On the road again (pt 432)

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I’ve added a lot more old Sri Lanka pix to my Zenfolio website. This will be the last one for a while as I’m not going to have any opportunity for time-consuming slide scanning over the next few months.

Later today I head to Birmingham for tomorrow’s National Rail Conference, after which I hot-foot it to Crewe to join the teams from the rail industry competing in the 3-peaks charity event for the Railway Children. I was approached to help so offered my services as the official photographer for the event. We’re travelling by special train between the three peaks in what promises to be an eventful (if mostly sleep free) event. The train will be everyone’s home for the length of the event. I’ll try and add a few comments and maybe some pictures as we go. After travelling back from Fort William on Saturday I end up at Preston before heading home to a comfortable bed!

After that it’s time to take up my role as a judge for the ACoRP awards. This means I’ll be travelling the length & breadth of the UK over the next couple of months. So, who knows where you might bump into me…

 

Decision day.

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I have to say, I’ve never known a general election like this. So many people are expressing their confusion and angst over who to vote for. Comment after comment on Facebook is from friends who are clearly torn over which box to put their cross in. “A pox on both your houses” seems to be a common sentiment as the choice between Labour and Tories is seen by many as being between the devil and the deep blue sea.

I went to the dentists this morning. Whilst I was having my teeth checked the hygenist and her assistant started discussing the election. The young assistant admitted she probably wouldn’t vote as she didn’t know who to vote for and didn’t really understand the issues. The hygenist mentioned that she had a Labour MP whom she liked, but may back the Tories as (although she didn’t like Brexit) she wanted it to be sorted out.

I was asked for my opinion, so I pointed out the emptiness in May’s rhetoric and her suicidal willingness to countenance a hard Brexit. I wasn’t much kinder about Labour, but I did mention they may make less of a mess of Brexit. The conversation wasn’t untypical of ones I’ve had elsewhere.

Frankly, it’s terrifying that on such a crucial issue as Brexit, the main parties have colluded in keeping voters in the dark about the reality of what we’re facing. It’s clear to me that many more enlightened and educated voters are seeing this, hence their quandry over who to vote for. Equally terrifying is the way the right-wing press are pushing for the Tories and a hard Brexit. It really does feel like the country is rushing headlong over a cliff, egged on by the billionaires and others who will benefit.

Could the election yet throw up a surprise? I believe it might, although I’m pessimistic. I’ve never known so many people willing to ditch old allegiences (including myself). I suspect we’re going to see voter mobility and tactical voting on an unprecedented scale, but I’ve no idea where it will take us.

It’s going to be a long night…

Election thoughts…

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I’ve resisted the temptation to blog about the general election on a regular basis, mainly because it’s such a depressing event. The ‘choice’ is between two parties, neither of whom I’d trust to run the UK. Despite my past loyalties I can’t work up any enthusiasm for a Labour party led by Corbyn and his team and I really don’t see why he’s held in such adulation by his followers. As for toxic Teresa May and her mob…

The old political adage that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them could have been written especially for this particular election. Despite being 21 points ahead in the polls when she called it, May’s had an awful election campaign as it’s exposed her weaknesses. As Alistair Campbell (Tony Blair’s former Press Secretary) has said, why would you try and build a cult of personality around someone who doesn’t possess one? She’s trotted out a string of meaningless soundbites and platitudes throughout the campaign. ‘Strong and stable’ my arse! Looking at her Cabinet and their performances is equally depressing. Boris Johnson, the blonde buffoon, representing the UK on the world stage? Have we really sunk that low?

What I find incomprehensible is the way many voters in the country are indulging in an almost masochistic delight in ruining the country, politically, economically and internationally. To hear people call for as ‘hard’ a Brexit as possible is complete madness. What on earth are they thinking? It’s the same now with May’s calls to scrap human rights laws. People are actively supporting a political party that will make their lives harder. For what? What on earth do they think they’ll gain from this?

Let’s be under no illusions, Brexit is the elephant in the room here and neither Labour nor the Tories are being honest about it with voters. It’s all very well Labour saying all their policies are costed. So what’s the cost of Brexit (especially a hard Brexit) then? No-one will say.  No-one is admitting what the damage Brexit will do to the UKs economy and how that will impact on anyone’s spending plans.

