Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Bicycle transport in Manchester

As a follow up to last week's post about public transport in Greater Manchester, let's talk about my favourite form of transport - bicycling. Bicycles are by far the most environmentally friendly way of travel (other than walking and running) and they keep you fit and healthy. As the phrase goes: One runs on money and makes you fat [car], one runs on fat and saves you money [bicycle]. I ride my bike almost every day, it's my transport to work. I couldn't do without cycling.

Why do I have such a big need for cycling? Well for me, since I don't drive, it is the only way I can get to work on time. Buses don't run early enough for me to get to work for 7am or run late enough for me to get home from work after 11:30pm. And if I was to travel to work via buses, I would have to take 2 buses to get there. Obviously, this can be solved by having a much better bus network. However, cycling is quicker than taking the bus. Even when following the routes of buses I am always quicker than buses due to buses stopping every few minutes for a minute or two to pick up passengers. It's £4 a day for a day rider of the bus and can be more expensive on the trams, and when you're earning around £10 from Job Seeker's Allowance as I was until recently, you can rarely afford to use public transport. Again, that can be solved by changing the public transport system. However it is still less costly both in money and in other resource terms if people travelled by bicycle than by public transport. It can also be quicker, especially for inner city travel.

Why do I believe there is a need for cycling throughout wider society? Well, along with improved public transport, bicycling is a key part in reducing reliance on cars. In the UK, most people own a car. In the world as a whole it's only roughly 14% of people who own a car, so cars are a massive luxury, yet people in Britain today take them for granted as something we have the right to own. Ultimately it is unsustainable for everyone to have a car and use it every single day. I recognise that some people have the need for a car (people who need it for work, some disabled people) and that there is a need to transport more items than you can carry on a bike or a public transport system so I am not opposed to completely getting rid of all cars. People still have transport needs, and I firmly believe bicycling can play an important role in achieving our transport needs. Bicycles, apart from being slower and having less storage to transport things, is as flexible as travelling by car. Unlike public transport you can travel from wherever you want to wherever you want whenever you want. You don't need to find a bus or rail stop, you don't need to wait for a bus or train or tram, and you don't need to pay a fee to travel. The fact that once you've paid for the bike, cycling is pretty much cost free and for lots of people that will mean they are pulled out of transport poverty.

So what's the situation with cycling in Manchester? Well for a long time not a lot happened. There are lots of bicycle lanes throughout the city, but most of them have been poorly looked after and often have cars parked on them. There are a few decent off-bike cycle paths such as the Fallowfield Loop, which while is great, has no lighting so is not used after dark, which in winter will mean people cannot cycle home on it. However, over the last few years some things have really started to happen. Last year the council and Transport for Greater Manchester opened up the Bike Hub, a storage space in the heart of the city centre where people can pay to keep their bike stored while they're at work with shower and changing facilities to wash the sweat away before going to work. However, it costs quite a high monthly fee to use this service and will only suit people who are in well paid jobs, but I suppose as it's making money for the council I don't have an issue with it so much. There are plans to make Oxford Road and some roads in the city centre for bicycle, bus and taxi use only, with segregated bike lanes and "floating bus stops" where the bike lanes travel behind bus stops so bicycles no longer need to overtake buses at their stops. This is a great development and will at least make lots of students feel confident to cycle. There are possible plans for a copy of the London "Boris Bikes" whereby people rent bikes from various points around the city and drop the bike back off at any of these points. Again, like with the Bike Hub I don't think this will do a huge amount to help improve things for people who have little money. There are plans to increase cycle parking at public transport stops, and this has started happening. There is now a new bike shelter at Oxford Road train station and I believe more of these are planned at bus stations, train stations and tram stops.

