RMT Union V Merseyrail – Still no resolution

Passing Merseyrail trains at Aughton Park Station on Merseyrail’s Northern LIne to Ormskirk

It’s a while since I’ve dropped into the long-running dispute between RMT trade union and Merseyrail, but there’s been some recent movement. Here’s a link back to a previous posting of mine on this subject:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/09/06/merseytravel-merseyrail-liverpool-city-region-v-rmt-train-guards-dispute-ended-but/

And the movement? The latest peace deal has been rejected by Merseyrail’s RMT members in a ballot. According to the RMT website, there were 217 eligible members in the ballot of which 182 voted i.e. 84%. I often wonder why in such trade union ballots some members choose not to vote. Yes, there’ll be illness etc. but can we assume those not voting were not bothered either way? The result was 83 accepted the deal and 99 voted to reject it.

So far I’ve not been able to track down much else about where this long-running dispute is now headed and as an outsider looking in, even one who is a retired trade union officer, the alternatives look rather bleak to me. I’m wondering whether those voting no to the deal had an eye to the ticket checking (revenue protection) part of it and a wish not to have to? Although ticket checking onboard trains by guards is still reasonably common, not so on Merseyrail who seem to have opted more for mobile teams to enforce those travelling ticketless over the past few years. However, with this new and now rejected deal the guards, renamed Train Managers, would be walking through the new Class 777 Stadler trains checking tickets and of course, dealing with the confrontations flowing from such interactions with folk deliberately trying to travel for free. My feeling is that the revenue protection part of the new Train Manager’s job is aimed, at least in part, at raising more money to assist in paying the wages of the Train Managers*.

It will be interesting to see if the rejected deal now becomes the marker for another fully-fledged industrial dispute between Merseyrail and the RMT.

A Merseyrail train just noth of Maghull Station heading for Liverpool on the Ormskirk LIne.

* I keep coming back to a point that I’ve made many times before. The fact is that the Liverpool City Region ordered new trains which were intended to run without guards being required at all. On that basis, a dispute with the unions representing the train operator’s staff was always going to be on the cards. You can’t help but wonder if the Labour-run City Region was looking for a fight with Merseyrail’s trade unions all along? The City Region came unstuck when the RMT and passenger groups said they wanted a 2nd person onboard each Merseyrail train to aid passenger safety. This argument gained traction and the politicians were forced to back down.

Why we need more Low traffic Neighbourhoods

As far as I can see we are still building new communities and housing estates so they’re car-dependent when clearly we should be doing just the opposite!

I’ve been trying to get my head around another green initiative called ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ and here’s a good explanation of what they are from Sustrans:-

www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/get-active/2020/in-your-community/what-is-a-low-traffic-neighbourhood

Car drivers often get very angry when there are suggestions/plans to reduce car use. Their often irrational response is because they’re addicted to their car which they use for virtually every journey. Indeed, their whole life has been built around them being car-dependent and they want it to stay that way as they know and care little about alternatives. Pedestrians are strange, why walk when you can drive, aren’t these people weird? Cyclists are a damn nuisance who need running off our roads. Horse riders should be in fields. Drivers who follow speed limits are forcing me to take on dangerous overtaking manoeuvres to get past them.

Does pollution not matter to these drivers? Well no, not unless someone in their family has been made ill by airborne pollution. And what about vehicle accidents?, oh they happen to others, not to me. Green issues generally?, oh that’s for politicians to sort out, nothing to do with my car. In reality, the vast majority of vehicle drivers will never volunteer to reduce their car use. They may well buy an electric car (if they are comfortably well off that is) as it may make them feel ‘green’ when actually the production of their ‘green’ car is anything but green!

I suppose it comes down to this. We all want the road we live on and the one our child goes to school on to be car-free and safe but we want every other road to be a vehicle free for all where we can drive however we want and not suffer any consequences.

The approach of the government is to build car-dependent communities as developers like, where they like. It’s for another generation to sort out the mess that poorly planned housing developments are creating. Oh and let’s build more new roads even though we know they just generate more traffic. And the climate change/green agenda?……………………

Editor’s Note – I Drive, Cycle and walk.

