Rail strike mayhem for commuters
HUNDREDS of thousands of commuters face a month of chaos as union barons today launch the longest strike in the history of British railways.
The unprecedented 7-day action will see 850 services cancelled every day on South Western Railway (SWR), one of England’s busiest operators. The action by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) will cause misery for an estimated 16million passengers at one of the busiest times of the year. The walkout is being held because of the threat of driver-only trains.
A spokesman for SWR – who has warned commuters to be prepared for mayhem – said: ‘We have done everything we can and more to meet the RMT’s outdated demands with our promise of a guard on every train and a safety critical role for that guard.’
Rail minister Chris HeatonHarris said: ‘This strike from the militant RMT is a taste of things to come if Corbyn takes power.’
You’RE not going to like this but I’m going to say it anyway: it’s time to start thinking about the next election. No, not the one next week. Not even the spring 2020 contest we’ll be having if there’s another hung parliament. Instead, the election to keep an eye on is the poll for the Scottish parliament in 2021.
A Panelbase poll for a Sunday newspaper suggests the SNP may have peaked. According to Professor John Curtice, this poll would translate to a Scottish parliament in which the nationalist bloc (the SNP and the Greens) lost its overall majority, with 64 seats rather than the 65 required to control Holyrood. The unionist parties would both make gains, with the Tories and the Lib Dems picking up four seats apiece, but Labour would fall back, this time to 21 seats.
If nationalism is stalled, can the Tories pull out in front? We must start by accepting that the SNP will likely win a majority of seats once again next week. However, if YouGov’s MRP polling is accurate, the Scottish Conservatives could hold all but two of their Westminster seats two weeks from now. Party strategists will also be looking to see if the Tories make further gains outwith their traditional heartlands.
East Lothian was once a Labour stronghold, though the Conservatives pulled off a distant second in 2010 and the seat fell to the SNP in 2015. Labour’s Martin Whitfield, who took it back in 2017, teeters on a precarious majority of 3,000. Former justice secretary Kenny MacAskill is contesting it for the SNP this time and YouGov’s MRP polling puts him in the lead. That same poll has Whitfield only three points ahead of the Tory candidate. on a bad night for Labour, the Tories could come second again.
The SNP is projected to retain Lanark and Hamilton East. The 2017 result, which saw the Tories leapfrog Labour into second place, raised eyebrows when Ruth Davidson’s party cut the Nationalist majority from 10,000 to less than 300. YouGov’s prediction is for Labour to finish 16 points behind the Conservatives. In Central Ayrshire, the SNP’s Philippa
Whitford is predicted to hold on but YouGov finds the Tories 22 points ahead of Labour in once solid Labour territory.
If there are signs of continued progress in the Central Belt, the Tories will start to shift resources there in preparation for 2021. But they still have to convert gradual growth into victories, and that is where things get challenging.
Davidson’s resignation set the party back at the very time it needed to rebuild momentum, but what happens next will have a lot to do with her legacy. The Ruth revolution was not simply about restoring the electoral fortunes of a political party. It was about forcing a cultural realignment and fashioning a new model of Scottish Tory voter – ex-Labour, nongraduate, and Central Belt.
These are voters whose social views (particularly on criminal justice and welfare) make them natural conservatives but who, for reasons of economics and history, have never voted Conservative.
What Davidson saw before anyone else was that the 2015 General Election result, in which the Nationalists took 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats, would come to benefit the Tories in the long term. By finally smashing the Labour monopoly on Scotland, the SNP freed hundreds of thousands of voters from a lifetime of electoral behaviour predestined by class and habit. For now, the SNP wins most of these votes but it cannot claim the near-familial loyalty the Labour Party once did. It will be easier for these electors to break from the SNP than it was to split from Labour.
This is why Nicola Sturgeon’s 2015 victory was doubly historic: she didn’t just secure a landslide for the SNP, she created a new electorate for Scotland. Thus far, the Tories have limited their interactions with these voters to opposing independence and calling for tougher sentences. But they will have to go beyond these basics and offer a holistic conservatism that speaks to the lives and concerns of ordinary voters. Being against constitutional upheaval is all very well but the public is more concerned about school standards, hospital waiting times and the cost of living, and the Tories need to make those their priorities too.
The hard part will be substantive change: restructuring conservatism for demographics who have considered ‘Tory’ the ultimate four-letter word.
Winning enough of them over to put the Tories in with a chance of becoming the largest party at Holyrood will require a new popular conservatism. The Tories should not abandon free-market economics but they should recognise that sometimes the market needs a little nudge here and there, whether from the Government or unions. Scottish Conservatives should become champions of the Living Wage and demand stricter enforcement of the National Minimum Wage.
They ought to recognise the unions’ success in reining in shoddy management and raising pay. They should grasp the value of public expenditure in building up the infrastructure and services that poorer communities rely on. Every party fights for rail commuters’ votes; someone should be the party of bus passengers.
Blue-collar conservatism isn’t just about bringing conservatism to workingand lower-middle-class voters; it’s also about bringing their innately conservative values to a Tory Party that has become fixed on economic libertarianism at the expense of family, custom, tradition and values. What more pointed symbol of this than a Tory Prime Minister campaigning to hire 20,000 new police officers in England after his Tory predecessors cut 20,000 cops to make efficiencies? There is such a thing as society and a strong society makes it easier to live the Good Life.
In the wee small hours of Friday, December 13, we will find out whether Ruth Davidson was a flash in the pan or whether she sparked a revolution that is just getting started.