Cllr Charlie Edwards is the Lead Member for Health and Adult Services for Lancashire County Council, and a Lancaster City Councillor.
Northern Rail are on strike tomorrow. The first Saturday in December, one of the busiest Christmas shopping days for our town centres, will be the RMT’s 38th day of strike action. And counting. It directly follows strike action the past four Saturdays and we will have another strike every Saturday for the rest of the year. It barely even registers as news any more.
Christmas Markets are popping up around the country. On my doorstep, we have Lancaster on Ice – an ice village in our city centre – put together by the sheer brilliance of local business people. As car parking charges are so high, a train is a cheaper and quicker option for most to enjoy our town centres. Alas for Lancaster this Saturday, travelling by Northern Rail is not an option.
The supposed focus of the strike is the opposition to driver-only trains, a common feature of most of the 21st century rail network, not just in the UK but across Europe as well.
As a football fan, I believe the choice to strike on a Saturday is a deliberate and personal attack on the one million people every weekend who follow their teams across the country. Huge numbers of football fans I know are now opting to drive, despite having used the trains since the National Rail days. An era my generation will never appreciate; where air conditioning was the welcome relief when the doors opened at stops and the idea of a padded seat was rolling your coat up and sitting on it.
It seems like these strikes are never ending. Rail travel has become a source of anxiety and dread for people living in the North. It will lead to a generational exodus away from train travel if we do not stop the Unions in their tracks.
The narrative these strikes are trying to portray is in direct contrast to what is happening in reality. Despite the strikes, rail passenger numbers have increased year on year.
The opportunities of HS2 to cities like Preston, Lancaster, and Carlisle are enormous too. Transport for the North are working on Northern Powerhouse Rail, which will boost East-West Connectivity. Last year at Lancashire County Council we invested to support the reopening of the Skipton-Colne link. Local projects such as the line to Morecambe to support the exciting plans for an Eden Project North, or the potential to re-open the Fleetwood to Poulton Line, will transform the fortunes of the North.
As a “Young Person” (who hates the phrase), I celebrated the announcement of the 26-30 Railcard in the Budget. It provides discounted fares at a crux moment in your life; when you are saving to get on the property ladder, but the cost of living is getting in the way. It’s a policy for young people who work hard and aspire for bigger and better things: natural Conservative voters.
With all this investment and innovation from the Government, it is clear we are in a renaissance age when it comes to our railways. Industrial action is a huge threat to this progress.
There is only one tiny group standing in the way of progress on our nation’s railways: Corbyn, his top team and their toxic links to the RMT. The biggest cause of cancellations and delays in 2017 was problems caused by Network Rail. As the only nationally owned part of the railways, it is difficult for Labour to attack. Hence why there is a hunger for strike action. Why is strike action good for the Labour Party? It plays into their narrative that the trains are better off out of the hands of private companies. Who needs private capital investment or innovation when you have the comfort blanket of your political ideology anyway?
In July 2017, the Transport Workers Union, the RMT, donated vast sums of money to help get Labour MPs elected. The usual suspects of Corbyn, John “Lynch the bitch” McDonnell, Clive “On your knees bitch” Lewis, Emily Thornberry, and current Lancaster MP, Cat Smith.
Yes, the MP whose city’s Christmas events are reliant this weekend on visitors using Northern Rail trains took a £5,000 donation from the RMT Union.
How is this not a huge conflict of interest? A union funds politicians who speak about nationalising Northern Rail, the same Union then organises strikes, attempting to increase public resentment for Northern Rail.
I feel like Diane Abbott; things just don’t add up.
What’s even more complicated is that these same people who are taking this cash and are campaigning for nationalised rail want to keep us in the European Union. My advice to Corbynista Remainers is to be careful what you wish for, as the EU’s Fourth Railway package restricts individual national governments from owning their own rail companies.
Since privatisation in 1992, passenger numbers have reached post-war highs, we have fewer fatalities and less subsidy per passenger relative to other EU countries. One of the largest private investors of rail companies are public sector pension funds, so any profits from the network benefit teachers, doctors and social workers, and who’s savings would be at risk by Labour’s nationalisation plans.
Lancashire’s own pensioners should be extremely proud of a little known venture with Greater Anglia Railways, private enterprise and GLIL Infrastructure, an investment fund part owned by the Lancashire Pension Fund. Next year, the entire Greater Anglia rolling stock is being replaced with state of the art energy efficient trains, financed by this partnership and built by Stadler and Bombardier, based in Derby. Any political idea that wants to stifle private investment into the railways is a complete retrograde step.
Let’s rekindle the public’s love affair with the trains. The unions are clearly trying to destroy rail travel to help the Labour Party win an election, we must call them out for what they are doing.
As Conservatives, we should be shouting louder about the frustration and the impact on our lives. When asked how the July 2017 Northern strike action made you feel, 39 per cent said they were “bored”. Apathy will let them get away with it time and time again. We talk about rail being an essential part of the North’s economic, industrial, and social resurgence, so let’s get angry. Let’s challenge the unions and the Labour politicians they are funding.
Strike action reduces performance and staff morale. Strike action to protect jobs that were replaced by modern processes over 40 years ago drive up costs, which is passed onto the passengers twice, through increased fares and increased taxes to cover Government subsidies. It hits many passengers a third time if they have a pension, as strike action reduces the profits enjoyed by the public sector pension funds that are some of the largest investors in the industry, and in the case of Lancashire, pioneering innovative investment in our railways.
So when you go out this weekend, to have a glass of Gluhwein at a Christmas market, put your skates on in Lancaster, watch a football match, or have a good old Christmas shop, I hope you do it by train. So long as it isn’t a service the RMT Ebeneezer Scrooges have got their grubby hands on.