The problem with these things is they are only a small drop in the ocean. Massive changes need to take place to really make Manchester a cycling city. Bike hubs, the odd few streets with better cycle lanes and a few more bike rails at existing rail stops is not going to have that much of an impact because cycling will still be inaccessible for the vast majority of people. Here's what I believe needs to happen to really make our city a true cycling city:

  • Make our roads, cycle paths, park paths, etc free of potholes so cyclists can have smooth rides without fear of punctures and buckled wheels (happened to me far too many times to remember).
  • Really visible, entirely painted, well maintained, segregated if possible bike lanes throughout the whole cycle. Most cycle lanes are not well painted or maintained and are ignored by motor transport.
  • Decent quality bike rails for parking, angled so that bikes of all heights can use them easily, in well lit visible locations throughout the entire city. Sheltered from the rain is possible. Covered by CCTV so that people can leave their bikes without fearing of it getting stolen. Lots more of these are neededs. Make it mandatory to have a good number of bike rails on high streets, outside shopping centres and retail parks.
  • Allow bicycles on the Metrolink trams. This may require new carriages with bicycle storage so could be a longer term aim. This already happens in many cities throughout the world so I see no reason why this cannot happen in Manchester, and would lead to more people using the Metrolink and buying tickets. Also look into the possibility of having bikes on buses in rural areas as they do in the Lake District. 
  • Properly enforce parking regulations like double yellow lines so that cars are not always parked on bike lanes, making it more dangerous for cyclists. Fining people who park on double yellow lines is one of the only effective ways I see this happening, which will make more money for the council. It will also mean hiring more parking inspectors.
  • Better road systems in general. Sometimes having two general lanes makes it difficult to also have a bike lane, sometimes two lanes makes it better for cyclists. Sometimes one-way roads make it difficult for cyclists, sometimes one-way roads are essential for cyclists.
  • Better car parking. I know this might seem like a backwards step (yeah, it probably is), but cars parking on bike lanes is a really bike problem, and perhaps there is no other solution than to create parking spaces elsewhere for those cars. Not too much though.
  • Provide many free regular bicycle training sessions throughout the whole city. These could start off with cycling around a park, and could build up to cycling on roads to get new cyclists more confidence to ride on the roads. These could also include how to fix your bike.
There are also lots of things that need to happen nationally to make cycling better for all people:
  • Better education in schools on cycling issues. Make it a bigger part of the curriculum.
  • Tax-free bikes full stop. Discriminating against those out of work or those in work places without a tax-free bike system is not the right approach to tackling transport poverty. If planes do not have to pay tax on their fuel, why are bicycles taxed? No more VAT on bikes please! (Well, I think we should scrap VAT altogether but that's another blog post).
  • Better education about the rights and safety of cyclists in general. Every council should have information on what rights cyclists have on the roads. Driving tests should involve more about the rights and safety of cyclists. I'd even like to see TV adverts promoting the safety of cyclists.
  • Improved cycle storage on trains, so that we don't need to book in advance on certain services. Allow bikes on the Eurostar so that people can take their bikes to and from mainland Europe. I got the train recently all the way to Berlin, and if you could get your bike on the Eurostar from London to Paris I could have taken my bike all the way from Manchester to Berlin.
  • Invest in the National Cycle Network, creating tons of new off-road cycle routes. But please do make them suitable for road bikes.
  • Raise minimum wage to at least a living wage, scrap VAT, replace council tax with an addition to income tax, scrap tuition fees, close tax loops, make tax more egalitarian with more and steeper tax bands. Basically create a more equal society. This will mean more people who currently can only afford to pay £12 for a weekly bus pass will be able to afford spending £300+ in one go on a bicycle and buy accessories for the bike. It will also provide more than enough tax to fund all of this.
How can you get involved in improving cycling in Manchester? The last Friday of every month, meeting at Manchester Central Library at 6:00pm for a 6:30pm start is Critical Mass! Please come down and be a part of the biggest cycling movement in perhaps the whole north of England. Attend one of the many bike Fridays where people cycle to city centre from different parts of the city. Support the Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign. Support your local independent bicycle shop. Most importantly - get out on your bike, talk to your friends and work colleagues about cycling and be an ambassador for cycling.

More info:

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Heavy rail vs light rail vs buses. The Greater Manchester public transport debate.