I’ve said before that I fear for my country. Those fears remain. I see this country slipping away into authoritarianism, prejudice and ignorance – with the full (or tacit) support of many voters. The parallels with 1930s Germany are too real to ignore, yet many people are doing exactly that.

Whichever political party wins on Friday, the clear loser is going to be the United Kingdom, and its people.

77 years ago yesterday…

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Yesterday I visited Glossop station in Derbyshire for a rather unusual event organised by the station friends group. A ceremony was held to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the events of 2nd June 1940, when 600 wartime evacuees from the seaside town of Lowestoft arrived in this small town by train. Several of the original evacuees, plus family and friends attended, whilst some local schoolchildren (suitably attired as evacuees) recreated their arrival. As a rather poignant link, one of the schoolchildren was carrying the very same suitcase that was carried by one of the evacuees all those years ago. The groups held a ceremony to unveil a plaque and display which includes evacuee’s recollections and a poem. Here’s a selection of pictures from the event.

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Neil Williams from the friends of Glossop station talks about the event whilst some of the  Lowestoft evacuees listen.

 

DG271453. Some of the original Lowestoft evacuees with local children. Glossop. 2.6.17.JPG

Children from a local school who played the part of evacuees with the original evacuees. The young girl on the left is carrying one of the suitcases used 77 years ago that day.

DG271489. Some of the original Lowestoft evacuees unveil a commemorative plaque. Glossop. 2.6.17

Some of the evacuees unveil a plaque on the station to commemorate the events of the 2nd June 1940, 77 years to the day.

 

Where did last month go?

1st June already? Shit, where did May go? – and I don’t mean the Prime Minister as that’s another blog entirely!

Apologies for my complete absence last month. It’s not that I’ve had nothing to say or comment on it’s just that last month turned into a busy time that left me little opportunity to really compose my thoughts. I was full of good intentions to write some stuff whilst I’ve been on my travels but other stuff got in the way. Those of you who visit my photography website will be aware that I’ve been busy scanning and uploading hundreds of old slides. I’ve been concentrating on the ones I took just before I went digital, the problem there is that most of them were never catalogued properly, so they sat in photo albums unlabelled. It’s been the devil’s own job to try and caption and collate them as I had to dredge through old notebook but I’m getting there – finally! The rest are already entered on a database so they’ll be easier to do.

Besides the slides I’ve been busy with various press events and other jobs, including a trip on the first Eurostar e320 to Brussels as well as social events and my fiance’s birthday. We had a fantastic long-weekend in Cumbria which included walking up Scafell on the hottest day of the year so far. Here’s a sample of the views from the top.

DG270989. Angle Tarn seen from the top of Scafell. Wasdale. Cumbia. England. 26.5.17

You can find the rest here.

 Now the country finds itself a week away from what’s probably the strangest election in my lifetime. I’ll be honest here – I have absolutely no idea what the result will be. Despite having said she wouldn’t, Teresa May finally called it – only to see it blow up in her face. She’s seen a 21 point lead shrink into single figures, despite her opponent being the most unpopular Labour leader for decades. The Tories appear to have made a crucial error in basing their campaign as being all about Teresa’s personality and appeal. Their problem is – she has neither! The election’s been one of the most lacklustre and negative I can remember. If I hear her parrot vacuous phrases like ‘strong and stable’ once more…

The irony is, she called the election but then she ran away! She’s refused to sully her hands in a debate with anyone else and positively avoided any meaningful contact with voters. When interviewed she trots out trite, meaningless phrases that the media really shouldn’t be letting her get away with. If Labour had a decent leader with broad appeal they’d walk this election. Sadly, they haven’t although I’ve got to admit that Jeremy Corbyn has come across better in this campaign. Like many, I’ll be staying up to watch the results come in when the polls close. My prediction is that the Tories will win but what their majority will be is anyone’s guess. This election’s like no other and the effect tactical voting plus the collapse of UKIP will have is unpredictable.

