothing more than make fools of themselves.”
Commenting on Martin Shapland’s blog A Dire Week For The Conservatives And A Disaster For Labour, Anna Chen wrote: “Yup, that just about sums it up. I was going to write a summary but yours has done the job very well. The only thing that I’m uncomfortable with is capitulating to the use of the term ‘narrative’. When did that come in? Which wonk did the Robert McKee story course?”
Jonathan Clarke took issue with Gavin Devine’s blog Cameron’s Is A Lobbying Scandal Without Lobbyists. He said:
“I’m not quite clear why you focus so much on professional lobbyists (making the argument that they weren’t the cause of this particular humiliation of our political process) when they aren’t relevant to the story, as you say. Then I note your role at the bottom of the article...”
Dr Bridget Price agreed with Sheila Gilmore MP’s article How Can We Fairly Assess People’s Capability For Work? She said:
“I have written to ATOS and to the DWP and detailed some of the reasons why the tests are not appropriate and how they might change them. My emails have just been totally ignored. It seems they have no wish to do the job properly.”
John Scott disagreed with Dylan Sharpe’s blog Adversarial Politics Is Exactly What We Need. He said: “I moan about the way MPs act. And I read the manifestos of all the parties standing in my constituency at every election. It’s the responsible thing to do. So either I’m a politico (as I dislike politics and politicians, I doubt it) or at least one person doesn’t fit the argument here.
“While we’re complaining – could politicians trying to talk about policy do so in an intelligent way, rather than preaching disaster and standing outside Greggs? I am still waiting for someone, anyone, to explain why taxing pasties in the way other hot foods are taxed is a bad thing, which seems to be the level of debate which politicians think the public understand.”