Train fares in Britain to rise by average of 1.1%. Bus fares in Birmingham rise by 4.8% whilst the number of bus journeys falls. Meanwhile, Corbyn and Labour fret over the price of travelling by train.
During the Labour Party Conference of 2014, Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Hastings and Rye, Sarah Owen contended that, if I have something good to say to commuters on their doorsteps about season ticket prices then I will win the seat.
Sarah Owen did not win the seat which Labour had lost to the Tories in May 2010. The Tory share of the vote rose from 41.1% in May 2010 to 44.5% in May 2015. Labour’s share of the vote fell, in the same period, from 37.1% to 35.1%.
Labour gained the Hastings and Rye seat in May 1997 with 34.4% of the vote. Labour had not held the seat since its creation in 1970. Hastings and Rye was a marginal in 2010. It is today, in 2016, a Tory safe seat and, likely to remain that way, whilst New, New Labour remains unwilling to review why Labour failed to win seats like Hastings and Rye in May 2015.
The Smith Institute gave one very specific piece of advice about the future formulation of Labour Party policy. Labour should avoid adopting a list of retail policies tailored-made for marginal seats. Banging on about rail re-nationalisation and freezing or cutting fares is just such an approach. Like much of Corbyn’s New, New Labour leadership election policies it is designed to appeal to middle class voters and, thus, does not travel to many of the areas wherein low income voters dwell.
Labour needs to be willing to learn from its mistakes and forge a political strategy with policies and campaigns that resonate with both its supporters and with voters who have walked away.
People on low incomes are, more likely than not, to be the users of buses. People on middle to high incomes are, more likely than not, to be rail passengers. Moreover, people who use rail have access to a range of railcards to obtain discounts on fares, including First Class tickets. The vast majority of public transport journeys are by bus and 70% of those journeys are outside of London. Cue, but John, Jeremy uses the bus!
Jeremy Corbyn uses the bus in the city with the best public transport infrastructure in the United Kingdom. Corbyn uses the bus in the city where bus services have only been lightly deregulated. Elsewhere in the country, in the places where Labour needs to win votes to win seats to win power, bus services have been deregulated.
Deregulation has meant fewer services, less frequent services on routes that remain and inconvenient timings. There are many parts of the country where there are no railway lines at all, but rail, in comparison to buses that cover most of the country, is a success story.
Reflect on this, what is the point of giving pensioners free bus passes when there are ever fewer, convenient services on which they may use them? 51% of the electorate will be over 55 by May 2020. Talking bus to them (and other bus users) is a way of getting their attention so that you may engage with them about other issues and may be then they will put Xs against the names of Labour candidates in the only elections that really matter, elections to public office.
Corbynettes will earn the right to speak with voters about the issues that they think voters should be concerned about, when they start to discuss with voters about the issues that do concern them. Jeremy Corbyn says, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I say, in a diverse society, treat others in the way in which they would wish to be treated (with certain caveats). And that means listening to the concerns of the people well before acting. Plan, Do, Observe, Act and repeat, ad infinitum.
May be, just may be, this time next year, Labour candidates and activists will be standing at bus stops engaging with voters, who might vote Labour, rather than standing outside of railway stations chatting with commuters who either already vote Labour or who never will. Of course, it would help if Labour candidates (kudos, Mark Shurmer) and activists actually use the bus from time to time. I guarantee that there are more floating voters at bus stops than on railway station platforms.
(New) Labour won seats in places like Hastings and Rye in 1997, because it had, as much under John Smith as Tony Blair, reconnected the party with the working class. Jeremy Corbyn, a scion of the affluent middle class, was elected Labour leader by a mostly middle class selectorate, whose hackles rise at any mention of Iraq like those of Republicans do over 9/11, and who now use the word, moderate, in the same way a swivel eyed Republican uses the word, liberal. The working class, many of them liberal and moderate in outlook, are mostly an unknown country to a fair few Corbynettes. Moreover, some Corbynettes now rival some Blairites in their fanaticism. As I look from one to the other of those two groups, I am finding it ever harder to tell them apart. What the average voter thinks of them, I shudder to think.
Jeremy Corbyn and his backroom boys seem to have their work cut out in terms of grasping what matters to the average voter. Hopefully once, not if, they have done so they must then persuade a fair few Corbynettes that most voters are disinterested in Iraq and Trident, the cost of student tuition fees and rail fares. The only way to get their attention is to start talking to them about knife and fork issues. In other words, engage in straight talking, honest politics with the electorate.
The days of Corbynettes indulging in mutual backslapping, high fiving on social media and saying how principled are we, should have ended by now. For Jeremy Corbyn, the days of basking in the warm glow of an adoring selectorate are definitely long gone, despite him trying his utmost to avoid poor ratings by playing smaller, more intimate gigs since last summer’s headlining tour.
Corbyn has not got off to a very good start in 2015. And things look to set to get worse in 2016 as Mahatma Corbyn and Seamus Robespierre prepare to smash the party to pieces over Trident.