Yorkshire First Wakefield Branch Meeting – This Thursday

It’s rude to eavesdrop, but it’s not such a crime for a conversation to catch your ear when it’s conducted rather loudly. I was in a cafe on Saturday and a group of men in their 60s/70s were discussing politics at the next table. Some of the things they were saying really resonated, reaffirming my belief that lots of people in this part of the country have the same attitudes towards the North/South mess we’re embroiled in.

They were talking about Boris Johnson and how he thinks the country stops at Watford. Well, yes. As they went on to say, London may be the capital, but that doesn’t mean it’s the be-all and end-all. The rest of us have got something to offer. The next recipient of their vitriol was HS2 – they seem completely unconvinced that it’ll ever make it up to Leeds and will actually do what it’s meant to do (that is, benefit the North of England if you’ve forgotten – I know I had). The overall opinion of these men seemed to be that decisions were being made by people in London who ‘don’t understand’ the North.

If I’d been a little braver I would’ve started up a conversation, but that’s an odd thing to do randomly in one of your favourite cafes. However, it has convinced me that the members of Yorkshire First are definitely not talking to an empty room. We’re on the same page as a lot of people and we’re talking sense.

So, with that in mind, if anybody fancies getting a little more involved with us, the next Wakefield Branch Meeting will be held at The Holmfield Arms on Thursday 5th March at 7pm. All welcome, even if you don’t know how deeply you want to be involved in the campaign. We’ve got a chance to make a difference in two months and show the mainstream parties that their benevolent view of devolution and what’s best for us really won’t do.

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?

Some Recent Political Thoughts

Yet again, events are occurring faster than I can write about them in any depth so I thought I’d do another round-up post briefly detailing my thoughts on recent issues. I may well go into more detail in future posts but I wanted to get these down.

  • The scuppering of the EU referendum bill – This irritates me, of course it does. However, it was always going to be scuppered one way or the other and, naturally, it wasn’t going to be voted down in a debate where voters could actually hold their MPs accountable. This is politics at its worst and I live in hope that the Westminster bubble will pay for it at some point. If they don’t think we can tell what they’re doing then they think even less of us than I supposed. Talk about being ruled by your inferiors! But the fact is, apathy will win. Apathy always wins.
  • Ideas for HS3 – Yes!! I’ve detailed my hatred for HS2 on numerous occasions, both here and elsewhere. I think it’s a colossal waste of money which will only benefit the south. I think the first stage will prove so calamitous that the second will never be built. I also believe that the cost benefits are vastly over-estimated and the money would be better spent on other aspects of the rail network. However, HS3 is designed to link northern cities together. In that respect, it steps away from the London-centric attitude which permeates planning in this country. Trimming time between Leeds and Manchester and freeing up capacity on other routes in the area could actually be useful. I could defend the differences between the two projects in detail if you want me to but my stance is this: No to HS2, Yes to HS3. Scrap the first. Or at least build the latter before it. If the government is really serious about these rail projects benefiting the north of England and not just sucking more oxygen down towards London.
  • UKIP’s voting in the EU Parliament – I’ve seen a lot of criticism floating around about the things UKIP have voted against in Brussels as a form of attack, mainly from the left. My understanding of the UKIP voting policy is that they vote against everything. Anyone who’s watched a voting session in that parliament knows how confused it is. Items are lumped together and it’s said that nobody knows what they’re voting for. UKIP’s decision to vote against stems from that and, also, a reluctance to engage with the bureaucracy they want to detach us from. I don’t see much wrong with that in all honesty.
  • PCCs – With a turnout of less than 15% for the recent PCC by-election in South Yorkshire, I don’t see how these pointless roles can continue to be justified. Fair play to the Lib Dems though – they think the roles should be scrapped and so didn’t field a candidate. Labour, on the other hand, think the roles should be scrapped and DID field a candidate. Do as I say, not as I do?
  • Recent EU rhetoric – Do they want rid of us? I can only hope. The language around the bill demand and the free movement issues has been strong and, really, I think those are areas of resonance with average voters. People are waking up to the fact that it’s not racist to worry about the impact of immigration on schools, the NHS and other services. Only a minority of people demand that all immigration be stopped – the majority want us to have control of our own borders. That means we can’t exist within the EU. When/if a referendum comes, the EU will throw the kitchen sink at us – they want us to stay on their terms or not at all. It could be an interesting few years.
  • Labour’s Scottish problems – Are they trying to self-destruct? Personally, I find the reach of the Westminster elite to be problematic in Yorkshire as our MPs are parachuted in at the behest of London-centric politicos. In Scotland, this seems to be have been taken to the extreme and I don’t blame Lamont for stepping away. It’s ironic, really, that Labour’s response to this is to back a Westminster MP who is arguably part of the problem as her replacement. There’s stupidity and then there’s Labour’s stupidity. On the plus side, they might as well scrap their opposition to ‘English votes for English laws’ since there won’t be enough Scottish Labour MPs for it to make a tangible difference to their prospects.
  • Fiona Woolf – This may be an unpopular one but I think the child abuse inquiry should’ve gone ahead under the leadership of Fiona Woolf. I honestly don’t think you’re going to find somebody with the expertise required who hasn’t got links somewhere along the line with someone who’s potentially involved. The process is going to be a transparent one – if things weren’t progressing as expected then the inquiry could’ve been halted. As it is, it’s not even getting started. I’ve seen no suggestions (others might have) of who Woolf’s critics would actually want to lead the investigation, there just seems to be incessant complaining. Without a compromise, this inquiry is going nowhere and that’s a travesty for the victims.