Should lefties participate in right-wing media

Here’s a challenge to all lefties from former Lib Dem MP Norman Baker (I picked it up from his Facebook Page) – I’ll admit it is a dilemma that I have personally struggled with:-

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‘Now here’s a puzzle. People who share my liberal/leftie views make two complaints to me about the plentiful right-wing media here in the UK, from the Mail to the Sun, from the Torygraph to GB News.

The first complaint is that these outlets are biased against those on the left and exclude voices to balance the diet of right-wing material they churn out.
The second complaint is that people like me who have liberal leftie views should boycott these outlets as they are the spawn of the devil.
Notice the contradiction here?

Actually what people want, in the famous exhortation of Gavin Williamson (sorry, Sir Gavin) is for these outlets to “go away”. But they aren’t going to go away, are they?

My strongly held view is that if I can have an opportunity to put my views across – and they are my unfettered uncensored liberal views – to an audience that wouldn’t normally hear them, that is an opportunity that I should not turn down. If I want to change minds, it is ultimately more useful to write for the Mail or the Sun, which I do intermittently, rather than for the Guardian (though I write for them too sometimes).

Someone recently drew a comparison between me being on GB News and the participation of the Lib Dems in the Coalition between 2010 and 2015. That is an entirely fair and apposite comparison. Many took the view that the Lib Dems should not have gone into coalition with the Tories. Yet the alternative would have been a Tory-only government and I think people can see how disastrous those have been since 2015 and begun to see the beneficial effect of the Lib Dems in the pre-2015 arrangement.

It is always an easy course, and a satisfying one, to shout from the sidelines rather than deal with people whose views are quite different to your own. Purity is retained, but at the price of impotence. Of course the Lib Dems suffered hugely from being in the Coalition (though recent elections suggest that we are on our way back) and no doubt I annoy some people by engaging with the right-wing media.

But back to my puzzle. If some want to argue that people with leftie views like me should boycott such outlets, that’s fine. I respect that view, even if I disagree with it. But don’t then complain to me that all liberal leftie voices have been excluded from those outlets.’

*****

Of course, as a leftie, I don’t watch GB News or Talk TV as their purpose, at least to me, is to present news in a right of centre way; why would I watch right-wing propaganda dressed up as news? But I’m sure there are many who think of themselves as left-wing who read the Express or the Mail and do watch these news outlets, I even know some of them! To me, the quality/independence of news is far more important than the political slant TV stations or newspapers put on their news streams, but let’s have a look at ‘leftie’ Norman’s position.

He clearly holds the view that his engaging with right-wing TV and newspaper outlets is a good thing as he uses such engagements to try to challenge the right-wing thrust of the journalists and presenters. I suppose the big question is though, does anyone who tunes into or reads right-wing news outlets seriously take on board the views of lefties who happen to be there making a progressive challenge? I’m guessing not very much.

However, Norman is clearly engaging with that section of the electorate that ‘lefties’ often ignore; the working-class, right-wingers who delivered Farage’s/Johnson’s Brexit. They will predominately be white, very much not progressive and often will have been Labour voters/supporters in the past. The very part of the electorate that Johnson and Starmer are fighting tooth and nail over and why Starmer’s Labour Party has to look right of centre.

Labour, as a class-based party, has always had supporters/members who no one would claim to be progressives/lefties in any way; they’ve always been drawn towards right-wing media outlets as they were towards the right-wing Brexit. But can lefties participating in such outlets really make them think again? My view is only at the margins and at very narrow margins at that. So I get what Norman Baker is trying to do but am not at all convinced he will save many who read the Mail, Express or who watch GB News/Talk TV from the clutches of the right. Hat’s off for his trying though.

Oh and on the Coalition, for me the Lib Dem failures were:-

* Being seen to be ‘lying’ over tuition fees by progressives. No amount of ‘explanation’ over this will ever change this view and neither, in my view, should it.
* Voting for illiberal things when the Tories were utterly unreliable political partners who should not have been trusted one inch.

