The ‘day of moaning’ is a sign the north of England will no longer weather the Tories worsening the north-south divide without complaint, writes Jonathan Reynolds MP
Moaning is a disempowering word. Label any criticism a ‘moan’ any you have swiftly invalidated the content and belittled the complainant. Sometimes northerners are characterised as great moaners. But that is not an attribute I perceive in my constituents. If anything, I would say most northerners excel at stoicism. We weather our lot without complaint. Today’s a day to change that.
Today a ‘day of moaning’ has been announced across the north of England. Leading think-tank the IPPR North has urged northerners to write to their members of parliament and flood radio and television phone-ins, raising their voices to complain about the pitiful transport provision we enjoy by comparison to the south-east. I am starting to see these ‘moans’ flood my own inbox, and say this: keep them coming.
Across the north, rail, bus and cycle provision feels like it belongs to a different decade from that which Londoners enjoy. Public transport is over-crowded, unreliable, expensive and low-tech. Routes fail to reflect the journeys people need to make; local economies fail to be stimulated by infrastructure failure; and every passing year seems to bring bad news, not good. Frustrated commuters understandably resort to driving, upping our carbon emissions and bringing our (also under invested) roads to a standstill.
The government’s latest decision to cancel or downgrade plans to electrify railway lines in Wales, the Midlands and the north, announced with barefaced cheek just as parliament washed up for the summer, giving MPs no right to reply, has incensed me, and incensed my constituents. They are among the 70,000 people who have signed the IPPR’s petition calling on Transport secretary Chris Grayling to give us both the cash and the powers needed to truly sort out transport in the north.
My own constituency, while thriving in many senses, remains an economy too low skilled and too low earning. Improved transport links are absolutely essential to the future of our area, and the electrification of the trans-Pennine rail line between Manchester and Leeds has been a passion of mine since I was first elected in 2010. I have regularly donned a hard hat and high-vis jacket to see for myself what needs to be done. Before I was elected, the law firm I trained at had offices in Manchester and Leeds and I am all too familiar with how unwelcoming the service is. The journey today is broadly exactly as it was in the 1970s in terms of rolling stock and length, except with many more passengers crammed in. For a journey of just over 40 miles – less than the length of London’s Central line – it is not acceptable.
Pulling the plug on electrification risks lengthening journey times, increasing carbon emissions and rising the cost of the rail network. Electrification means faster trains, which crucially does not just give you a quicker journey – it allows you to run more trains per hour. Research has shown that electrification cuts the cost of trains, increases reliability and reduces carbon emissions by 20-30 per cent compared with diesel trains. There are also benefits in terms of connectivity, capacity and economic growth. It is just what we need.
The government says the new trains on the Great Western and Midland Mainline will now be ‘bi-mode’, meaning they could run on electrified sections of track and then transfer to non-electrified sections. The government now claims that diesel bi-mode trains will deliver the same benefits as electrification. They will not.
The fact that Grayling then announced funding for Crossrail 2 within days of attempting to bury the bad news about electrification in the north, left me incandescent with rage. This inexcusable affront to northern voters proves that cynicism around the so called Northern Powerhouse was sadly wholly justified. The Tories are not just failing to tackle the north-south divide, they seem hell-bent on worsening it. I will not tolerate it, and for residents across the north, enough is enough. Let us be stoical no more. We deserve better. Let us make our moan heard today, and when the Conservatives do find their way to Manchester for their October party conference, let us ensure that moan becomes a deafening roar.
At the general election, Labour MPs stood on a manifesto that committed to transform our transport network, bring our railways back into public ownership – popular here – and make the investment needed to ensure our public transport is fit for purpose. It committed to capping fares, introducing free Wi-Fi across the network, ensuring safe staffing levels, ending the expansion of driver-only operations, and introducing legal duties to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. If Grayling and May continue to insult northern voters, Labour may just yet get the chance to implement our pledges.
Jonathan Reynolds is shadow economic secretary to the Treasury. He tweets at @jreynoldsMP
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