Sunday, January 25, 2009

Integrated Transport- Environmental Considerations

At our Discussion Group Meeting on 14 December it was Ken Turton who initially proposed that one of our submissions to Compass should be on “Integrated Transport”. He then elaborated on his proposal which led to a full discussion of his ideas. He has now submitted the following comments to Harry Barnes in writing for inclusion. Ken is a retired railway worker from Sheffield.

Integrated Transport- Environmental Considerations
The building of another runway at Heathrow would cost somewhere in the region of £10 billion. Then there would be the attendant destruction of local amenities along with further world wide air pollution. Those arguing in favour of a new runway tend to stress the jobs it would create and the need for the economic survival of Britain’s air transport facilities - although the latter claim is as silly as the notion that the moon is made of green cheese.

The facts are that about a third of the flights in and out of Heathrow are short haul ones and could, therefore, quite easily be catered for by an expanded railway system. Such a move would also increase short and long term employment. The cash which is to be shovelled into the building of a new runway could instead be used to expand the railway system, encompassing new track and rolling stock which could incorporate new technology including an automated service which has been on the cards for some 20 years or more.

Indeed the Victoria Line on London Underground uses an advanced technology which only needs a driver to sit in the cab, which is only needed as a means of security for the travelling public. Such technology has improved beyond all recognition, although the general public are unaware of this innovation. Such technology used on the railways is far more efficient, safer and less costly than flying, car use and bus travel. It is also better for the environment in cutting out air pollution and carbon emissions.

Before, however, the above proposals can be put into place, we would have to see a general improvement in the political education of the people of this country. At the present time thinking is generally centred upon privatisation and the use of private capital. It has to be said, however, that these cannot provide the wherewithal to meet my proposals. Nor do such avenues themselves believe they could supply what is necessary. To follow an unbridled competitive system is to ensure that the devil takes the hindmost.

In such a situation, an alternative dogma of sorts is the only answer to privatisation. Indeed what is privatisation other than a dogma and one which transgresses upon people’s lives in as much as it provides substandard services at high prices.

Nevertheless, dogma or not what is need is as Dronfield Blather puts it - a transport system integrated in such a way as to be of benefit to all and not the few.

The role of railways in an integrated transport system would require a curb being placed on the need for the use of heavy road transport. Here we have to tackle another dogma from the Road Haulers and their drivers against goods traffic travelling by rail. It was a post-war Conservative Government which transferred the bulk of goods traffic onto the roads, altering a pattern that was established from the time the railways were invented.

The 1945-51 Labour Government appointed General Sir Brian Robertson as Commissioner for Transport in 1947. He resigned in 1955 because he saw no value in the job, due to he Conservative transport policy at that time.

So any alteration in which we move to a social transport system would need the appointment of a Transport Minister with an appropriate briefing and an appropriately restructured Transport Department.

Whilst we have a free-for-all service in which the devil takes the hindmost, the notion of public service transport is mere pie in the sky. At present we have commitments to a belief in anarchy in the transport field, which produces “answers” without any depth of explanation.

The savings from a properly run transport system would far outweigh its costs in every sector of industry. To this we need to add the environmental savings, reduced costs associated with deaths and injuries. An expanded and up-to-date rail system is as necessary as food to a hungry man. No society worth its salt should have to endure the endless death and injury sustained by the present roads policy which privatisation and this mad rush for profit has provided us with. It is a sure sign of decadence.

There are no drawbacks to the policy I advocate, only positives. It would provide a forward movement unparallel in history and provide an education about the use of standards which would be far reaching and well worth the enormous effort this entail in taking the people of this country forward in the 21st Century.
Ken Turton

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Policies, Not Personalities

The Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group meets on Sunday 8 February to finalise its submissions to Compass in connection with their project "How To Live In The 21st Century".

We will be considering the submissions which were shaped at our meeting on 14 December, 2008. Any member of the Labour Party and/or the Dronfield Contact Club plus those receiving invitations are welcome and encouraged to attend. The meeting is by no means restricted to those who initially shaped our provisional submissions which are on the topics "Integrated Transport" and "Political Education".

The deadline for sending our submissions to Compass is 23 February.

There are details available of what Compass are up to. When you click in here you will find these, they include their full time-table of arrangements. Further links will then be found to show how others can join in the process. You can act via any group interested in the well-being of the Labour Movement, including just an informal get-together of friends.

The important thing in politics should be policies and not personalities.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Before the Blog

This blog began in January 2009 but our meetings started back in 2006.