News: A Wakefield View of Westminster – Available Now

(Cross-posted at Secluded Charm, my writing blog)

Dartside Press have just published a compilation of my political blog posts and articles, gathered from four years of observation and irritation. Spanning 2010-2014, the pieces in A Wakefield View of Westminster have been collected from various sites, edited and, where appropriate, commented on. It’s rather fun looking at predictions from three years ago and seeing where we’ve actually ended up. Well, fun and depressing in some cases.

I’m fairly non-partisan, though I have to admit that Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg come in for quite a lot of criticism throughout the collection. On issues such as Europe, HS2, the bungling of welfare reform, democracy and party politics, I’m very vocal – and unapologetically so. These are just my opinions, of course, but I hope they’re an entertaining read.

The book can be bought from Amazon here.

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Government Blocks HS2 Report

It was confirmed yesterday that a report anti-HS2 campaigners have been trying to get released for two years has been blocked firmly by the government. This is after the Information Commissioner’s Office last year backed a Freedom of Information request to release the information. Patrick McLoughlin has now invoked a rare piece of parliamentary procedure to block it, essentially sticking two fingers up at everybody who has genuine concerns about the spiralling costs of the proposed rail route.

This excellent piece from the Local Government Executive covers the block in more detailing, also explaining that the project was labelled as ‘amber-red’ in 2011 when the expected cost was only £33 billion. Since that has risen to over £50 billion the article points out that it must be now at even greater risk of failure.

The plain fact is, there must be something pretty damning in this report that the pro-HS2 government don’t want us to know. Perhaps it points out that costs are set to spiral further or that the cost-benefit analysis results are weak or that other countries are ditching their high speed projects and we should do the same. Who knows? Patrick McLoughlin doesn’t want us to know and don’t expect any opposition from Labour, whose Shadow Transport Secretary’s presses ahead with her support even after her own area council has voted against the proposals.

Is this going to be the most expensive white elephant ever? Successive governments will palm it off as ‘a mistake made by the previous administration’ but if there is one moment that might define the calamity of HS2, it may well be refusal to release a report that would bring this madness to an end.

Wakefield Council Opposes HS2

I think my local MP might be in a bit of trouble.

Today, Wakefield Council voted to oppose the plans for the second stage of the HS2 project which will go from Birmingham to Leeds and cut through our city in a manner that is nothing short of destructive. It’s not the council being petty-minded and contrary for the sake of it – they have consulted widely and barely a week passes where a letter in the local paper isn’t drawing attention to how little Wakefield will benefit from HS2 and how much damage it’s potentially going to cause. The current proposals cut through some extremely valuable countryside, threatening local ecosystems for a railway that won’t even stop here. I know every affected area along the route has trotted out these arguments but it doesn’t make them any less important on a local level. I think that’s why the council have voted against the proposals – even though the people in charge are unlikely to listen, at least they’ve tried to represent the interests of their constituents.

Which brings me to that ‘trouble’ I mentioned.

The Labour MP for Wakefield is Mary Creagh – you might know her better as the Shadow Transport Secretary.

Creagh is in the hilarious situation of her own area council, of the same political colour, opposing something she apparently adores. When she was moved to the shadow transport brief, I hoped that it might signal a retreat from Labour on a project that is doomed to failure. Why else would Ed Miliband risk putting somebody in a constituency so adversely affected by the proposals into the position? I honestly didn’t think he was that stupid but he’s miscalculated this one. And, frankly, so has Creagh herself.

I admire my MP, mainly due to her work with the shadow environment brief. I like her but she’s far too close to the core of the Labour machinery, dancing to their tune and very rarely opposing. I’ve often lamented the fact that my MP is a member of the shadow cabinet and therefore I know exactly what she’ll respond to any given issue so why bother asking?

The trouble is, her majority is only 1600 votes. I wonder if she realises that HS2 is potentially the issue that’s going to ruin her career. Blithely supporting an issue her local Labour council thinks will be detrimental to her constituency won’t end well. HS2 is likely to be a local bone of contention in 2015 and it looks like Labour- led Wakefield Council just (rather justifiably) shot and maimed their own candidate.

2010 Manifestos No Longer Count

I’m heartily disappointed in Douglas Carswell, Conservative MP for Clacton. Despite sharing many of his views on the EU, today he’s come out with something that irritates me and is, I think, completely nonsensical. In his Telegraph blog, he explains that, as much as he’d like to vote against HS2 on Thursday, he believes he can’t because it was in the 2010 Conservative manifesto. I have three arguments against this view.

  1. The Conservatives did not win a majority on the basis of that manifesto.
  2. That manifesto was shattered by joining into a coalition with the Lib Dems, the Coalition Agreement completely superseding it. Things have been done on both sides that contradict manifesto commitments – Lib Dems and tuition fees anyone?
  3. Most importantly, the facts have changed in those three and a half years.

This final point is the stinger for me. So Carswell now believes that if something was agreed to four years ago then it should be adhered to against all reasonable argument? The benefits of HS2 are getting smaller with every report issued, now down to a paltry £2.30 benefit for every £1 spent on the project. HS2 is nowhere close to the beautiful money generator we were initially told it would be. Under these circumstances, is it not right to reconsider your personal position when your party is backing a losing horse?

Also, I would point out that if a Eurocrat was blindly following a commitment that no longer made any financial sense, Carswell would be the first to criticise their folly. I wonder what his constituents think of this weak response to their own, very valid, concerns on HS2? I suppose this is when a politician has to decide whose side he’s on – his party’s or the people who could easily vote him out in two years?