Since public transport in Greater Manchester has changed quite a bit over the years and is set to change a lot again over the next few years I thought I'd weigh up the pros and cons of each type of public transport and give my views on what changes I'd like to see across Greater Manchester. Heavy rail is getting a lot of investment in Manchester with the Northern Hub, a grand project to improve links between cities in the North by a combination of methods including adding 2 new platforms at Piccadilly station, modernising and improving Victoria and Oxford Road train stations and electrifying lines between Manchester and other cities. The Metrolink tram system has had massive expansion in recent years and is set for a whole lot more expansion in the near future linking up more bits of Greater Manchester with, well, Manchester City Centre. There are planned changes for buses as well including making various busy roads in the City Centre only for buses, bikes and taxis. But which method of transport is the best solution to provide the transport needs for the people of Greater Manchester?

The need for better public transport links in Greater Manchester

While I will accept that Manchester has some of the best public transport link in the entire region, there is still a need and a demand for further improvements. A large metropolitan area such as Greater Manchester has many diverse transport needs. From people commuting to work at 6 am or earlier, to elderly people travelling to the local shops, to people going to any of the wide range of events, concerts, pubs, clubs, theatres and restaurants that Manchester has to offer. When I go out to watch bands live my last bus home is around 11:15 pm, which means that sometimes I have to leave the gig early to catch the bus and makes it difficult to stay out late. For people who work in the early hours of the morning or late at night sometimes there just isn't transport available at those hours and people often rely on taxis. Transport between east and west of south Manchester is terrible, I myself would have to catch 2 buses to get to work when it only takes me 15 minutes to travel by bicycle. It's actually often quicker for me to walk the 40 minutes to work than to wait for a bus. Transport in Manchester is largely focussed on getting people to and from Manchester City Centre and as a result transport between the different parts of Greater Manchester suffers. Improvements to public transport routes would make it possible for more people to travel further afield for work, shopping and leisure. A lack of transport is significant contributor towards poverty and lower standards of living. Manchester has some of the poorest areas in the country, and people often cannot afford to own and run a car and depend on public transport. Job Seekers are really restricted in the jobs they can apply for and the interviews they can attend when they are reliant on public transport. I really believe access to affordable, reliable and frequent public transport is key to a vibrant, thriving and happy city. It is also a key contributor towards reaching emission targets to combat climate change. The economic benefits are massive with more people able to travel for work and leisure with more spare money to spend at the same time. It will also attract more tourists at the same time who can visit the many attractions Greater Manchester has to offer.

Heavy rail transport

Trains have always been one of my favourite methods of transport. I love trains and train journeys. I've always wanted to see improvements to the rail network and extra lines opened as trains really do solve so many transport needs. I do think that trains are the best method of transport for travelling between cities and large towns. Build a new train station in a town that doesn't have one and you really are bringing a lot of people out of transport poverty. They're quick and efficient, and are cheaper than owning and travelling by car. Travelling between cities and large towns also enables trains to get to high speeds. Once the network has all been electrified, trains will be running at speeds up to 90 MPH. This is really great and efficient for travelling between cities but not as great for travelling to different parts of the same city. I do think they still hold an important part of inner city travel though. I used to live in Withington, about a 10 minute walk to Mauldeth Road train station, and from that station it was roughly an 11 minute journey to Piccadilly station, a big improvement on the 30 minutes it takes on the bus. A lot of the train lines to the airport, Stockport and parts of Cheshire stop at various parts of east Manchester such as Gorton, Levenshulme, Burnage and East Didsbury. Having these train stops in these places drastically cuts down travel time between those places and the city centre, as well as the other stops on those lines. It can also be cheaper if all you are doing is travelling only between places on those lines. There are some pretty big downsides to rail transport within the city though. Firstly, the lines are not well connected. If you live in Burnage and want to travel to Levenshulme or any stop on the same line as Levenshulme, which includes stops to Stockport and Crewe as well as stops to Buxton you have to change at Manchester Piccadilly. Connecting the lines via rail transport alone would be very difficult and would not be financially viable while travelling by bus between the lines adds a lot of time and cost onto the journey. The second big disadvantage is that unless your station is on a popular line, or various lines then train times will be fairly infrequent, relatively speaking. For example there are only 2 trains an hour between Burnage and Manchester Piccadilly. This greatly increases waiting times, and there isn't a huge amount that can be viably done to improve this as it is difficult to increase the capacity of big train lines. There also is a limit to the number of stations on these lines meaning that some people living on the line live reasonably far away from their nearest train station.

