The Thick of It


Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm quite big in Sweden

I've always wanted to be a Swedish Hero and now I am. Click on play to see what I've been up to...

Perhaps the UK's TV Licensing should try the carrot instead of stick approach here? Or would we British not respond to that?

Social recession?

David Cameron has claimed that Labour has caused a "social recession." Perhaps he is pointing this out as he aims to deepen it?

His timing is ill thought. Figures released today show overall crime down again, following yesterday's fall in unemployment. This also comes a day after the Tories confirmed that they would close thousands of Sure Start centres. The Tories would take help away from ordinary working families, using the money to instead reward marriage. How they think a small tax break will convince people to either get married or stay married is beyond me. Instead they will penalise single parents or those who choose not to get married by taking away support they would otherwise have had to bring up their children. That will lead to a social recession.

The level of social support the poorest have had under Labour is unprecedented in the modern era. A minimum wage, better schools and hospitals, Sure Start, tax credits and regeneration of our cities are just a few of the major Labour achievements. It is also incredibly short sighted to suggest that whatever social problems we have today have just arrived.

If Cameron's support for marriage is the only answer he has to our social ills then we are in for a really deep social recession if the Tories were to gain power.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oyster pay as you go on South West Trains? Part two.

I tested the confusing and complicated implementation of Oyster Pay as You Go (PAYG) on South West Trains last weekend. I have a monthly zones 1-2 travelcard and wanted to travel from Finsbury Park in zone 2 to Teddington in zone 6.

Starting my journey at Finsbury Park I added an Oyster Extension Permit (OEP) and topped up my PAYG balance. When I touched out at Teddington my card showed a £2 reduction. Everything had worked as I expected.

I anticipated problems on my return journey later that evening. I would need a new OEP as (I thought) one is needed for each journey outside my zones. Teddington station doesn't sell any Oyster products and there is no local newsagent I could use instead. I gambled and tapped my Oyster in at the start of my journey. When I reached Waterloo I tapped out and £2 had been deducted. Exactly as on my journey with OEP, so not having one on my return made no difference. Is this a concession from South West Trains (unlikely) in lieu of not providing OEPs from their ticket machines?

If South West Trains close this loophole what am I to do? Buy a paper extension ticket? This would mean that Oyster PAYG on their services would be useless to me. I can't buy extension tickets from SWT ticket machines either. I'd be left with one option - paying for the same journey twice to cover myself.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Oyster pay as you go on South West Trains?

If you believed the leaflets and posters at South West Trains stations you'd be led to believe that you could use Oyster pay as you go on their trains now. You can if you want to pay for your journey entirely on pay as you go. What about those of us who have monthly travelcards and want to travel out of zone on SWT services by using pay as you go to "top up" our journey as we do on the tube? We have to get an "Oyster Extension Permit" for each out of zone journey.

I frequently travel from Islington where I live to South West London where I grew up. I can get an extension at Finsbury Park, Highbury and Islington or Angel. However, when I want to return from Hampton or Teddington I can't get another permit because SWT ticket machines don't sell them. The SWT stations I use are also far away from newsagents that sell Oyster and those that are "close" are closed after 6pm meaning I can't get a permit for evening journeys.

This means I'm stuck either having to queue for 20-30 minutes at Waterloo to get a paper return, risk fare evasion or buy a travelcard to avoid queuing and pay for parts of my journey twice. You couldn't make it up.

Boris Watch has written about this absurdity. Reading the comments shows how little SWT wanted to accept PAYG and how unwieldy the implementation has been. Diamond Geezer found the same. I really don't understand why something that could and should be so simple has to be so complicated. A little use of governmental iron fist would have been useful here, rather than leaving it to our disinterested mayor to negotiate.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Poor decision making at number 10 leads to media storm

I've already written that Hoon and Hewitt's call for a ballot on Brown's leadership was careless and damaging. Much subsequent comment has focused on the delay of the cabinet in supporting the Prime Minister. This has been taken to be a sign that the cabinet is not behind Brown.

Rather than sinister I believe this was a tactical mistake from Brown's team. A massive mistake at that. Perhaps Brown's advisers thought it better not to comment on the attempted coup for fear of making news out of something they thought they could get away with. How they thought that the Tories and media wouldn't find out or make great play of this is unfathomable. Absurd.

If they came out in support in the end then why not come out earlier? It is rather perplexing.  I've long suggested that Brown's major weakness is the poor quality of the team around him. He may have again received poor advice and unfortunately has agreed with it. Hoon and Hewitt have not, unwittingly, unearthed anything new here. Brown's advisers haven't helped him and he hasn't helped himself by taking so long to act on key issues, like MPs expenses.

Out of adversity comes strength and the level of positivity coming from all sides of the grass roots Labour movement since Hoon-Hewitt's letter has been heartening. The party is tired of infighting and is largely behind Brown in a manner that might not have been the case before this affair. As Labour List states, it is only Fiona Mactaggart who has come out in support of Hoon-Hewitt.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Labour needs unity - there is an election coming!

Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt's letter to Labour MPs calling for a secret ballot on Gordon Brown's future is self indulgent and potentially destructive. Arguments are always best held in private and voters always take a dim view of political parties squabbling in public. That was the harsh lesson Labour learnt from the 1980s and many in the party seem to have forgotten this.

Less than five months before an election this only damages whatever credibility the Labour Party and Gordon Brown hold. It damages Labour because it shows that the party is more interested in itself than the country. Labour talks about internal issues draws a contrast with the Tories who are claiming to offer practical solutions for the country's problems. It damages Brown because any leader fully in command of his party is immovable. Hoon and Hewitt are saying to voters that not everybody in the part respects Brown. If the party doesn't, why should the country?

I'm happy for this letter to be a Labour suicide note for Hoon and Hewitt but not for the party. Labour needs to remember that the tough lesson of opposition was that only a united party is taken seriously by the public. Secondly Labour needs to remember that appealing to a core vote won't bring victory. Mandelson is right that the working class alone will not bring victory. It didn't in the 1980s and won't do today.

For Labour to appeal to anyone it needs to start talking to the country.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Boris hits Londoners in the pocket - again

Boris Johnson's increase to bus and tube fares was widely reported yesterday. His second successive above inflation rises to fares seem to have woken Londoners up to the stark reality that having a clown as mayor is far from funny.

Back in 2008 many Londoners might have thought that electing Johnson was a "funny" risk they could afford. The reaction to this year's fare increases as the city went back to work showed that voters now see that their mayor doesn't have their best interests at heart. He has denied himself millions in revenue by both scrapping the western extension to the Congestion Charge and unnecessarily spurned cash in scrapping bendy buses. We are being asked to pay more for less. An Oyster pay as you go bus journey now costs one third more than when Johnson took office. Increasing pay as you go fares disproportionally hits the poorest, those who can't afford to shell out for annual or monthly tickets.

Johnson doesn't care that he has put ordinary Londoners out of pocket in a recession. Those most affected probably didn't vote for him anyway. As Tory Troll has pointed out, Johnson's tone is very different when offering words of support to the bankers who paid for his mayoral campaign.

Boris campaigned to"stretch the taxpayer pound to give Londoners more bang for their buck " This is less bank and more buck.Will this finally awaken Londoners to the true cost of voting Conservative? A vote your pocket cannot afford.