You can find a list of our previous meetings along with the name of the speaker and the topic discussed here:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Joe, The Shop Steward For Former MPs

First, Joe in full flight. Then, Christine Smith (Chair, Dronfield Labour Party), Joe Ashton and me.

The photos are from our latest discussion meeting, which was addressed by Joe Ashton. He has always been a popular speaker in Dronfield, having in the past addressed a local May Day Rally and a packed public meeting. It was no surprise that he doubled the average size of our attendance.

Joe was the MP for Bassetlaw in North Nottinghamshire for over 32 years. After he left the Commons, he helped to establish the Association of Former Members of Parliament gaining a positive response to his initiative from Michael Martin, the Speaker of the Commons as well as from many of his past colleagues.

A survey of former MPs was conducted on behalf of the Association by the School of Politics and International Studies at Leeds University where 343 members of the Association were issued with a questionnaire. Copies of the Leeds University report which was published in October 2007 were circulated at our meeting. As were copies of the Associations magazine "Order! Order!".

Although some MPs (as I did) announced their retirement well in advance and prepared to move into either retirement or a fresh career, others faced the trauma of losing their jobs in the glare of often adverse publicity. This can occur contrary to expectations, with a former MP often then having immediately to start from scratch to build a fresh life.

Whilst in our current era of the credit crunch and major job-losses, people may not see MPs to be a special case; Joe is keen that a body should be maintained which can seek to further ex-MPs' concerns and draw upon their past experiences. The average shelf life of an MP on the parliamentary benches is only 8 years, so the rapid turn over is likely to involve many hidden problems. On top of this, former MPs have developed interests and areas of expertise that should not just be thrown to one side.

Joe was christened as the MPs' shop steward during his time as an MP. It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that he should continue that role during his own retirement on behalf of his fellow former MPs.

As would be expected, the bulk of the time at our Dronfield discussion meetings is taken up with debating our speaker's presentation. However as Joe was well known to everyone as a former columnist, author, playwright, frontbencher and Sheffield Wednesday supporter; the discussions were bound to go well beyond the initial scope of his presentation. But as with all worthwhile discussion meetings, people left buzzing and continued their own discussions in groups. Which is exactly what discussion meetings are supposed to be about.

It's not just about politics

After the last Dronfield Branch Labour Party meeting several of us retired to the bar for a chat. I was keen to get their views on a puzzle my son-in-law had recently come across:

Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car, behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say 1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say 3, which has a goat. He says to you, "Do you want to pick door 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?

According to this article you should always switch. I agree, but I had great difficulty convincing the others.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Political Education

A Group of Yorkshire Miners at Sheffield University 25 years ago. They were part of a day-release course run by the Division of Continuing Education. The course ran for three years and studied Industrial Relations, Economics and Politics.


Yesterday a set of proposals on "Integrated Transport" were presented on this blog arising from ideas debated at the December Meeting of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group. At that meeting we went on to discuss and support a further set of ideas on "Political Education". These are presented here in draft form and have yet to be finalised. When completed, these ideas are intended for submission to the independent left pressure group Compass, as explained here. They appear in the format required by Compass.

Comments are welcome on this draft. They will help the Group in determining the exact nature of its final submission.

Policy Name : Political Education, Political Education, Political Education.

Policy Explanation

A vibrant and intelligent political culture requires issues to be debated openly (but not violently) within the context of widespread commitments to civil liberties, including those of free expression. In the modern Labour Party and often in the wider Labour Movement, a past tradition of considering practical political alternatives in the light of the concepts of social equality, collectivism and democratic participation has tended to be sidelined. This is not an argument for the adoption of a political dogma by today's movement; for core values themselves need to be under continual testing and re-examination and to be attuned to changing circumstances. But unfortunately in today's movement too often core values tend to have withered away, rather than being re-assessed and updated.

The Labour Party in particular needs to encourage and facilitate internal debate and discussion about our times. A key avenue to achieve such an approach is the establishment of a political education programme to stimulate debate and discussion amongst what could then become a growing and active membership.

Such an approach is likely to require a serious publications' avenue which the Labour Party membership could contribute to. This would require moves towards a weekly Labour Party newspaper, the establishment of a theoretical journal, the publication of discussion pamphlets, the running of discussion groups and study courses; plus the use of web-sites and other avenues of more modern technology. The Labour Party itself should aim at running such provisions, building upon the efforts (amongst others) of Tribune, Chartist, the Fabian Society and Compass. (Note: these proposals are an add-on to the work of such groups and not a replacement.)

