Let’s turn Railways Day into Scrap HS2 Day

“How would you feel if we spent the money on local transport links in the Midlands and the north?’’ Gove asked Conservative MPs last year.

January 1 is the day to claim that the New Year will show us who we really are.  We made that case yesterday in relation to Brexit.  Perhaps we should simply have waited for 24 hours.  For there’s a good case for arguing that January 2, each year, provides real evidence of the kind of country Britain is.  And that it does so far more convicingly than anything imagination can conjure up the day before.

The second day of each New Year is Railways Day, on which annual fare rises are announced – 3.1 per cent for this coming year, a further above-inflation increase.  In the absence of other political news – not an unusual feature of the late Christmas season – it dominates media coverage.  Commuters, unions, and campaigners pile in.  The Transport Secretary is despatched to the studios to have buckets of ordure emptied ritually over his head.

If that person is Chris Grayling, to whom journalists now reflexively apply the death-watch terms “beleaguered” and “embattled”, he is wise to have an announcement tucked up his sleeve.  It won’t save him from the scragging but it will divert some attention.  And the Transport Secretary is an experienced enough hand to have prepared exactly that.  So, lo, he has revealed today that a new railcard extending child fares to 16 and 17-year-olds will be available ahead of the new academic year in September.

But there is more to Railways Day than an annual outing for the Transport Secretary – or the coming fare rises for commuters.  Age, class, region, the way we live now and are governed: January 2 has something to say about all of them.

First, age.  Home ownership is the classic demonstration of the updated version of Disraeli’s two nations: the young and the old.  Rail is another.  The country divides into those who remember the old, fully-nationalised railways and the modern, part-nationalised ones.  (Never forget: Network Rail, which runs the track, is a state body.)  Older voters are prone to that affliction of the ageing, nostaglia.  But its consoling mists don’t always conceal the bleakness of the view back – to under-investment, strikes, delays and lower passenger numbers.  They remember the days of full nationalisation, and are less likely to vote for the man who advocates it, Jeremy Corbyn, whatever polls about the popularity of state ownership may tell you.  Younger voters have shorter memories and trend Left.

Second, class – or at least income.  Railway use is skewed towards richer voters.  The highest-earning 20 per cent of voters take around four times as many train journeys each year as those in the bottom 40 per cent, and twice as many as those in the middle.  Corbyn’s targeting of these offer yet more evidence of his paradoxical approach to the electorate, whereby pledges are pushed at plusher voters rather than needier ones.  His 2017 manifesto somehow promised to scrap tuition fees but not to lift the benefits cap.  As our columnist James Frayne never tires of pointing out, the Just-About-Managings – remember them? – tend to drive to work, not take the train.

Third, region.  Rail use is highest in the South-East.  Many of those who bring you the Today programme or Newsnight will have made their way to their BBC place of work by train, and good luck to them.  Daily Telegraph reading-commuters clutch their season tickets.  Senior Guardian editors will make their way to work by rail and tube.  Our own readership is concentrated in the greater south-east.  No wonder we all find ourselves writing about the railways.  If you want a sense of how commuters or voters further north feel about this bias to the capital, have a look at the Yorkshire Post, and its complaint about delays to the phrasing-out of “Northern’s fleet of antiquated Pacers – buses converted into makeshift trains in the 1980s”.

Which brings us back to the part-nationalised system, the role of Network Rail, this summer’s timetabling chaos, and the leaked “yours cynically” e-mail from the Transport Department about the loss of a northern service.

A variant to Railways Day this year has been the activity of the centre-right orientated think tanks, many of which are out and about today making the case for our part-private system.  The Centre for Policy Studies (which got in early), the Taxpayers Alliance, the Institute of Economic Affairs – all are making necessary points: that the change has brought more journeys, higher passenger satisfaction and progressive funding, in the sense that consumers rather than taxpayers must bear part of the bill.

They, we and others might also unite in a late New Year’s resolution: to make each annual Railways Day a No HS2 Day.  “How would you feel if we just dropped HS2 and spent the money on local transport links in the Midlands and the north?’’ the ever-alert Michael Gove asked Conservative MPs last year.  He will know that of the £6.4 billion given to – excluding loans from Network Rail – almost a third was consumed by the high-speed project.

Five years ago, the ConservativeHome Manifesto proposed junking the project and transferring resources to a Northern Infrastructure Fund.  That would help ease income and regional disparities – not to mention curb the inevitable overspending on the project, £20 billion and counting the last time we looked.

A short compendium of recent must-read research on Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement

In recent months, BrexitCentral has featured a number of articles written by authors of a variety of pamphlets and papers published in the run-up to or since the publication of the Withdrawal Agreement. We thought readers would appreciate having access to links to all those publications in one place, so hope you find the listings […]

The post A short compendium of recent must-read research on Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement appeared first on BrexitCentral.

