Remembering Dr Jim Ford

Jim Ford was a founder member of OPSTA (Ormskirk Preston & Southport Travellers Assn) or OPTA (Ormskirk Preston Travellers Assn) as it was originally constituted. He’d certainly been at meetings ever since I joined and that must be 30 years+ and counting.

Jim was an interesting man and you could not but like him. I’ve heard him described as an ideas man and that fits him well.

I last met him only days before he died when we had an OPSTA Committee meeting in his Southport garden surrounded by his model railway. Little did we know then that Jim would have what proved to be a fatal heart attack and die on 16th September following heart surgery.

Jim was a medical doctor specialising in occupational health and on one occasion earlier this year he described himself as the Clinical Directed and his dear wife Fiona as the Clinical Director, yes Fiona’s a doctor too.

He was very much a politician, being a member of the Labour Party but he was far from being tribal about his politics and would bend the ear of any colour of politician to make his often telling points about local railway matters. He specialised in making Freedom of Information requests to find out what some public bodies would rather not publicise. I recall him being very supportive of John Pugh the former Lib Dem MP for Southport whom he clearly had a bit of a soft spot for. His comments about John, at least in my Liberal earshot, were always positive.

On one occasion we were having an OPSTA meeting in the Heaton’s Bridge Pub and I’d ordered a pint of one of my favourite tipples – Morrhouses Black Cat. To my embarrassment, I then realised I’d left my wallet at home! Jim immediately stepped in and paid; that was the kind of chap he was.

There are some lovely tributes to Jim in the latest edition of the OPSTA magazine Connexion, see scan above. I’ll miss engaging in conversation with him about trains and politics. RIP JIm

What kind of Tory Government have we actually got?

With some of the highest rates of taxation in living memory, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

I’m sure I heard one Tory describe the present Conservative Government, a while back, as a benign Ted Heath type. Yes, I found that hard to accept too.

Interestingly, I’ve also heard folks speculate on Johnson not actually being a Tory at all because of his spend, spend, spend approach to the economy and yes, some of that speculation has come from Tory supporters.

Then of course you see the more traditional Tory approach in the recent taking of £20 per week back from those receiving Universal Credit. Now that seems more like the Conservative Party we’re used to. Yes, I know they gave it out in the first place, on a temporary basis due to Covid, but with significantly rising inflation removing it instead of confirming its permanence has quite simply made the poor poorer.

Acting appallingly towards refugees crossing the Channel; that’s plumbing new depths which traditional Conservatives of my Dad’s generation would never have contemplated no matter how bad their right-wing rhetoric against such unfortunate people may have sounded.

The endless dithering over Covid measures on the other hand seems so not Tory in nature, as traditionally they have liked to be seen as stable and decisive.

But what about ‘levelling-up’? It’s an odd thing for Tories to promote particularly if they actually meant it to be anything more than the political slogan which sadly it is. Surely Conservatism is all about protecting the middle and particularly upper/ruling classes from the working class? I guess it’s the recent re-emergence of working-class Tories who have deserted the Labour Party which is driving this pretend ‘levelling-up’ agenda.

From my perspective, all these contradictions are the result of the Tories getting lost in their own self-made fog and fantasy of Brexit, their pandering to populist right-wing wish lists, them lacking (in common with other UK political parties) strong leaders and finding themselves very poorly equipped to deal with the pandemic.

At the very time the UK needed a strong government it got ditherers. What my dear old Dad would have made of this I don’t know. He was from working-class Tory-supporting roots, although if you reminded him that his family used to live in a council house he always looked uncomfortable having made it to become middle-class. But my point is though that he had standards that were generally those of a decent person (I’m putting to one side here his utterly appalling anti-semitism!) and he’d seen through Johnson many years ago. Dad died in 2009 and he was bemoaning the decline in standards in public life and in the Conservative Party for maybe 10 years prior to that.