Such forms of Political Education will, however, only achieve a living impact when the internal structure of the Labour Party is openly democratised - yet political education could also encourage such a development.

The TUC, individual Trade Unions and the Co-operative Movement form essential parts of our Movement. They have their own traditions of providing their own internal educational programmes. The focus of such activities are often centred around the practical needs of health and safety representatives, shop stewards and equivalents. These programmes need to be leavened with fuller investigations around the historical, political and core values of the Labour Movement.

Ways and means of re-establishing a pre-Thatcherite tradition of working class education centred on the earlier practices of Colleges such as Ruskin, Coleg Harlech, the Northern College and Newbattle Abbey need to be explored.

Arguments In Favour

(1) An intelligent, questioning and democratic labour movement operating in the above ways would help to raise the whole level of political debate in the country and tackle the general limitations of the ya-boo debates now taking place across the main media avenues.

(2) It would help to make clearer and more coherent political choices for the electorate.

(3) The British Labour Movement has many links with the international labour movement. The importance of these would begin to be more widely understood (and used) by the movements rank and file. This would improve the Movements image, especially amongst young people.

Arguments Against

(1) If it took the wrong turn, an expanded political debate within the Labour Movement could lead to disruption and public turmoil which could alienate wide sections of the electorate.

(2) It could encourage entrist techniques into the Labour Party by Trotskyist and other groups.

(3) Unless concerns about political theory are related to practical political concerns, it could turn the Labour Party into a debating society rather than an organisation seeking to provide personnel for our democratically elected institutions.

How Does The Policy Relate To The Core Beliefs Of Compass? (i.e. equality, collectivism, sustainability, democracy.)

This programme essentially caters for the extension of Compass style understandings into the wider labour movement, whilst guarding against any tendency of these to become dogmas.

How Does This Build The Institutions Of Social Democracy?

It will help to develop a labour movement which will press for (a) an internally democratic Labour Party, (b) the opening up of the democratisation of governmental, parliamentary and local authority institutions and (c) will encourage serious political debate within the popular media.

What Are The Cost Implications?

The start of a political education programme throughout the labour movement could initially be done at minimal cost. What is needed is encouragement from labour leaders and Labour's head office to participate in a range of voluntary political educational activities. This would begin to set up the structure for summer schools, courses and publications which would often be financed by those encouraged to participate in what they saw as meaningful political activities. Costs would mainly be related to scholarships and staff payments when voluntary course directors and tutors could not be attracted.

Who Wins And Loses Amongst The Electorate?

If political education within the labour movement operates in ways which encourages questioning and debate, it is likely to help develop a relevant and appealing political perspective for the Labour Party. This would provide clear and intelligent choices for the electorate. In such circumstances, it would be vested interests that would lose out. If, however, political dogma distorted the uses of such avenues, then this would alienate wide sectors of the electorate.

A Sound Bite For The Public?

In seeking to build a society which involves its people within the decision-making process, we recognise that this has to start within our own institutions.

Where Has This Worked Before?

Although what has been suggested has never worked fully within the labour movement, aspects of this approach can be seen in the work of people such as the Webbs, the Coles and R.H. Tawney as well as in the past work of Workers' Educational Association, University Extension Courses and the residential Colleges for working people mentioned earlier. Given modern technology, use of Computer communication systems can now be employed.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Integrated Transport

At the December meeting of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group we discussed the idea of sending a submission to Compass the independent democratic left pressure group for its project "How To Live In The 21st Century" (see Compass links on the item below). We came up with a set of ideas for establishing an integrated transport system. Based on the discussions, I have drafted the following submission in the format required by Compass. But we will need to re-examine this at the February meeting of the Group. It could be subject to numbers of changes before it is submitted. In preparation for the February meeting, members of the Group will be given a full opportunity to propose amendments of style and substance. One avenue is for them to do this via the comment box on this thread. Others who aren't members of the Group are more than welcome to submit their own ideas, which will be brought to the attention of the Dronfield meeting.

The final submission to Compass will also appear on this blog. This is the current state of play -

Policy Name : Integrated Transport.

Policy Explanation

A programme to move towards the effective use of an integrated public transport system; involving the establishment of a variety of forms of social ownership for the operations of buses, trams, taxis, aeroplanes, ships and lorries. In order to reduce congestion on our roads, priority will be given to public forms of transport over the use of private cars. A full use of an expanded rail network would be employed for the movement of goods as well as passengers. To maximize the use of public transport facilities, cheap and free fares would be extended, based on need. Current free and concessionary travel facilities for pensioners and others would provide a model for such schemes. Publicly run (or supported) taxi services, buses, trams, planes and ships would be linked whenever possible at bus and tram terminals, airports and ports. Entitlement to air travel would balance the needs of travellers with carbon footprint considerations.