Some of the improvements to the rail services are great. The Northern Hub, the main rail improvement planned in Greater Manchester, in general will bring massive benefits to Manchester. The project is designed to reduce problems caused by what is known as the 'Manchester bottleneck' by increasing capacity of stations in Manchester and reducing journey times. Once the Northern Hub is completed journey times between Manchester and Preston/Blackpool, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and places in between will be reduced partly due to electrifying lines between cities so that trains can run at faster speeds. How much quicker will train journeys be? Well the 47 minute journey to Liverpool Lime Street will be reduced to 30 minutes, the 54 minute journey between Leeds and Manchester will be reduced to 40 minutes while journey times between Manchester and Chester will fall from 1 hour 3 minutes to 40 minutes. With capacity at both Piccadilly station (which is getting 2 new platforms that are not terminus) and Victoria station being increased, an extra 2 trains per hour between Manchester and Leeds and Liverpool will be running. For those who commute between cities for work this will bring great improvements to their lives, and will even make it possible for more people to be able to commute. A route between Piccadilly and Victoria stations is being build, the Ordsall Chord. This will enable some lines to stop at Victoria, onwards to Piccadilly (via Deansgate and Oxford Road) and potentially finishing at the airport. Piccadilly, Victoria, Oxford Road, Salford Cresent and Manchester Airport stations are all getting improvements. Piccadilly and Manchester Airport are getting new platforms while Victoria (voted the worst train station in the UK in 2009) is getting a massive facelift which includes new shops and a brand new modern roof. The main disadvantage I can see from the Northern Hub is that a lot of services, particularly Liverpool to Leeds/York via Manchester will be switched from Piccadilly station to Victoria station, partly in order to further reduce journey times and to increase overall capacity of both stations. The problem with this at the moment is that Piccadilly station has a lot more transport links than Victoria and so is easier to get to for a lot of people. However, links to Victoria are improving and as Victoria becomes more used it will become more viable for buses and trams to better serve Victoria station.

While we're talking about heavy rail, it's important to mention HS2. HS2 needs to be scrapped. There is a desperate need for investment in our rail network, but there is no desperate need for shorter journeys from Manchester or Birmingham to London. Spending those billions on either opening new rail lines, electrification of more existing lines or increasing the capacity of existing lines in other ways is what's really needed and what will really help people who need to travel by train. Let's not also forget that HS2 may well lead to other nearby areas losing services to London, such as Crewe and Liverpool where HS2 will not be going to.

Light rail/trams/The Metrolink

I recently spent a week in Berlin. Berlin has amazing public transport services - heavy trains, light trains, underground trains and buses. Looking at the routes in the Berlin transport network, it reminded me of both London and Manchester. Manchester is the only place in the UK outside of London which has a big and expanding light rail network, the Manchester Metrolink. There are major differences between the transport network in Berlin and Manchester though as you'd obviously expect. Greater Manchester has one major city with one single city centre surrounded by commuter towns with their town centres, and major transport links mostly focus in linking the smaller towns up with the larger city via the city centre. Berlin, like London, doesn't have just one small area it can call it's 'city centre'. Like London, Berlin is more like a collection of towns each with their own communities and unique town/city centres so transport routes are more diverse. In Greater Manchester this leads to one big issue with the light rail network - all the  lines on the Metrolink are just between one part of Greater Manchester and Manchester City Centre. There is no linking up different parts of Greater Manchester together, unless of course it is on the way to Manchester City Centre. You can of course change at Manchester City Centre and get on another line and go somewhere else in Greater Manchester, but the detour via city centre makes the journey often a lot longer and more expensive. What I would like to see with the Metrolink is greater connections between parts of Greater Manchester, and I see that as it's greatest potential strength. Light rail is somewhere between heavy rail and buses in terms of journey times versus frequency of stops. The more stops a public transport method has, the more accessible it is, but also the slower it is. It is impossible to serve lots of inner city areas via rail and get to 90 MPH speeds that heavy rail can reach and is difficult to build lots of train stations close to one another, but I don't think this means we need to rely on buses for inner city transport. Light rail offers a faster way to travel than buses and a more frequent service than trains stopping at more stops along the way. Tram stops are much easier to build than train stations.

