This is a guest post, written by Helen McDonald, Southend Labour’s candidate for Kursaal ward at the 2016 local elections. As such, the views and opinions expressed may differ radically from your blogger’s own. Some of them may even make sense…
On Saturday 6th February I attended the c2c Public Meeting at the Thameside Theatre in Grays. I arrived knowing that services are overcrowded and the changes to stopping patterns have not been well received by the majority of passengers travelling to and from Southend. I left knowing the same but with the added knowledge that it’s not just Southend residents who are furious and with assurance from Chris Atkinson, Communications and Stakeholder Manger, and Kevin Frazer, Delivery Director, that: “it’s going to improve”. The precise details of exactly how or when this might happen were sketchy but let’s not worry about little things like that just yet.
As conference came to an end this week, Southend Labour had a visitor call.
Polly Billington is the Labour candidate for Thurrock at next year’s general election, which takes on a particular relevance with UKIP currently talking up their chances. I think UKIP are grossly overestimated, and besides — Thurrock would do far better with Polly.
Despite doubtless being still fatigued from Manchester, she sat and talked about all sorts of issues common to South East Essex — particularly rail ownership. C2C have a good reputation locally (Well, they’re in competition with Greater Anglia… -Ed), but as Polly pointed out, that’s on the back of heavy investment from the taxpayer. It is, basically, a monopoly subsidised with money from you and me.
They don’t even pay their cleaners a living wage, and fares only ever move in one direction.
If the people of Thurrock want real representation, an MP who knows and cares about what matters in the lives of the everyman and -woman, then they need look no further than Polly.
Mark Flewitt is right (on this issue).
Not often you’ll see me blog those words, but the latest post on his perennially entertaining blog actually has a point. In a blog entitled “Rail disgrace…….but is here hope?” (n.b. I’m far from sure that is the precise number of periods he uses in his overextended ellipsis) Mark says:
“I am determined to work with Abellio Greater Anglia in their efforts to improve but the starting point is too low at the moment and the delays suffered on this line with no cooling system, poor old carriage stock from about 1987 means passengers are fleeced financially without any real return”
I pointed out on this very blog a few weeks back that Southend is a case study of the best and the worst of rail privatisation, and in my experience the Greater Anglia Southend Victoria to London Liverpool Street line is one of the worst examples.
So Mark has correctly, if lately, identified the problem. Prices on that line are sky high, and have marched ever upwards over the years, and yet far too little has been invested in improving the service or giving passengers value for money.
Sadly, though, Mark seems blind to both the causes of and solutions to these problems.
You can, I believe, tell a lot about a party’s policy by how it’s opponents react to it. When Ed Miliband announced an energy price freeze, the Conservatives denounced it as dangerous socialism, even as those at the sharp end of ever inflating bills welcomed it. When Labour announced measures to prevent excessive rent hikes and landlords turfing tenants out, Grant Shapps labelled it “Venezuelan-style rent controls”.
So when the Labour Party announced that they would permit the state to bid for rail franchises, the Tory reaction was of great interest to me. And, predictably, this was what James Duddridge (who may as well be Grant Shapps’ puppet) tweeted:
Like I said, predictable. And a shame, too, because not only is Mr Duddridge willfully misrepresenting the policy, but Southend is actually one of the places which it would best serve.