Arguments In Favour

1. The programme would provide freedom of movement for many currently isolated due to age, poverty and residence in isolated communities.

2. The programme would tackle problems of traffic congestion and pollution and cut back on the need for disruptive road building programmes.

3. The programme would provide travel in a social context with people moving away from being isolated in their cars.

Arguments Against

1. Unless the policy is constructed with care, it could alienate wide sectors of the population who are committed to private car ownership and usage.

2. There will be dangers of job losses in the car industry, unless it is re-structured and re-equipped to provide the transport needs of the growing public market.

3. Many of the people required to operate an integrated public transport system will need to be drawn from current transport avenues which are run on the basis of competitive norms. They will need to be assisted to develop a public service ethos.

How Does The Policy Relate To the Core Beliefs of Compass? (i.e. equality, collectivism, sustainability, democracy.)

An integrated transport system will radically extend equal access to convenient forms of transport to everyone. It will challenge the possessive individualism which arises from the current dominance of private car ownership and advance collective and co-operative forms of behavior. In reducing private car usage, congestion and pollution; a sustainable transport system would reduce the need for road building and disruption. To operate a widespread and interlinked public transport system, there would be the need for a variety of forms of municipal, co-operative, regional and national forms of ownership.

How Does It Build The Institutions Of Social Democracy?

The variety of forms of public ownership mentioned above would require a range of forms of Democratic control. Many bus and tram companies could operate under local government control with their electors and users being encouraged to join in organisational structures to influence local transport policy decisions. Taxi operations would normally function under local co-operative arrangements with those operating and using taxis having a democratic input. Differing Air and Shipping Companies could operate at a variety of democratically controlled levels according to the scope of their operations. Operations at a UK or national level would function mainly for the major framework in an expanded railway system and in establishing and supervising the necessary interlinks between differing forms of transport. These would need to be subject to wide and open forms of national and UK parliamentary scrutiny.

What Are The Cost Implications?

With the expansion of public ownership decisions will have to be made on compensation levels for the previous shareholders. It is possible for the scale of compensation to differ between major investors on the one hand and on the other hand holdings by pensions funds, public bodies and small shareholders. The programme would also lead to a decline in both private car production and imports, with an associated loss of advertising and taxation revenue. Alternatively, the cut back in the use of private cars will save police and health service costs as accidents and pollution decline. Savings would be made in the decline in the need for road widening and construction programmes.

Who Wins And Loses Amongst The Electorate?

Resistance to aspects of the programme would come from many car owners, yet as individuals they would benefit from a more integrated transport system which would build a more civilised society. Strong support would come from many young people (in particular) who have commitments to environmental improvement.

A Sound Bite For The Public?

We will be able to move around conveniently when we want at a cost we can afford.

Where Has This Worked Before?

An aspect of the policy was run by the former South Yorkshire Metropolitan Council in relation to its bus services. It was possible to find buses easily and to interchange between services. Bus prices were held, becoming relatively cheap over time. It was popular and well used, until it was disbanded due to the actions of the Thatcher Government.

The Dronfield Labour Party Discussion meeting came up with a second set of proposals on the topic of "Political Education". It will be covered in the same format as above in an item to be posted tomorrow.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Setting Out Our Compass

Compass, the independent democratic left pressure group, are encouraging people to hold meetings to determine sets of political proposals for a programme entitled "How To Live In The 21st Century". These are for submission to Compass, where they will be voted upon by its members to form the organisation's campaigning priorities.

Dronfield Labour Party runs a monthly discussion meeting and it devoted its last one to the above proposal. At its meeting, five sets of ideas were proposed and discussed. The meeting decided to pursue two of these with a view to submitting them to Compass. One was on "Integrated Transport" and the other on "Political Education".

Harry Barnes as the Political Education Officer of the Dronfield Labour Party has drafted submissions on the above two items in line with discussions at the meeting. He has drafted these in the format required by Compass.

At the moment these are provisional documents which need to be returned to the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Meeting for further debate and refinement. When this has been done they will be submitted to Compass.

In the meantime, the provisional submissions will be placed on this blog. The proposals in relation to "Integrated Transport" will appear tomorrow and those on "Political Education" will follow on Saturday. Later the finalised versions as submitted to Compass will also appear on this blog.

Members of the Dronfield Labour Party Discussion Group and any other readers will be encouraged to respond via our comment box.