The Metrolink originally just served Bury to city centre and Altrincham to city centre when it opened in 1992. In 1999 the line connecting Eccles to the city centre via the existing Cornbrook stop opened. It stayed this way for a further 12 years until the South Manchester line was opened as far as Chorlton and St Werburgh's Road. This was part of a bigger plan to greatly expand the network over the next few years. Further 4 lines were planned to be opened within the following 5 years. Rochdale via Oldham line was opened in 2012. However, the Rochdale via Oldham line wasn't so much as an expansion of the rail network as a conversion from heavy rail to light rail. This was advantages and disadvantages. There are now lots more stops between Rochdale, Oldham and Manchester City Centre serving many people who lived far away from the original train stations, however journey times between Oldham and Manchester have significantly increased. Furthermore the people of Oldham were without a rail service for 3 years while the line was converted to light rail. In 2013 the South Manchester line was extended to East Didsbury and the line from Piccadilly to Ashton was opened. A line from Manchester Airport to the city centre via Wythenshawe and the existing St Werburgh's Road stop is due to open in 2015 but could open later in 2014. There are various proposed expansions of the Metrolink, most likely are the Trafford line, which will go from the Pomona stop (currently on the Eccles line) to the Trafford Centre via Trafford Park and extending the East Didsbury line to Stockport. There is also proposals for tram-trains to be introduced, where tram-trains can be used both on tram tracks and train tracks, and the possibilities that come with that idea are huge.

There are some disadvantages to light rail. Light rail, like heavy rail requires rail tracks to be built. While with light rail you can have tracks built on roads, that really restricts how effective the service is. If trams run on roads it restricts how frequent the trams are and slows down all other transport on the roads while the trams are running through. This means that light rail works best off-road and luckily Manchester still has a lot of it's old rail network that was closed after the Beeching report in the 1970s that can be used for the Metrolink. However even with various other off-road routes that Greater Manchester potentially has that still is not enough to full-fill all the transport needs. I could see potentially the councils and governments eventually making compulsory purchase orders on many disused or underused non-residential sites and also brownfield sites to expend the Metrolink system. Until then I don't see how lots of areas will be served by public transport without buses.

Something worth considering about heavy rail versus light rail is that light rail increases journey times between places because of lower speeds and increasing number of stops. Yes you can reach more people because of extra stops, but it greatly increases journey times between really populated areas. Take the East Didsbury line, Chorlton is by far the most popular stop on the line. I usually notice perhaps 30 or 40 people getting on at Chorlton whereas other stops might have about 10 people getting on. Journey times between Chorlton station and Market Street Metrolink stop are 16 minutes on the Metrolink whereas journey times between Levenshulme train station and Piccadilly station are only 5 minutes via train and is a similar distance. Would the East Didsbury line be better served as a heavy rail line with fewer stops and much less travel times? I'm not sure. If you just had 3 or 4 stops between East Didsbury and Deansgate rather than the current 10 stops you might be able to shorten that 16 minutes to 5 minutes perhaps, and perhaps that would be better. It would make it less accessible for hundreds if not thousands of people. Same goes for the Bury line. Before the Victoria Metrolink stop temporarily closed for refurbishment took about 23 minutes to get from Bury to Victoria train station on the Metrolink stopping at 9 stops in between. If it was a heavy rail line with perhaps no more than 3 or 4 stops between Bury and Victoria journey times might be reduced to perhaps only 12 or 15 minutes rather than 23 minutes. I'm undecided about what is overall more liberating to more people, shorter journey times in more populated areas and less services in less populated areas, or more services in less populated areas but longer journey times for people in well populated areas. Overall, considering that the alternative is buses the Metrolink is a nice balance between the two.