In recent months, BrexitCentral has featured a number of articles written by authors of a variety of pamphlets and papers published in the run-up to or since the publication of the Withdrawal Agreement.

We thought readers would appreciate having access to links to all those publications in one place, so hope you find the listings below of use. Clearly, it is not exhaustive, but where possible we have hyperlinked organisations’ names to their website so that you can delve further as in most cases there is more valuable information and additional articles or briefings to be found there. We will aim to keep this up to date as new publications come out, so please let us know of anything you think we should consider for inclusion.

Published by the European Research Group

Written by Shanker A Singham and Radomir Tylecote

Published by Martin Howe QC/Lawyers for Britain

Published by the Institute of Economic Affairs

Published by CLECAT, the European Voice of Freight Logistics and Customs Services

Published by Economists for Free Trade

Published by Briefings for Brexit

Published by Policy Exchange

Published by Politeia

The post A short compendium of recent must-read research on Brexit and the Withdrawal Agreement appeared first on BrexitCentral.

Kent County Council’s proposals to keep the traffic flowing after Brexit are most welcome

The Government should back these sensible plans. We must avoid a repeat of the disruption on the roads that took place in 2015.

When Jo Johnson resigned from the Government to oppose Theresa May’s Brexit deal, he made clear that he was also opposed to a “no deal”. He said:

“The prospect of Kent becoming the Lorry Park of England is very real in a no deal scenario. Orpington residents bordering Kent face disruption from plans to use the nearby M26, connecting the M25 to the M20, as an additional queuing area for heavy goods vehicles backed up all the way from the channel ports.”

It was a measure of just what a low regard he had for the Withdrawal Agreement that he added that if forced to choose between it and “No Deal” he would plump for “No Deal” – though Johnson would much prefer a second referendum resulting in us staying in the EU.

Anyway, Kent County Council have produced some proposals to avoid any such disruption. Cllr Paul Carter, the Council’s Leader, stresses that they are for any contingency involving disruption from the ports – adjusting to Brexit being just one such scenario. Let us remember that we have had these problems before – in 2015 and 2016. Strikes at Calais, then a lack of French Border Police at Dover, caused thousands of lorries queuing for miles. What if there was a fire in the Channel Tunnel? What if the French went on strike again?

Cllr Carter says:

“We must never forget the chaos that we had across half of this county in 2015.

The M20 was closed in both directions – doctors couldn’t get to hospitals, domiciliary care workers struggled to reach their clients, weddings were cancelled.

The implementation of Operation Stack and the closure of the M20 cost the Kent economy around £1.45 million a day and the UK economy
an estimated £250 million per day – and that went on for three weeks.

Kent County Council has been working very closely with the Kent Resilience Forum and all partners to try to make sure that we have robust plans in place should there be disruption at the ports for any reason that keeps traffic from flowing across the county of Kent.”

The Council has “robust plans in place” should there be “disruption at the ports for any reason” to ensure “traffic keeps flowing across the county of Kent”.

But Cllr Carter would like some help from central Government:

“We now need far more input and information from national government in how they are going to work with us.

There must be a national freight transport plan which, when necessary, can hold lorries back from coming into Kent in the first place should the need arise. We now have holding areas to take more than 10-thousand lorries before it becomes necessary to use the M26 to hold freight, which is a situation that I want to avoid as far as we possibly can.

We need the right investment from the Department for Transport in the technology, number plate recognition and enforcement powers to stop lorries cutting and running down inappropriate highways and by-ways in Kent and directed to go where they’re told.

With national government’s cooperation, we can avoid the chaos that we saw in 2015.”

He wants £20 million from the Department for Transport to pay for the “necessary technology, barriers signage and vital preparation that we will need in Kent.”

Cllr Carter says that “£20 million is not a massive amount to the government in the scale of things”.  I am not usually sympathetic to council leaders pleading poverty. But in this case, Cllr Carter, has a point, hasn’t he? If we proceed with a “no deal” (more properly a World Trade Organisation deal) then we will not be handing over £39 billion to the EU. Legal advice differs over whether we would owe anything at all under a “no deal”. Perhaps there will be a new Prime Minister who will suggest they “go whistle” for the dosh. Perhaps a more conciliatory approach will be taken. But any payment that was made would be much lower and spread over a much longer period.

The OBR estimates that if a deal was implemented we would be paying £7 billion a year for the next four years. For Cllr Carter to be asking for 0.05 per cent, that’s one twentieth of one per cent, of the £39 billion is pretty modest to “avoid the chaos of the past.”