By the way, Baker is a good writer. I’ve read two of his books – And what do you do? about the Royal family and The Strange Death of David Kelly about the very odd death of a government scientist.

Why Libertarians are NOT Liberals

Modern-day Libertarians have emerged from right-wing* politics although they’ll often disguise what is, in reality, their ‘self-first’ agenda by defining it as a seemingly less selfish ‘my right to choose.’

The further right you go the more the ‘self-first’ agenda exposes itself for what it really is – ‘I can do whatever I want and no one has the right to stop me/challenge me.’

A Liberal on the other hand will say ‘I am an individual and my views should not be constrained by the state, however, I also accept that I take both responsibility for my actions and I will always try not to pursue individual liberty when it has negative effects on others, the environment, the natural world etc.’

So what would a typical Libertarian think? How about these examples? –

* I won’t be vaccinated, it’s my right to decide what goes into my body and it’s not my responsibility to protect others.
* I don’t go with climate change, it’s not happening and I won’t do things to stop what is not happening.
* I park my vehicle where I want, if pedestrians can’t get past it then that’s their lookout; nothing to do with me.

A Liberal on these same issues will respond to them:-

* I will be vaccinated as it’s my duty to protect my own health and that of others.
* On climate change, I follow the science and will do my bit to address it.
* I don’t park my vehicle where it will impede pedestrians and those with disabilities.

And then whilst thinking about such issues and debating them with my very progressive and Liberal daughter she said this – It’s a Bill Bryson quote from the Road to Little Dribbling book:-

Now lots of people are governed not so much by whether something is right or wrong as by whether they think anyone’s watching. Conscience only operates when there are witnesses”

To me, that thoughtful contribution says that those who tend to be Libertarians, but who don’t want to get caught being selfish, will tend not to be self-first if they are likely to be caught at it. That means, for example, they won’t drop litter if they think someone may see them but if they can get away with it, it’s OK.

* Libertarians were originally of the ‘left’ but in modern times the ‘right’ has taken the term on as its own. They have in effect corrupted what was once based firmly in progressive and radical Liberalism.

Where did the ‘One Nation’ Tories go?

Because my politics is not tribally based I hope I can try to look at the politics of other parties with at least a degree of objectivity. On this occasion, I want to look at the modern-day Conservative Party and contrast it with its not too distant past.

I look upon the present-day Conservative Party as one which seems to present itself, almost proudly, as being the party of spivs and chancers. In my view, it’s a very different beast from the former ‘One Nation’ Conservative Party of say Ken Clarke or John Major and the significant shift is possibly one that started less than 25 years ago.

My Dad, George Robertson, was a Tory, sometimes a Party member and a one-time Director of Maghull Conservative Club. Through him and via my time as a local councillor I have met many Conservatives. In straightforward terms, I’d say the vast majority of them were reasonably comfortable middle-class folk who wanted low taxes, strong law and order, their wealth protected and they could not abide liers, spivs and chancers – not cricket, un-English and rotters are how I think they’d see them.

Obviously, I did not share Dad’s politics but on one occasion, when he had the opportunity to vote for me (as I was standing in the ward he lived in), he told me that he had done so. It led to an amusing (for both of us) exchange where I pointed out that he should have voted Labour as I was too left-wing for him. However, whilst not supporting his politics I had the opportunity to try to understand them. Each day he would read his Daily Telegraph and he’d make remarks about Margaret Thatcher (I think he wondered if she was a bit too soft at times!), Tony Blair (he was far too much of a leftie for Dad), John Major (possibly too much of a leftie for the Tory Party) etc. etc. What became apparent to me was that Dad was worried about where the Tory Party was heading and indeed the Daily Telegraph too.

If I understood him correctly, he feared that standards were dropping, that spivs and chancers were coming to the fore in his party and I think his views were shared within his circle of Conservative supporting friends. To put this in context Dad died in January 2009, so I’m talking about things going on within and around the Tory Party in the years before then.