One thing that is interesting about the Manchester Metrolink is that it is nationalised. Sort of. It is operated by the RATP Group (RĂ©gie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) which is a French nationalised company owned by the French government. This makes me both happy and sad. I'm happy that some of the profit from the Metrolink is going to a public sector, I'm just saddened that we cannot make this a British public-owned and run company/industry so that the profits can be put back into public services in our own country. But public ownership of industries or certain industries is a whole other topic I may cover at another date on this blog. All I will say now is that there is a lot of profit and potential profit with public transport in the UK and I would much rather that profit was going to the public-sector so that government and councils have more money to spend on services that are useful to people rather than going to business owners, directors and shareholders. Or it could be invested into improving our public transport system, perhaps decreasing ticket fares.


Buses are the main form of transport in Greater Manchester that link up all the different areas in Greater Manchester. Most other forms of transport simply take you to Manchester City Centre. Buses are the easiest form of transport to expand as bus stops are easy and cheap to put up in almost any road. However buses are also the slowest of the main forms of public transport because they have to follow the normal traffic on the roads, traffic lights and there's usually a bus stop every few hundred metres, and sometimes they take long and winding routes. The fact that there are so many bus stops does make buses the most accessible in terms of how close you are to the service. The vast majority of people in Greater Manchester are within walking distance of their closest bus stop. However, buses are also know for being one of the most unreliable forms of public transport out there. Because they run on ordinary roads and only have their own bus lanes in highly populated areas close to town centres and city centres, and also because the driver has to stop at each stop and sell tickets to most of the passengers boarding means that it's much more difficult for buses to run on time. In large parts of Manchester, especially around Oxford Road/Wilmslow Road this isn't so much of an issue because at peak times there are several buses a minute. But for areas in Greater Manchester where there is only a couple of buses an hour, being 10 or 15 minutes late is a regular frustration and can even make people late for work.

There are plans to help reduce congestion and journey times around the city centre by making some of the roads for the use of buses, bicycles and taxis only. The plans include turning large sections of Oxford Road, particularly at the universities into bus, bicycle and taxi only roads, as well changing some roads in the city centre to allow better bus links between Piccadilly Gardens and Shudehill bus stations. Transport for Greater Manchester have produced 2 brilliant videos on the proposals. This video for the the proposed changes to Oxford Road:

The following video is on the proposed changes to the city centre:



It seems to me that a wide range of public transport methods are needed across Greater Manchester. Ultimately we need a well connected transport network with trains linking major populated areas such as cities and big towns, trams linking up as many significant parts of Greater Manchester as realistically possible and buses filling the gaps that cannot be filled by rail including connecting the different tram and train lines. An important change, if possible, to how the Metrolink works is allowing bicycles onto trams to help cyclists shorten their journey times. An area all forms of public transport needs is to provide more services, later services and earlier services. There is a clear demand for better public transport services late at night and early in the morning. So I want to see more heavy and light rail journeys being made so that people can save time and perhaps even money travelling to wherever it is that they need to go. While bus journeys do have their advantages, using buses for longer journeys takes a lot of time that could be cut by introducing more tram and even train lines. Currently around 80% of public transport journeys in Greater Manchester are on buses. It takes me half an hour to travel from Whalley Range where I live to city centre, that's an hour return trip, and Whalley Range isn't that far from the city centre. If I lived next to my closest tram stop, that would be cut by over a third to a 38 minute round trip giving me over 20 minutes more free time to enjoy life. I'm certain the same could be said for many tens or hundreds of thousands of people in Greater Manchester who would benefit massively from a better public transport system. Cyclists, pedestrians and even motorists would benefit from a better public transport system as well. Better public transport leads to less people using cars, which makes the roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians alike while reducing traffic jams and journey times for remaining motorists.

