The Labour manifesto was incredible. In the true sense of the word, meaning unbelievable. It was packed with goodies such as four day weeks, free broadband, massive renationalisation and money for the WASPI women and plenty more. It just got wilder as the election team got more desperate and what happened on transport policy is an excellent example of the mistakes that were made.
It started off fine. Renationalising the railways is both popular and a no-brainer that had long been suggested by Labour. There are complications as the old British Rail cannot be recreated and Network Rail, which does not always excel to say the least, is already in public hands. Moreover, renationalisation is no panacea as the railways face innumerable difficulties other than the crazy structure they now seem doomed to operate under for another half a decade. Nevertheless, as a policy, it got a good tick and would have made the railways easier to operate and would have saved money.
Then there was a fantastic offer by Labour on cycling which had been well-thought through by the transport team under Andy McDonald and fully costed to create cycle friendly infrastructure across the country. Much of this was to be paid for by reducing spending on roads, another good idea.
However, there was no courage in any of this because it was a goodies for all manifesto. For eample, HS2 is not a popular policy on the doorstep and Labour could well have suggested that the £100bn cost be diverted to smaller and definitely greener schemes around the country. Those small towns where we lost so any voters such as Wakefield, Blackpool, Workington and Scunthorpe will not benefit in any way. Yet, this was an issue on which we remained silent, fearful of antagonising the rail unions who are supportive of the scheme.
And then it got silly. First, there was the promise that Labour would reverse existing arrangements whereby some trains operate without a guard. This is the case on several lines and has been shown not to have any safety implications. These schemes have been in place for decades and were agreed with the unions. Yet, guaranteeing a guard would be extremely expensive and bring little benefit in improving passenger experience on those lines.
Another silly policy, which I have criticised before on this site and is equally ill-thought out (which is why Johnson will now probably adopt it!) is abolishing hospital car park charges. Not only is this costly, but will make it more difficult for people to get to hospital since car parks will fill quickly. I have experienced this personally when visiting my dying mother in law in Abergavenny. Cancer patients and other necessary users get free parking anyway, so this is just a knee jerk emotive policy with no long term thinking – we should be encouraging hospitals to develop travel plans that promote healthy and more environmentally sustainable ways to get there.
However, the crème de la crème of daftness was the sudden announcement that Labour would cut rail fares by a third, and achieve this by the January fare changes. Not only was this again incredible, but it was simply impossible. Making such radical changes at such pace would mean the train companies, who have contracts with the Department for Transport, would have the government over a barrel over the lost income. There would be no time to negotiate such a thorough change and, in any case, season tickets, by and large an affluent bunch, would be the main beneficiaries. None of the believed it any way.
The odd thing about all this is Jeremy Corbyn knows a thing or two about transport, and even reads Rail the magazine in which I have a fortnightly column. Yet, he allowed all this to pass through without raising an objection when he must have known much of it was nonsense. This is, therefore, an illustration not only of the crazy way the manifesto developed but also of Jeremy’s non-leadership.
It is difficult to suggest any lessons for five years hence, but those who will be drawing up the manifesto then – they, have, at least been born! – may just remember this example as a way of not doing things.