The Institute of Economic Affairs in its assessment concludes that “substantial disruption” is “unlikely.”  Firstly, it could be argued that non-tariff barriers “would be unnecessary, and even illegal under WTO rules, given that exports from both sides will still be made to the same standards immediately after the UK’s departure from the EU.” There are already some checks but draconian increases would not be required. Secondly “even French officials have stressed that it would be in their country’s own economic interests to minimise any additional delays. In particular, they have dismissed fears of a Calais ‘go-slow’ and suggested that as few as one per cent of UK lorries would be subject to a physical check.” Thirdly “put simply, neither the UK nor the EU has the physical infrastructure, or enough officials, to check every vehicle anyway, or even a significant proportion. In this respect at least, the lack of preparedness could actually be a blessing in disguise.”

Let’s hope the IEA is right. It still seems prudent to give Cllr Carter the £20 million.

Apart from the money, the Council also seeks clarification around Government decisions – for instance, regarding greater flexibility over driver hours (EU rules limit them to nine hours a day). It also wants more enforcement powers – in terms of directing traffic on or off particular roads in the event of gridlock being threatened. In practice, this might mean sending lorries to be parked at Manston Airport for a certain period of time to keep the M26 flowing. At present, the police can only redirect the traffic if there is an emergency – such as an accident. The request would be to be able to use this power for traffic management under extreme circumstances.

Other improvements, proposed by others, would take longer. Over two years ago on this site there was a plea from Charlie Elphicke, the MP for Dover and Deal, to improve customs technology and ports infrastructure. He also called for road improvements:

“The M20 needs to be upgraded, the A2 dualled and the Lower Thames Crossing taken forward with a sense of urgency.”

Cynical types might suspect an element of self-fulfilling prophecy about the lack of any such “sense of urgency” to make suitable preparations. The “Project Fear” proponents in The Treasury and Downing Street have blocked such measures and hope to then have the satisfaction of saying: “We told you so” – should difficulties materialise.

The good news about the proposals from Kent County Council is that there is still time to implement them. They seem to be modest, practical and soundly based on past experience. The Government should get on with providing the necessary backing.

Project Fear Three. Coming your way soon, courtesy of Downing Street?

Obama’s EU referendum intervention didn’t help deliver a Remain result for Cameron. It’s not clear that the Government has learned from the experience.

This time round, the audience will be different.  In 2016, it was voters.  Within less than a month, if all goes to plan, it will be Conservative MPs.  But the strategy is very much the same.  It is to utilise institutional and celebrity power to sell a Brexit deal, just as it was deployed to sell David Cameron’s renegotiation and a Remain vote, or to try.

The BBC has the details.  These contain names one would expect, such as Andy Street, the CBI, and City UK.  There are also people who might prove counter-productive, especially since Tory MPs would be the key demographic.  Anything that Leo Varadkar thinks is good for Ireland isn’t necessarily good for the United Kingdom – or at that’s what some Brexiteer MPs will think, anyway.  But he’s on the list, as is Andy Burnham, another name that won’t necessarily swing the J Alfred Prufrock MPs of this world.

Then there are other names that are more of a mystery.  Why would Team May expect Mark Littlewood and the IEA to line up behind any deal?  After all, their star recent signing, Shanker Singham, is opposed to customs union membership.  ConservativeHome also has its moment in the sun, since our columnist Henry Newman, the director of Open Europe, is also listed.  All in all, the document has the air of an early draft.  Number Ten is denying its authenticity altogether.  None the less, someone, somewhere has been very keen to leak it.

The flip side of the positives would be the negatives: in the event of a deal, Downing Street will hope that the above stress the downside of rejecting a deal – the uncertainties of No Deal.  It would in effect be co-ordinating Project Fear Three.  We all remember Project Fear One from the EU referendum.  We are currently seeing Project Fear Two, of which Project Fear Three would be an iteration.  The irony is that there is good reason to be concerned about No Deal.  But the boy may have cried “Wolf” at least once too often.

As the failure of Cameron’s plan indicates.  Its best-known face was Barack Obama, deputed to say that, in the event of a Brexit vote, Britain would go to “the back of queue” for any trade deal with America.  “The purveyors of the conventional wisdom decreed that it could be a knockout blow for the Leave campaign.  And yet it was not,” writes Tim Shipman in All Out War.  At Vote Leave headquarters, Dominic Cummings “walked into the main campaign war room and announced: ‘This will have no effect’ “.  He was right.

Intriguingly, the leaked document’s timetable is much the same as that we tentatively anticipated on Monday – ” ‘A moment of decisive progress’ will be announced this Thursday. Raab to announce,” it declares.  (Historical footnote: that’s the same Dominic Raab who said, in the wake of Obama’s intervention, that “I don’t think the British people will be blackmailed by a lame duck US President”.)

Number Ten would do better to put any deal that the Cabinet agrees to Conservative MPs straight-up, without any varnish.  An early reading of America’s mid-term elections results, coming in as we write, is that the Republicans have done better than expected.  Donald Trump’s staying power is a reminder that the era of New Labour-type spin is dead and buried.