A huge factor in defeating transport poverty is to integrate the ticketing system into one smart card, similar to London's Oyster Card and simplify the pricing so that using multiple services does not become unaffordable. Currently it is cheaper to get a bus pass for one bus provider and to just use that bus service, whereas a connected transport network works best if people use a wide range of transport methods. If you can get a bus to your nearest tram or train station and use rail to get where you need to, that will ultimately save time. If we can have a smart card that has an upper limit on daily, weekly and monthly spending it will make this financially viable. Currently there are 2 different systems that run like this, the System One Travelcard, which is mostly for buses but can also be used on trains and trams, and the soon to be launched 'get me there'. The problem with System One Travelcards at the moment is that they are for passes only and I think they are only in paper ticket format. get me there launches this year for Metrolink users. Next year get me there will be available to use on buses, and at some point after that you will be able to use get me there cards for train journeys within Greater Manchester. I'm not sure how get me there will work out pricewise but I sure do hope it will drastically reduce travel costs. When it's fully finished it will be pretty much just like the Oyster card, but for Greater Manchester and System One Travelcards will stop being used in Greater Manchester. While I would like to see public transport be free for everyone, that is a massive challenge that first requires nationalisation of our public transport which I believe we are ready for. In the mean time to improve public transport it helps if there are economic benefits.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Why I will not (in general) support the Labour Party.

Labour's response to Brighton & Hove Green Party's call for a referendum on a council tax rise to protect care services for the vulnerable has inspired me to write a blog post on why I don't (in general) support the Labour Party.

To explain my views on Labour it may be worth looking back through my life and my first political memories. I was born in 1987 when Thatcher was still in power but John Major was the first prime minister that I remember knowing about. I didn't know much about him other than he was in the Conservative Party, and all I knew about the Conservative Party is that they claimed to care about Britain. The first general election I remember was 1997 when Tony Blair's New Labour won power from the Tories watching the results live with Peter Snow's excellent statistical analysis and famous "swingometer". I was 9 years old. The following years I heard very little about party politics, certainly nothing that I remember hearing and thinking positively about. In fact, the only political thing I became aware of (outside of animal rights) while I was at high school was the Iraq war and the protests against it, which I supported. During history lessons I learnt about communism and fell in love with what I later learnt was actually egalitarianism, which I am still in love with. When I was 16 I picked up Michael Moore's book Stupid White Men and it changed my life for the better. I was expecting a comedy book but it's mostly political. It's largely about the corruption going on in corporations who were sacking workers but giving big bonuses to the bosses at the top, with the governments also giving them tax breaks. These were companies that were doing business in the UK and were also getting tax cuts from the UK government. The Labour UK government. I never heard anything from the Labour Party which condemned this corruption and to this day I still haven't. In fact under Blair the gap between rich and poor increased. In 2007 I got to vote for the first time ever. I was living in Poulton-le-Fylde, a very strong Conservative town. We received 1 election leaflet, from the Conservative Party and that was it. No one knocked on our door. In my ward they were electing 2 councillors so I gave one vote to the Conservative Party and one vote to the Labour Party, no other party stood. At that time I honestly could not tell what the difference was between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, their literature was quite similar. Neither party really pushed a distinct set of policies that I could use to define that party in my head. The leaflet I received just explained who the candidates were and didn't explain anything about the policies of the party. I had no way of telling which party was more right-wing and which was more left-wing.

