Women-only carriages

This came up in 2015, when I wrote a long blogpost trying to delicately dismantle it that, in the end, I didn’t hit “post” on and which you have, therefore, not read.

Anyway, it has come up again: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41028234

Mr Williamson is obviously not a rail-using MP, otherwise while out and about on the trains around his Derby North constituency he would have encountered a certain operational flaw in his idea called the Class 153:
Knighton 1 JPG.jpg

So once this carriage is women-only, where do I sit? On the roof?


Result: NOC gain from Con

One has to congratulate Theresa May. Knocking 18 points off one’s own poll lead in seven weeks is a very considerable feat, as is arranging for a party that was entirely united around you 11 months ago to be entirely united in staying off the airwaves for the day except for periodic “sources suggest” ideas that you may be on the dole sooner rather than later.

Still, a few points are worth noting:

  1. The polls were actually quite useful. Normally they insist on saying “this will happen”. Because they were all experimenting after 2015, this time they were playing with different weightings of the results. Thus it was clear for all to see that if the youth vote stayed at home the Tories would get a majority of 80 and if the youth vote came out the Tories would lose their majority. The youth vote, thus feeling empowered, turned out in larger numbers than usual and the Tories lost their majority.
  2. Presidential campaigns do not go down too well.
  3. Neither do early elections, particularly ones called to prove a politician has power. Attlee was pushed into one in 1951 (and lost); Heath called one in February 1974 (and lost); May called one seven weeks ago (and, all precedent considered, has done extremely well).
  4. John Major-esque soapboxes and megaphones in high streets are better than choreographed events in warehouses with bored activists behind you waving vacuous slogan-cards. They can even get people to vote for disunited parties offering policies that haven’t won elections in years.
  5. Negative campaigning has been used on the sinking side of the 2016 London mayoral elections, the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 General Election. It may now be obvious to most people that it doesn’t work very well. First, it paints the negative campaigner as just being a whiner who doesn’t want the other side to get something (particularly awkward when the negative campaigner has called the vote and therefore has evidently only called it to stop the other side getting something). Second, the side who does want something tends to be more powerful than the side that doesn’t want them to have it (try reading a few books by manager Gerard Fiennes for practical demonstrations). Third, it leaves your voters with no positive reason to vote for you. Corbyn presented a wonderful sunlit upland where energy and rail fares are cheaper, university education is free for all, hospitals offer immediate service, schools are clean and effective, there are enough police around and the rich are being politely soaked. Theresa offered to devalue your house in your old age.
  6. Theresa was also very unlucky in her electorate. She got 13,650,900 votes, or a 42.4% vote share. In absolute votes this is almost what got Macmillan a 100-seat majority in 1959, though then it equated to a 49% vote share. It is about what Thatcher got in 1979 and more than Thatcher got in 1983, though without the benefit of a split opposition. It is of course some 500,000 less than John Major got in 1992 – the highest ever absolute vote total – which raises all sorts of questions as to whether spending a few months considering her wider legacy, her intricate policy positions and why people would be better-off all round at the end of her term of office might have actually seen Theresa become Britain’s Most Popular Prime Minister. As it is the honour remains with Major. Blair peaked at a shabby 13,518,167 votes, which combined with a split opposition and a 1% higher vote share to give him a majority of 179. In 2015 Cameron stuck at just over 11 million and 36% of the vote. May has therefore gained another 6% of the relative voters and another two million votes to lose a net 13 seats.
  7. What is striking is Jeremy Corbyn’s 12,858,652 votes, or 40% vote share. Gaitskill got 500,000 fewer votes in 1959, a higher vote share and three fewer seats in the days when the party still had a decent presence in Scotland. Callaghan shed a million more votes to the Liberals in 1979, but was rewarded with seven more seats (and the Liberals got eleven instead of the twelve they have this evening). It is four million more that Michael Foot got. Perhaps most strikingly it is two million more than Blair got in 2001, three million more than he got in 2005, four million more than Brown got in 2010 (but earning only a handful more seats) and three million more than Ed Miliband. He is the most popular Labour leader in over 16 years. In terms of absolute votes he is the most successful losing leader since Clement Attlee won the popular vote and lost the election in 1951. Any leader who won this many votes since then could reasonably expect to be the largest party.
  8. In traditional 1950s two-party politics a 49/ 46 vote split was common – still providing massive majorities. We are still in multi-party territory.
  9. Odd murmurings have floated around that this election proves centrist policies are good because the Nationalists (Tories) and Socialists (Labour) have both failed to win a majority. They have also got the highest absolute votes, highest vote share and highest turnout this millennium. This is a healthy democracy, if an indecisive one.
  10. The result is also likely to be good for Northern Ireland, as British majorities mean the separate Irish political system – and therefore the interests of the voters – can often be quietly ignored. Tonight the Democratic Unionist Party begin discussions on shoring up the British Government.
  11. The Lib-Dems are making a shaky return – popular vote is actually slightly down, but it is better targeted and has therefore made a net gain of seats.
  12. First-Past-The-Post has once again shown its power as an electoral system, taking two bad candidates and giving them impossible results. It’s strange how such a blunt system can do such a good job at capturing a mood – I’m sure I’m not the only one who wanted May to be untenable but Corbyn to lose…

Meanwhile I am off to write a re-make of Kind Hearts and Coronets about a Prime Minister who narrowly fails to get a majority so has small-majority opposition MPs quietly bumped off in the hope of winning the by-elections. I put this out there so that anyone who tries the same thing can sit comfortable in the knowledge that they will face the full force of copyright law.

Instead, why not consider the situation of this man, whose problems have been little discussed during the election:

Election Literature 2017

Much as Trails from the Rails is getting more views, likes and general interest than my politics stuff usually does, and it’s nice to have a break from politics by sitting down and writing about peaceful walks around Duirinish, I’ve done this run-down for the last two nationwide elections so will pick up keyboard and go through it again.

Having attended the hustings it appears that for the first time the election material I have procured does actually match up with the number of candidates who think they are standing. So all I have to worry about is that I can’t find my polling card…

Conservative and Unionist Party (Tory)

  • Summary: The Tories have supplied two leaflets; the first is an awkwardly-folded bit of recycled paper and the second is a very posh “magazine” that calls itself the “Election Special” edition but which I have never heard of before. Note to parties – this sort of thing works better if the magazine comes round between elections too.
  • Key Policy 1: Advocate for the town.
  • Key Policy 2: Strong and stable Brexit.
  • Transport: Ongoing rail electrification and better roads.
  • