JUST WILLIAM: All About The Politics
Hello, readers! I hope that this finds you all well! I’d like to thank you all for the lovely comments about the return of the whiteboard – the true star of this job, as I’m sure Ben Keith will say! – over the last week.
We’re off to Brighton and onwards for the Labour Party Conference, which is fitting as this week’s column gets quite political!
The big Labour story in the lead up to conference appears to be Keir Starmer’s plan to change the way that Labour elects it’s leaders.
For the mercifully unaware (with apologies for how much Labour content I’m going to force down your throat):
Currently grassroots members elect the leader – a system introduced by Ed Miliband.
But Starmer is pushing for a return to an “electoral college”, where ordinary Labour Party members would only account for a third of the votes in a future leadership contest.
MPs would be given a further third of the vote, and the unions would also be given a third of the vote.
‘Moderate’ (careful with that word) members of the party back the move as they believe MP’s are more in touch with the electoral than members, although there is surely an element of wishful thinking towards that given how aloof (and to be frank, unimpressive) many MP’s can be towards their constituents.
Whether the move goes through remains to be seen, but Labour (in my view) have plenty of bigger and much more important things to be focusing on over the next week.
The Cruelty Of It All
There’s usually plenty of light-hearted material here, and I’d like to think that if even if things are specifically political then I do make every effort to be even handed.
This is no such item.
The coming winter is set to be a brutal one. The energy crisis will mean rising bills right at the moment everyone, including the poorest people in the country, depend on heating more.
The COVID pandemic has put huge pressure on an already massively squeezed sector of society, and whilst we have – thankfully – had a successful vaccine rollout, the economic pressures haven’t relented. And an increase in National Insurance to pay for social care will put on an extra squeeze to boot.
Imagine, at this time, taking away £20 – per week – from millions of the poorest people and families in the country. A moral outrage with no justification of any kind. Yet that is what the removal of the Universal Credit uplift will put into practice – and there’s nothing less to say apart from the fact it’s an absolute outrage.
Stop The Buses
Regular readers will know that I’m quite invested in public transport. As a city lover for a long time – and a non-driver, too – working alternatives to cars are most important to me. So, there’s no way I could have missed the Telegraph’s story that the Government is hoping for bus stops to have heating, changing rooms, Wi-Fi and office space in the future as part of their efforts to reach net zero by 2050.
Now first things first – any ambitions to improve bus stop facilities are to be welcomed. Lord knows there are plenty of train stations alone that could do with this upgrade, so for bus stations to have these plans are excellent. However, the first issue that comes to mind with buses – and there are many – aren’t station based.
Excluding London – the ideal model for buses in the UK – bus travel in the rest of the country is a frustrating experience.
Travellers are often left waiting for upto and including an hour for a handful of services per day, and in the countryside the last services can often be well before the evening. Indeed, in Exeter last Saturday I simply walked into town after waiting 20 minutes for the promised ‘P’ bus, a situation I imagine plenty of others have been in.
I walked into town that day instead, but many people drive rather than make that decisions whilst those who are well off enough simply choose taxis instead, which add more of the emissions that the Government seek to avoid.
There’s also the issue of cost. In London (again) bus fares are brilliant value but outside of the capital, five-mile journeys can cost upto £6 for a one-way fare. Admittedly most are less than that, but there are plenty of bad value journeys, even in big cities, and services that are almost non-existent.
Upgrading any public infrastructure is a good move – and if the bus stations of the future have more facilities than that’ll be great – but if the Government wants buses to drive us to Net Zero, then perhaps making sure they’re in running order is the way to go.
All Abord HS2
Speaking of Net Zero, another big part of the effort to reduce emissions in this country will be to improve rail travel, and increase the capacity of a railway network that is often packed, although that is a statement which probably applies more pre pandemic.
So imagine my disappointment when I read the only Green MP in the Country had tweeted this:
“The case for #HS2 fails on environmental, climate & cost grounds.”
Seeing as we’re in party conference season, let me make the environmental, climate and cost-based case for HS2:
Environmental: Transport is the second biggest source of emissions in the UK, beaten only by electricity plants. And whilst greenhouse gases have fallen since 1990, emissions from transport have hardly fallen. Something has to give, and our rail capacity is bursting at the steams.
By pushing high speed trains onto their own line, other services are given more capacity, thus potentially doubling the amount of journeys made between cities that many would consider driving, whilst also allowing more space for local, commuter and crucially (freight) trains. The reduced journey time is a bonus, and nothing more.
Climate: The reductions above could be transformative in reducing road usage – and reducing emissions in an area which hasn’t been able to cut greenhouse gases for years. What’s not to like?
Cost: I’m going to steal a fantastic fact from Gareth Dennis here: “Money spent on HS2 cannot be better spent on upgrades to the existing railway network because building HS2 is an upgrade of the existing railway network. Such upgrades were inevitable anyway, and better minds than me have already decided that they were necessary. A delay to this sort of project could have increased the cost of the work.
So in conclusion, let’s go HS2!
To the Seafront!
I’m very pleased to announce that The Whiteboard and I shall be off to the Labour Party Conference at Brighton! All of your political suggestions for markets, insider gossip and good vibes are very much appreciated – and if you’d like to say hi, then please do!
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