What I can’t understand is the way Brexit is the elephant in the room that no-one mentions. Brexit makes a mockery of fine phrases about having ‘costed’ policies when none of the parties are being honest about what Brexit (especially the hard Brexit the Tories look to favour) will cost the UK economy. It’s madness, but that’s the way the UK seems to work nowadays. It’s like an economic version of the ‘phoney war’.

There’s deluded, then there’s Joe Rukin…

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A few days ago, StopHs2 campaign manager Joe Rukin was frantically circulating this email to the scattered remnants of the Stop Hs2 campaign.

“An urgent message from Joe Rukin:
You will hopefully have seen the news since the weekend about the possibility of the Tories going soft on HS2 in some way in their manifesto, whether that is a pause, cancellation or review.

The first thing I want to make absolutely clear is that this is completely true.

In fact the situation is rather better than reported, as whilst Messrs Gillan & Bridgen along with other MPs went to see George Freeman about a list of issues including HS2, it turned out the team writing the manifesto had already picked up HS2 as an something they might change their minds on. I cannot stress enough that this is totally serious. Whilst it may have been dismissed by 3 Andys; Jones, Street & Percy, they aren’t the ones writing the manifesto. Personally I would doubt they would go as far as saying there would be a cancellation/pause/review in the manifesto, more likely they’d go for no mention at all which would them give the space for any of those three options. Then again, as they’ve already been willing to hint at tax rises, what do I know?

I covered this in todays article https://t.co/XgUiEIpMLN but have decided to leave it a bit more speculative in public, as whilst there is now work to do in terms of trying to influence this decision, I’d rather try and not let on that this is really up for grabs in public for as long as possible.

So that leaves a fortnight to try and influence the Tory manifesto, and indeed the Labour one. We’ve had a conference call today to get things going with other campaign groups and there will be meetings with Labour next week, but as Deanne has mentioned before, it continues to be ASLEF & TSSA which are heavily behind Momentum that are the problem with Labour.

For now please go to Conservative Home and fill in the survey below. When it comes to the rankings, please vote “Continuing with HS2” as zero, and try not to give anything else either a top or bottom score, as you’ll effectively be voting against yourself:

http://www.conservativehome.com/…/what-should-be-in-the-con…

Attached are some of the banners we used at the last election. We may still have some physical ones left.

I cannot stress strongly enough that it really is game on, but in reality it’s not six weeks we have at this point in time, it’s two. More will follow in the next few days. Any ideas welcome!

Joe Rukin,
Campaign Manager, Stop HS2.”

There was only one problem. Like most stuff that emanates from Rukin, it was complete bullshit – although it did fool one of two desperate antis. Hs2aa, who gave up campaigning against Hs2 last year (they abandoned social media in June and their website’s not been updated since November) were forced out of retirement to cobble a page of ridiculous claims for their website (see link). Even AGAHST, an organisation that hasn’t been heard of for years made an appearance in the form of it’s one time Campaign Director, Deanne Dukhan.

It was all a complete waste of time, as most antis realised. Rukin had tried to sell this pup via the StopHs2 Facebook page on April 23rd, when MP’s Gillan and Bridgen had managed to flog their dead horse to a couple of the national newspapers (see my previous blog here). The problem was the claim was met more with derision than expectation. You can see their replies here but I’ve added a selection for your delectation.

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And my absolute favourite, which sums up the scepticism and derision this claim met with, is this one!

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It was only going to be a matter of time before Rukin’s house of cards came crashing down around his ears. That happened today when Teresa May gave an interview to the Yorkshire Post under the headline “THERESA MAY has slapped down Conservative backbenchers in the South with a commitment to deliver the HS2 rail line to Yorkshire”. So, there’s no room for any dissembling there! She went on to say –

may

May’s statement was soon picked up by the nationals, with the Guardian running it here.

So there you have it. As I predicted, you won’t be seeing any mention of cancelling Hs2 in the Tory manifesto. Rukin, who’s lied through his teeth so often, has ended up looking a complete fool yet again. His stock was never high with other anti Hs2 campaigners anyway (Hs2aa Director Hilary Wharf was overheard being particularly scathing about Rukin’s relationship with the truth a few years ago). Now it must be at rock-bottom.