To my mind, the present Conservative government is all over the place politically but with a populist entertainer as their leader should we be surprised? It makes John Major look quite the statesman with hindsight does it not?

Liberalism

I came across a graphic a few days ago that tries to define where Liberalism sits in the political landscape. Here it is, but you’ll have to enlarge it for reading:_

One issue which sticks out for me is the supposed positioning of Liberalism between Labour on the left and the Tories etc. on the right. Well, where to start? How about the definition of Labour as a party of the left – really? Labour is a party of the working-class so it encompasses a very wide range of political opinions indeed from right to left and that is of course why it’s in a state of almost continual internal warfare. Often referred to as a ‘broad church’, it’s like all religions together in one tent and the squabbling for which sect is the top dog is unstoppable.

So to look at Labour as a party of the left is very misleading and you only have to take their passive position over Brexit as a rather glaring example of the party in effect backing a policy of the right because their working-class right-wingers, who support Labour electorally, backed Brexit and Labour could do nothing about it. Labour has as a consequence lost some of its traditional supporters to the Tories as they thought Labour’s Brexit stance (on the fence but leaning towards Brexit) was not good enough. In fear of losing more supporters this way, Labour’s leadership has in effect hidden behind the sofa hoping no one will mention Brexit.

As a Social Liberal, my view is that the vast majority of Labour supporters are to the right of me politically but where you can place Labour on a left V right axis is problematic as that party has the potential to be left or right of centre. Conversely, until recent times, it would be possible to find Tory supporters who were all but centrists but of course, they’ve either been thrown out or have left that party. My own present political axis for England would look something like this:-

Liberals, Greens, Social Democrats ———–Centre———— Tories, UKIP
——————Labour———————-Labour————————Labour——

That Labour desperately wants its former right-wing voters back is a given, but presently many are in Johnson’s clutches. However, this very Labour problem kind of makes my point about where the Labour Party sits in the political spectrum because its white, working-class, right-wing voters can easily move to back the Tories. There may even be a few Tories left who can easily move to vote Labour too as they don’t see it as a left-wing party.

As an aside, I’ve never been particularly taken with the alternative view i.e. looking at political parties as Liberal V Illiberal as that is not how folks in the real world look at political parties in the UK.

I don’t consider myself to be ‘middle of the road’, ‘moderate’ or ‘centrist’ but of the left. As a Social Liberal and a life-long trade unionist I’ve never been tempted to join Labour as it mostly seems to be to the right of my politics.

Slagging off the Tories?

Warning this posting could get some on the left effing and jeffing!

Or is it now called ‘doing a Rayner’?

You might recall that Labour’s sometimes loose cannon Deputy Leader was being chased by the media for calling Johnson some names recently, but does her approach win hearts and minds to oppose the Tories?

Name-calling in politics is rooted in tribalism so within political groups it is actually commonplace, particularly in the further reaches of the right and left. It can also be something that is required/expected within certain political groupings/sects to have any street credibility. But outside of such groupings in the real world does political name-calling, or one could say child-like insults, actually gain political support for your cause/party? My feeling is that it can actually have the opposite effect but I realise even saying that may well inflame angry political folk who think it is both necessary and indeed effective.

My view has always been that once you’ve started throwing insults around you’ve already pretty much lost the argument. You see most ordinary folks turn off when they see politicians slagging each other off. Yes, your own political tribe may well be cheering the insults on but they are already on your side; it’s reasoned arguments that are more likely to have an effect on how people change their voting intentions.

So ‘doing a Rayner’ does not work in my book. And yes I know she was actually showing off to what she thought was a friendly internal Labour audience when she was caught out and subsequently spent a few days running away from the media. But can you imagine how she must have cheesed off Starmer as her insult gained more publicity than what he was trying to say during what he’d hoped would be his time in the political limelight? I am, of course, no supporter of Starmer but I can see how his heart must have sunk when he realised that her slag the Tories off jibe had actually sunk him.