Obviously, all political parties evolve over time and they, in UK terms, drift around the political spectrum driven by political dogma or events beyond their control. However, what Dad saw happening to his Party in say the 10+ years prior to his death and then taking into account what has subsequently taken place, hasn’t the present-day Conservative Party fundamentally changed in ways that would have seemed inconceivable only 25 years ago? If Dad was concerned about the rise of spivs and chancers 15 years ago, what on earth would he think of the Tories as they present themselves now?!

So where have the Conservatives of the not so distant past gone to? Yes, many will have passed away, some will have all but been thrown out of the Tory Party and others will have left of their own accord. Yet, even taking that all into account, where have the ‘One Nation’ Tories gone to? Who are they supporting politically in the very much changed right-of-centre political spectrum?

Starmer’s Labour Party seems to be on a mission to recapture the white, working-class, right-wing voters who switched to the Tories in recent years. To do that Labour needs to look, at least to that section of the electorate, more than a little Tory and to have a policy stance right-of-centre. But, of course, these presently Tory backing electors are not middle-class, they don’t have the same values as ‘One Nation’ Tories did so is there any wonder that they’ve changed the Tory Party quite fundamentally. Indeed, Johnson and Starmer act as if the white, working-class, right-wingers are the only part of the electorate they have any interest in!

This situation leaves the majority of the electorate with a feeling of being unwanted unless, of course, they are tribal Tory or Labour voters who will continue to support their own clan no matter what it stands for. But look at it this way, who is fighting for the poor and disadvantaged in our society and who is now fighting for the middle classes? If Labour and Tories are only interested in white, working-class, right-wing voters (predominately those in work) then it means other sections of our society are being politically cut adrift but with the hope that tribal party loyalty will pull them in to vote for their usual party.

We are used to the Labour Party swinging from left to right as such has always been the case, but my view is that the Tory Party is now a very different animal from the one it was only a generation ago. Our politics, in general, is more right-wing as a right-drifting Tory Party has pulled Labour along with it too. As a Social Liberal of the left, I also worry that the Lib Dems have lost some of their radical, progressive edge which was more evident in the Charles Kennedy era.

So my case is that the Conservative Party has fundamentally changed, it has lost its previously dominant ‘One Nation’ Tories and to me, it looks like it has very much embraced spivs and chancers. A party where any form of common, mutual or state ownership is deemed to be another act of socialism that needs to be put back in the private sector. One Nation Tories could at least see a place for some public services being in public hands. And of course, the change here is that the Tory policy agenda these days seemingly has the ‘backing’ of the white, working-class, right-wingers, although in reality they are very much being played as the Conservative Party will always be about the comfortable and wealthy.

And oh yes, what about Partygate? Well, my old Dad being a Conservative with standards thought Boris Johnson was a wrongun donkey’s years ago. I think he’d have said about recent events that the man is no Conservative and should never have been elected as their leader. Indeed, I’m pretty sure Dad would have walked away from the Tories when Johnson became their leader, such was his dislike of the man.

Maghull Health Centre – My letter to Champion newspaper

Dear Sir,

I read with a sense of déjà vu your article about the frustrations of MP Bill Esterson regarding the lack of action/urgency within the NHS to rebuild Maghull Health Centre as I and my then Sefton Council Colleagues, in particular Cllr. Geoff Howe, went around very similar circles about this very same project years ago.

That Maghull Health Centre has not been rebuilt in 2022 and for it not to be a fully-fledged NHS Drop-In Centre is a scandal in my view. I ceased to be a Lib Dem Sefton Councillor for Maghull in 2015 but from around 2000 Geoff and I badgered and pushed various local and regional NHS bodies to get on with a significant rebuild of this outdated building only to go through a cycle of yes, no, and maybes year after year.

It culminated in a senior Sefton Council Officer of the time confirming to me that NHS approvals had been given for the project only for me to be then subsequently attacked by the NHS when I made this news public! This must have been around 2010ish.

That Bill Esterson MP is now getting a similar run-around and is at the end of his tether with NHS funding bodies years later is both depressing but sadly unsurprising.

Yours Sincerely

Tony Robertson

Published 30/03/2022