I've a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore

2022-01-01 -
Array, ASLEF
Mick Whelan wearing a suit and ASLEF tie

As I write this – in time for it drop on your doormat before the beginning of the festive fortnight – it seems there has been a cover-up at the heart of the Boris Johnson government, with one rule for them, and another for us. It appears it was party central for Boris and his chums in and around Number 10 whilst people who followed the
rules could not be with their loved ones who were then left to die alone.

To deflect criticism Mr Johnson has brought in Plan B – rather as fighter pilots throw off chaff to deflect heat-seeking missiles – and announced an investigative cover-up to kick the can down the road. We have heard the Prime Minister three times failing to say it did not take place and the Deputy Prime Minister saying, on Sky, that we do not retrospectively investigate crimes. How else do you investigate crimes? It’s risible.

And where are the police in this? More than 2,000 cases were prosecuted for those who held weddings or parties. It appears the police are only interested in investigating ordinary working people, not those at the heart of government who are breaking their own rules.

If confidence in this government was low – and it was, very low – it is now untenable. One Tory backbencher admitted that there was wine and cheese and games at the ‘event’. So when is a party not a party?

All the hopes we had for COP26 and any big announcement for rail did not happen. If anything, we were left embarrassed by the United Kingdom’s lack of vision, and lack of investment, from giving delegates the integrated travel our fare-paying public does not enjoy (and is not on the horizon). And the Transport Minister reduced air duty on internal flights whilst other countries were scrapping internal flights where there is a viable rail alternative.

And then, after it’s all over, we get the integrated rail plan which claims £96 billion of investment but is really a  sticking plaster of managed decline and failed promises. So much for the Northern Powerhouse which the Prime Minister has promised 60 different times – and put in two Conservative Party manifestoes – so no levelling up, no HS2, just the stark reality of managed decline.

Let’s not forget that George Osborne also previously promised a Northern Powerhouse and his much-vaunted HS3 for the north. Every railway commentator has condemned the plans. Much of it is not new money, anyway, but projects already scheduled and those that will not put a dent in the projects they will replace.

We have already started campaigning in Scotland and, as you will see in this month’s Journal on pages 10 and 11, are launching Invest in Rail. The conversations have already started with various mayors, devolved governments, and all those who can make their voices heard to protect a future on rail.

Footfall is not coming back, very little is being done to encourage or promote rail, and the primary legislation for GBR could be years away. Concessions are being directly awarded on timescales that will make it a moot point when it does  happen, anyway, in our view.

As drivers we are not in Kansas anymore. There seems to be a curious perception that we do not deserve our  salaries, pensions, or conditions, but remember, no one has ever given us anything. We have paid – through productivity and flexibility – for everything we have and no one has a right to take it away. Unity and solidarity  will always win out!

Please be safe…


Yours fraternally,

Mick Whelan, general secretary, ASLEF