I wonder how long it’ll take before any of this is mentioned on the StopHs2 website, or will this load of bollocks written by Joe disappear first? I’m not going to be holding my breath…

The weekend’s Hs2 media froth explained.

This weekend some papers were full of a speculative story that Hs2 is to be cancelled. Reports appeared in the Guardian, the Sun and the Express. The Sun’s story was a classic example of the disconnect between the journo writing the copy and the sub-editor writing the headline. Not only  wasn’t HS2 being cancelled, the PM, Teresa May wasn’t even in the loop and certainly didn’t offer any new opinions – far less actually confirm Hs2 was being cancelled.

sun PM

Only May never said any such thing. She’s not even quoted in the article. It’s another sub-editer ’embellishing’ a story (or lying, as it’s more accurately known).

This bit from the same story in the Express gives the game away.

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Two MPs have asked that scrapping Hs2 is ‘considered’ and spun the story to the media that it IS being scrapped!

So, what do we really know from all this speculative froth? Only that it bares the fingerprints of two long-standing Tory opponents of Hs2 – MPs Andrew Bridgen and Cheryl Gillan, who’re almost certainly the people who’ve fed this stuff to the media to prop up their votes in the forthcoming general election. The massive irony is both MPs are claiming Hs2 should be cancelled to help pay for Brexit. The very same Brexit they both voted for! So much for the promised extra £350m a week for the NHS then!

Ignoring the froth, let’s remember a few things about the Governments stated position on Hs2. PM Teresa May has always been a supporter of Hs2 and voted to build it. Chancellor Philip Hammond has also been supportive. Both know that cancelling the project would destroy the Governments industrial strategy and stop tens of thousands of jobs being created as well as leave us reliant on a Victorian rail network that’s creaking at the seams. It would also leave our former EU friends (and soon to be competitors) with a massive PR coup when it comes to attracting businesses. May has previously stated her intention to put infrastructure investment at the heart of post-Brexit economic policy, so why change now? Let’s not forget that the UK ranks 24th in the world ranks of quality infrastructure (see link) and cancelling Hs2 would only make this worse. There’s nothing to be gained from cancelling Hs2 as the project isn’t a vote loser – as the 2010 and 2015 elections showed. Plus, the anti Hs2 campaign’s collapsed.

Few will remember the cartoon in a French newspaper when the Channel Tunnel opened. It showed French President Francois Mitterand arriving through the tunnel in a high-speed TGV train, whilst Margaret Thatcher met him in an old tram. It was an effective dig on the fact you’d speed through France and the tunnel on a high-speed train which would then crawl to London at 70mph on the normal UK railway as the Brits hadn’t built a high-speed line to match the French!

One can imagine EU nations saying to businessmen “why would you want to set up business in the UK, their infrastructure is crumbling and no match for what we’ve built across the EU – look they’ve even cancelled their last chance to drag their railways up to modern standards!”.

A cynic might ask why two Brexit supporting MPs have inadvertently admitted that – far from turning the UK into the land of milk and honey – Brexit is having serious financial consequences for the country (and don’t even mention that lie on the side of a bus). In Gillan’s case, it may well be because she’s backed the wrong horse. Her constituency is Chesham and Amersham. It voted to stay in the EU by 60% on a huge turn-out. It’s a wealthy area that stands to suffer considerably from Brexit as its residents find their city jobs moving abroad and their weekend trips to holiday homes in France & elsewhere curtailed by the exchange rate and need for visas. Gillan needs to try and prop up her vote as a Lib-Den resurgence & collapse of UKIP could well cause her problems, so keeping Hs2 antis on side is part of that. Planting media stories like this is part of a cynical re-election strategy, nothing more. Bridgen’s constituency voted leave, he doesn’t have the same worries, but keeping his Hs2 Nimbys sweet won’t do him any harm – especially as he’s fallen out with some over the £2m sale of his house to Hs2 Ltd!

I’m willing to predict that the last thing you’ll see in the Tories 2017 election manifesto is a commitment to cancel Hs2. Ignore the media froth, this is simply a couple of MPs trying to keep the idea out there to prop up their votes at home. 