In the following 2 years (2007-2009) the only things I really heard about the Labour Party happened to be the expenses scandal and the bailout of the banks, neither of which I could ever support. At the same time I was discovering more about politics at university in Manchester. The Socialist Workers Party introduced me to Marxism and the idea of a socialist revolution, as well as the British National Party and made me a life long supporter of Palestine, although I never joined the SWP or became a Marxist. I learnt that the Labour UK government was a big supporter of Israel and sold weapons to their government. In the run up to the 2009 European elections the SWP and Unite Against Fascism held many actions to encourage people to vote against the BNP in the election. All these radical ideas that I supported were not coming from the Labour Party, but the Socialist Workers Party. The following 2009 European election broadcast persuaded me then to vote for the Green Party:

Finally here was a party saying what I wanted to hear. Finally here was a party standing up and challenging the corruption that lies within big corporations. A party who thinks it's government responsibility to tackle climate change so we can lower our impact on the environment. A party who wants to invest in jobs and nationalise industries. This appealed to me a lot, and I had to read up on their policies. Delighted with their animal rights policies and falling in love with the citizen's income I joined the Green Party a few months later and have been with the Greens ever since. The Labour Party however just seemed to me to support the injustices made by free market economics instead of challenge them.

In 2010 I was involved in a general election for the first time ever supporting the Greens in Hulme, Manchester. It was the first time I discovered Labour election tactics. My goodness do Labour play dirty tricks, trying to discredit our candidate by all means possible even if this included spreading false truths and lies rather than giving people reasons why Labour were the right choice. After Labour lost the general election and Gordon Brown resigned, Labour received the biggest intake in new members in a generation although this was partly due to members rejoining after leaving due to the Iraq war. I paid small attention to the Labour leadership election, and I was still hearing+* no mention of great radical left-wing reforms from anyone but Diane Abbot who had no chance of winning the election. The favourites, the Miliband brothers never spoke about their views on direction of policy. Since Ed Miliband was elected as leader, the Labour Party have done little but criticize the Tory-led coalition government for doing things that they would have done if they were in power. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have both stated several times that they will not reverse the cuts and many other reforms the coalition government has brought in if they won the next general election. I am yet to be convinced that the Labour Party have radically changed since the Blair and Brown days. I still don't hear the Labour Party challenging the injustices made by free market economics suggesting in fact that they may well still support free market economics.

I hope you can understand when I say that I have no confidence that the Labour Party will drag the country in a radically different position to that of the Tories. From what I've noticed, in general Labour groups in councils follow the line dictated by the national leaders, that we must oppose the Tories in national government while not proposing anything radically different. However, I'm going to say something positive now. There are some Labour politicians that I support such as Tony Benn, Diane Abbot, John McDonnell, Kerry McCarthy and Jeremy Corbyn as well as some councillors. Left-leaning Labour councillors have managed to push through some good policies such as imposing the living wage for all council workers in many councils. When I say I will not (in general) support the Labour Party, I do not mean I will never support the Labour Party. As with most Green Party politicians, if I was ever elected I would support initiatives on a case by case basis, depending whether or not I support the proposal regardless of who proposed it.

The Labour Party continue to oppose anyone who doesn't support the Labour Party, even if it means opposing progress for the working class or opposing progress towards Labour's own values. Labour's attitude towards the Green Party in Brighton has fully cemented my position of disliking the Labour Party. Many Labour members like Caroline Lucas, yet the party are determined to de-seat her in the next general election rather than putting their resources into de-seating a Tory MP. Like in the national government, the Labour group on Brighton & Hove City Council oppose the party in administration at all costs and that often leads to rejecting proposals that are close to Labour values because they do not want to be seen to be supporting the Green Party, and that is a position I cannot support. They are making things worse for people for their own political gains. I hope the people of Brighton can see through this. Their latest tantrum is opposing the Green Party's proposal for a referendum on a council tax rise to protect care services for the vulnerable. They aren't going to vote against it but will instead abstain, obviously playing politics - neither supporting or objecting to the proposal in order for them to say they didn't support the Green Party and to also say they didn't oppose letting the people of Brighton decide for themselves what they want.

As soon as the Labour Party state they will reverse the cuts the current coalition government have imposed, give more power to local councils, start to nationalise lots of services and industries, invest heavily in public transport, impose big increases in tax to the wealthy in society, increase minimum wage to at least the living wage and promise to tackle climate change by investing in renewable energy and taxing plane fuel, etc, I will gladly reconsider my position but I honestly don't see that happening in my lifetime I'm afraid to say.