A Replacement for Pacer Trains?

The plan to refit former London Underground trains and sell them to the operators bidding for the northern franchise has caused a little consternation. They’re being offered as a replacement for the Pacer trains that are cramped, cold and were supposed to be a ‘temporary’ solution when they were introduced in the 1980s. These refitted tube trains are allegedly a third cheaper than building new ones, with the shells of the carriages kept and everything else refurbished. The idea is that no one will know these trains were once on the District Line, but it still feels like Yorkshire is inheriting aged rolling stock from London while they can get shiny new trains for their routes.

From watching last night’s Look North I understand that these trains may only be a short-term solution in themselves. The much-discussed electrification of the lines in this region would require fresh stock in a few years so, essentially, these trains would be another stopgap. Now, I know that the electrification issue is as hilarious as the promised replacement of the Pacer trains for the last twenty years but, for a moment, let’s take them at their word and accept that the intended electrification will happen.

Why not rush the electrification through as soon as possible then upgrade the stock from then on? At the risk of banging my old drum, let’s prioritise that above wasting money on HS2. If they’re really serious about investing in transport infrastructure in the north then why not?

Out Leafleting

Yesterday afternoon I was out for a few hours delivering Yorkshire First leaflets in the St. John’s area of my ward. It was my first time leafleting and it was actually a really enjoyable experience. I like delving into places and, though the rabbit warren got a little disorientating at times, we had a productive afternoon with over 600 leaflets delivered.

We’ll be doing it again in a different part of the Wakefield North ward in a few weeks. If you fancy joining in, let me know and I’ll email you the when and where. I can’t guarantee sunshine but I can guarantee gates that nearly chop your fingers off. Honestly, very enjoyable.

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The SNP’s Latest Command

I know I witter on a fair bit about democracy and accountability, call it a bug-bear. I don’t believe, for instance, that a coalition agreement should be implemented following the 2015 election without being put to the voters. You can sense, then, what my attitude on Nicola Sturgeon’s latest comments about the possibility of an SNP-Labour coalition might be.

Sturgeon has said that the SNP would be prepared to join forces with Labour, even if they didn’t have more MPs than the Tories following the election. It’s not a rule that the party with the highest number of MPs form the government, but it’s a standard that hasn’t been broken since the 1920s. Of course, this comes with a price – at the moment that’s a £180bn spending spree, though I expect that to increase the more desperate Labour look as the election nears. Whatever your view on austerity, it’s a pretty neat subversion of democracy on the part of the SNP.

The trouble with Labour at the moment is that they simply reek of desperation. That means the SNP can name their price (don’t be fooled, they’re aiming for independence either via another referendum or by the back door) and the Lib Dems too. The prospect of a Labour/SNP/Lib Dem coalition is terrifying, not least because it will have no legitimacy in the eyes of much of the country. We’ve had five years of back-room deals between the Tory-Lib Dem ‘quad’ and it’s left a sour taste. If anything, it’s served to distance the electorate further from their MPs – after all, does it matter who we all vote for if they decide what’s ‘best’ for us in the end? It stinks, and the stench is only going to get worse until May.

Politics Has a People Problem

The figure Harriet Harman draws attention to of 9.1 million women who didn’t vote in 2010 is alarming but not at all surprising. However, I don’t think political engagement has a ‘woman problem’ as much as a ‘people problem’. The public are disengaging – from the major parties at least – and, while I can understand the urge to drag them back kicking and screaming into the fold, I don’t think Labour’s ‘pink bus’ is going to do the trick on the women front.

The word being bandied about is ‘patronising’. I’d agree with that. I don’t think seeing a pink bus in my town centre would encourage me to vote Labour. In fact, I’d just be asking why they’re making so much effort to appear colourful when, really, the way to win votes is to create effective and economically literate policies. Those seem to be the things that women pay attention to. There was a lot written during the Scottish Referendum about how women were thinking with their heads while men were more focused on their emotional reaction to the prospect of independence. I don’t know how right that analysis is but, surely, the best way to achieve an election victory is to fight on both of those fronts?

For me, this pink bus is a gimmick, and one that’s been ridiculed pretty comprehensively already. This close to an election, is this really Labour’s strategy?

Still All About Cities

I’ve only read the snippets of news about the UK Devolution Summit, summed up by this article in The Independent. However, my initial thoughts reflected my usual ones about central government’s concept of devolution – they mention ‘regions’ but, really, it’s all about the cities. Of course, the report they’re basing discussions on was commissioned by ten cities (the Core City Group) which straight away skews the findings in favour of city regions and city mayors; all that stuff that Westminster seem to think will work brilliantly up here. I wish they’d spend some time talking to us about it instead of pressing on regardless.

The phrase the Independent article highlights is ‘city states’. That makes me cringe. I say repeatedly that I don’t want Wakefield to become any more of a satellite to Leeds than we already are. It feels like we’re finally starting to come out of their shadow in terms of culture etc and I can just see that being reversed by a resurgence of the Leeds-centric attitude that permeates this area. I wonder if people in Rotherham feel the same about Sheffield, as much as I love the latter.

A ‘proper’ devolution deal shouldn’t have to ‘generously’ give power to cities. They shouldn’t be aiming for ‘powerhouse’ cities, as I discussed in this post in November, but for powerful regions. Yorkshire is a cohesive community. We’ve got our differences, yes, and that’s what makes every town unique, but we all fit together rather well. The rest of us aren’t merely extensions of the major cities, destined to pick around for the scraps of funding and decision-making left over. Or, that is, we shouldn’t be.

Yorkshire First – Standing Up To Be Counted

So, barring problems with nominations or any other twists and turns in the saga that constitutes my life at the moment, it gives me great pleasure to tell you I’m intending to stand as a candidate in the local elections in May for Yorkshire First.

For those of you who haven’t heard of YF, they are a group of people from across the political spectrum who are united in their belief that Yorkshire folk deserve more control over our own destinies. A core belief is the principle of devolution to the lowest feasible level; that is, bringing decision-making closer to the people that those decisions affect.

It’s early days and there’s a long time to go before May. However, I’m really looking forward to working with Yorkshire First and getting our message out there. No doubt I’ll post much more regularly in the coming months and I’d highly recommend having a nose around the main website linked above. There are a number of things you can do to get involved if you like the look of what you see – sign the Yorkshire Pledge, donate to the party or give up some time to help us distribute leaflets. Wakefield is, of course, my patch, but if you want to pitch in anywhere in Yorkshire I’ll try and pass you on to someone a little more local to you or you can contact the party direct.

You’ll hear a lot more about Yorkshire First in the next few months – keep your eyes peeled.