Will Hs2 feature in the general election? Will it heck…

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As all the parties start getting over their surprise that a general election’s been called and begin to muster their troops I thought it worth looking at the stophs2 campaign and their hope that Hs2 will be an election issue. Of course, the answer is – will it hell.

Since Hs2 appeared on the scene we’ve had two general elections (in 2010 and 2015) and numerous local elections. None of them have seen any serious swing or influence brought about by Hs2 or the people who oppose it.

StopHs2’s ‘Campaign Manager’, Joe Rukin even went as far as to stand for MP in Kenilworth in 2010. He later admitted to the Hs2 petitioning Ctte that it was a con to get a free Stophs2 mailshot out to voters, but even that didn’t do any good. He got all of 327 votes or 0.7% and this was meant to be an anti Hs2 ‘stronghold’! Nowadays Rukin has pretty much given up and spends most of his time ranting about football on Twitter rather than Hs2. (see @JoeRukin). The other umbrella group (Hs2aa) threw in the towel last year, so don’t expect any anti hs2 publicity in local or national media in the run-up to the election as the anti hs2 campaign’s skint.

Another oddball that’s tried to stand on a StopHs2 ticket is Nicholas Ward whom I blogged about here. He stood in Westminster North in 2015 and got 63 votes, then again in David Cameron’s old constituency of Witney in 2016 when he got 92 votes (0.2%)! It’s unknown if he’s going to throw away another deposit by standing again in this election.

Apart from solo players the only political parties that oppose Hs2 on the national stage are the Green Party and UKIP. The Greens claim to support the ‘principle’ of high-speed rail but then wrung their hands and bottled out of it when it actually came to doing so. Mind you, their rail and Hs2 policy is a dishonest mess. I dissected it previously in this blog. The Greens are currently standing at 3-4% in the polls. They have 1 MP and aren’t likely to achieve anything in June.

That leaves UKIP, who’re in such a political and financial mess nowadays it’s unlikely they’ll be fielding many candidates. Their new leader, Paul Nuttall, is such a Walter Mitty character he’d fit right in with the remaining anti Hs2 Nimbys. Despite proposing not one but THREE high-speed rail lines in their bonkers 2010 manifesto, UKIP flipped when they fell for Stophs2 campaign claims that there were plenty of votes to be had in areas like the Chilterns if they opposed Hs2. The problem was – it was a lie. I crunched the numbers in this blog. UKIP famously blustered they’d stop Hs2 with stuff like this:

UKIP Chilterns

UKIP managed to get 2nd place in Aylesbury Vale in the 2015 general election (partly on the back of Hs2) but came nowhere near beating the Tories, who had a majority of 17158, or 31% compared to UKIP’s 19.7%. Since then it’s all been downhill. A by-election was held this month following the resignation of UKIP District Councillor for Elmhurst, Andrew Hetherington. UKIP lost the seat to the Lib-Dems, which suggests Brexit’s more important than Hs2 nowadays. UKIP have lost their solitary MP and the party is in such a mess it’s not going to have any impact on Hs2.

What all these votes have demonstrated is that hs2 is only ever a Nimby issue. The only time it’s had any impact on elections is actually on the route of the line. Even then, it’s never been enough to upset the applecart. Of course, since 2015 things have moved on. Hs2 phase 1 has gained Royal Assent and the ‘national’ Stophs2 campaign’s fallen apart – as well as the Phase 1 campaign.

Now the focus has shifted to Phase 2, where the StopHs2 campaign is hopelessly disorganised, skint and without a coherent strategy. All it does is re-run the failed tactics used by Phase 1 Nimbys. To make matters worse, it has negligible political support. Only 2 out of Yorkshires 51 MPs opposed Hs2 and that figure hasn’t changed. If Labour do badly in the North and lose seats to the Tories, it’ll change nothing as Teresa May has made it plain she’ll build Hs2 (as have the Lib-Dems).

Could a change of Labour leadership after a June bloodbath change anything? No. Because the heartlands labour are likely to be reduced to (the metropolitan areas, like London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Sheffield) are exactly the cities that Hs2 will serve! They’ll be pushing for Hs2, not to Stop Hs2.