Throw political insults around if you wish but please don’t do so if you really are trying to make friends and influence people outside of your own tribe as all it does is push potential floating voters away.

So who’d you have as aides if you were US President?

I was having a conversation with my old political buddy Andrew Blackburn the other day and we talked of who we would have in our team if we were the US President. It was re-watching the 1st season of The West Wing which inspired this conversation. It must be one of the best series that I’ve seen on the TV. So anyway here goes with my personal list of West Wing characters and some personal additional aides.

Those in brackets are the actors playing the parts in Season 1:-

The President (Martin Sheen) – Me of course! – Delusions of grandeur of it seems:-)

Vice President (Tim Matheson) – Phil Holden – needed to pull in the right of centre vote. All but a Republican he’s never the less far from being a right-wing nut-job. Has a fine analytical mind with which I often don’t agree but is useful in balancing my Social Liberal ‘leftie’ outlook.

Chief of Staff – Leo McGarry (John Spencer) – Andrew Blackburn – Always sees the wider picture, is very loyal and will tell me what I don’t want to hear.

Deputy Chief of Staff – Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) – David Rimmer – the most polite and successful political hit-man I ever knew – ‘Leave it to me boss, you won’t hear of it again’ and I didn’t.

Communications Director – Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) – David Tattersall – Turns government-speak into straightforward language voters can easily grasp.

Deputy Communications Director – Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) – Steph Prewett – The best at seeing required end results and making sure they’re achieved. As with David Rimmer, the buried bodies are never seen again.

Press Secretary – (CJ Cregg (Allison Jamney) – Layla Moran – Progressive, Liberal, naturally outgoing and likeable, has the common touch which few in politics have. She’s a natural to talk for my White House on any matter of public importance. Good to have someone of Palestinian descent in high office too.

Personal Aide to the President – Charlie Young (Dule Hill) – A young Charles Walker – Cheeky, full of fun, loyal and generous. A lifetime of wide experiences to fall back on make him an essential team member.

Secretary – Mrs Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) – Christine Polanski – 100% reliable gets rid of time wasters, knows when I need support and can make me laugh when stress levels are high.

Special advisors not a part of the West Wing –

Special Advisors Defence & Foreign Policy – Paddy Ashdown, Tom Tugendhat, Ming Campbell, Robin Cook

Special Advisor – Social Policies, housing & planning – Roy Connell

Special Advisor – Education and crime – Geoff Howe

Special Advisor – Environment and climate change – Caroline Lucas

Special Advisor – The arts, culture, broadcasting and media – Andrew Beattie

Special Advisor – Liberty, freedom, charities, poverty – Iain Brodie Browne

Special Advisors – without portfolios – Peter Gibson, Barry Smith, Dave Martin, Lord Peter Smith, Ken Clarke,

Special advisor – Transportation – Amtrak Joe

Lament for a Branch Line – Book Review

The Preston to Southport Line by David John Hindle

As railway books go this is one is up there with the best of them. I collect railway books covering Merseyside/Cheshire/Lancashire and also the East Midlands from where I originate so have quite a selection and rarely have I been so impressed with the content and layout of a book.

To say it is comprehensively illustrated is not to do it justice as there are many well-known locations where significant numbers of photos cover different times during the railway’s operation.

The text is mainly there to support and indeed explain the photos but it is well written with everything being detailed.

I never knew the line in operation as I was six and living in Rochdale when it closed yet I feel as though I knew it well having read this delightful book which also encompasses the Liverpool, Southport & Preston Railway line.

I pre-ordered my copy having seen an advert for it in the Railway Magazine a couple of months back but I hear from others who have been trying to get their hands on a copy that it’s hard to find an outlet with a copy in stock. It seems to have flown off the shelves and frankly, I’m not surprised. I’m sure more will be printed though.

Published by Silver Link Silk Edition – ISBN 978 1 85794 595 9

Note – This review is also being published in the newsletter of OPSTA – Ormskirk, Preston, and Southport Travellers Assn.