Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Could This Be Labour's Bridge Too Far?

Labour are finding that calling a short sharp by-election is having to formulate policy on the hoof when a main issue in the constituency is slipping away from you. In fact they appear be getting as snarled up over the Forth Bridge as the traffic approaching it does twice daily.


Even more worryingly for Labour and the voters of Dunfermline and West Fife is the decision-makers operating on the hoof are the neighbouring MP and Chancellor and nearby MP and Westminster Transport Secretary. These two do not even appear to have consulted the Scottish Executive who actually have jurisdiction over transport planning for Scotland.

The story so far:

Labour controlled FETA (Forth Estuary Transport Authority) board propose a £4 pound toll on the Forth road up from £1 equivalent to a commuter paying £720 a year just to get to work.

Many including the Liberal Democrats come out against this astronomical hike in the bridge toll which only last year was increased from 70p to £1.

There is a delay on the announcement on road tools until February or March, conveniently until after the potential (now actual) date of the Dunfermline and West Fife By Election.

Gordon Brown calls for the toll increase to be scrapped. Jack McConnell comes alond behind agreeing with this change of direction.

Now Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown are calling for a new road bridge over the Forth, something that Labour’s First Minister had condemned as stupid only a couple of months ago. However, now it appears that Jack is warming to this idea too.

4 comments:

Chris Black said...

Isn't there a parallel here to a Hull by-election back in 1966?

I don't recall the details very well, but I don't think the Humber Bridge would ever have been built otherwise...

Stephen Glenn said...

Sorry Chris, Hull was a bit before my time. Literally.

So I'll have to look up the history books to answer that one.

Chris Black said...

Before your time?

Here's a quote from Hansard 20 Dec 1995, by Tory MP Toby Jessel (who was the Tory candidate in that by-election)


The bribe occurred because, in the general election of October 1964, Hull, North, which was a marginal seat, was gained by the Labour party; unfortunately, the newly elected Member, Mr. Solomons, died about 13 months later, in November 1965; the by-election was fixed for two months later, but his death reduced Harold Wilson's majority from three to two; if the by-election had gone the other way, it would have been reduced to one.

At the time, there was enormous interest in the by-election. There were very big public meetings. I remember one that was addressed by the late Lord Home, at which 1,200 people were present in Hull city hall. On 18 January, Mrs. Barbara Castle, the then Transport Minister, pledged to construct the Humber bridge, and that led to the debt which is the subject of the Bill. On page 95 of the Castle memoirs, she wrote:


"Off to Hull to speak in the by-election. Photographers at the station. Standing room only at meetings. I told them categorically they would have their bridge. Speech went down well."
She wrote that in her diary. The day before yesterday, I had it on the authority of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed), who cannot be present, that he was at Mrs. Castle's meeting on 18 January 1966, that she said, "You will get your bridge," and that there were loud cheers. The Minister has already quoted the words of the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time, that great man Iain Macleod, who referred to the plan for the Humber bridge as a pre-election bribe. He went on:


"'First one of the junior Transport Ministers said that one was not needed. Then came the by-election. The same junior Minister promptly became much more enthusiastic about a new bridge.


'But the by-election continued to turn . . . and something more was needed. So Mrs. Castle says in Hull that . . . there will be a new bridge.'"
Mr. Macleod was quoted as saying that in The Times on 22 January 1966.

Anyone could predict--and many people did at the time--that the bridge would never pay. If the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) drove from Nottingham to Hull, regardless of whether he used
the M1 or the A614, he would go along the motorway that skirts the southern side of Doncaster. The shortest way from there to Hull--well, the quickest way--is by using the M62 and not to go south of the Humber and then across the Humber bridge. With a toll, it will be more expensive as well as slower. From looking at the map, one sees that there are no large cities to the south of Hull.

leedssouthcentral said...

So why doesn't Ali have a word with Gordy and put together a PFI retrofinance deal to make sure our grandchildren in forty years' time are paying for a tedious byelection in 2006?
Not to be left out, the Humber Bridge has it's own fanclub: I was in South Lincolnshire last weekend and Beeb 1's Politics Show local opt-out featured Cleethorpes' NuLabor MP Shona McNobody pushing a campaign to make the bridge toll (now and historically astronomical because Barbara Castle promised what she couldn't deliver - see above) free for patients travelling to Hull's so-so hospitals from the other side (called the Mainland by Grimsby bods - you know, Grim by name Grim by ......, coincidentally represented in the House of Fun by Austin Mitchell, a sometime regional news presenter and refugee from Yorkshire). Plus ca change, as they say in NuLabor circles in Leeds Central.

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