If the remaining Hs2 antis think the general election will somehow stop Hs2, they’re in for a yet another disappointment. Just like they were in 2010, and 2015.

The starting gun’s been fired for a general election

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I was going to blog about something entirely different today. However, the immortal words of Harold McMillan (“events dear boy, events”) have got in the way with Prime Minister Teresa May calling a snap general election for June 8th.

Over Easter, May was claiming that the country was ‘coming together’ after the Brexit referendum. The general election is about to prove how hollow that claim was.

If I was a Labour MP, right now I’d be updating my CV, because there’s little doubt the party is facing a bloodbath on June 8th. I can’t help thinking that recent polls showing that support for Labour has reached record lows have had an influence on the Prime Minister’s decision – as well as the way many people treat her ‘coming together’ claims with such derision.

 

There’s no doubt that the Conservatives will win on June 8th, but will this bring the ‘unity’ May talks about? Of course not.

Brexit is the fly in the ointment. Every day that passes it becomes clearer what an utter disaster it is for the UK – and how the country is throwing away much of its influence because of it. One only has to look at the way other nations (including the Europeans) are talking about us – or rebuffing our political and economic overtures.

Whatever way you look at it, I can’t see much good coming out of the election. It will hasten the destruction of the Labour party and see the back of Jeremy Corbyn, but I’m not sure the party is strong enough to rebuild and return to the centre ground. I’ve a nasty feeling the hard-left grip is too strong and they’ll ensure Corbyn’s successor is cut from the same cloth. May’s position may well be strengthened, but a weakened Labour party will be an even more feeble opposition than it is now. This election is like the Brexit referendum. It’s not about the good of the country, it’s about the internal politics of the Conservative party.

My only hope is that enough people rally around the anti-brexit banner. The local elections on May 5th will be a test of that. If the Tory majority is increased in such a way it allows the Brexit fundamentalists influence to be watered down, we may yet see an outbreak of common-sense within the Tories – something that’s been completely lacking recently.

Could we see the Lib-Dems make a political comeback as the only party that opposes Brexit? I sincerely hope so. Right now, we’re entering yet another period of political uncertainty, the ‘interesting times’ of the apocryphal Chinese curse…

Catching up…

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– just not with blogging I’m afraid! I’ve had a busy month working from home. It’s left me little time to write or compose my thoughts but that should change now.

It’s not as if there’s nothing going on. As each day goes by Brexit becomes more and more of a shambles. For example, today, the Guardian highlights a survey of UK retirees who’re now less keen to spend their golden years abroad in the sun. They cite concerns about medical care after the UK leaves the EU. I have to say, this is a bit of a ‘No, shit, Sherlock!’ moment – especially when you consider the fact that it was a majority of elderly people who voted for Brexit! So, as well as crashing the value of their currency, they’ve potentially deprived themselves of access to reciprocal medical care abroad. Of course, for the UK, this is a double whammy. As well as losing economically active EU residents (who’re deserting the NHS in droves) we find they’ll be replaced by the economically inactive who’ll be putting extra strain on the NHS! – and that’s before we take into account the 100s of thousands of pensioners who’re already living abroad and who may be forced to return to the UK.

Meanwhile a House of Commons committee has been rather scathing about the referendum itself – and also alluded to foreign involvement in trying to influence the result. It’s deeply ironic about the ‘patriots’ who’ve been trying to take us out of the EU. The trouble with such ‘patriots’ is they’re so easy to manipulate. All you have to do is pander to their prejudices, wave a flag, tell them they’re patriotic, wind them up and let them go. Most are too blind to see that their ‘patriotism’ hasn’t served the UK or Europe’s interests – just the Russians…

I expect this story to keep running. No-one who was involved in the referendum campaign on the Remain side will be surprised. The huge number of foreign ‘tweetbots’ & fake profiles involved was obvious.

Away from politics, expect to see a blog to appear telling the story of my recent travels around South-East Asia, I’m writing up my trip from Singapore, through Malaysia up to Bangkok in my spare time.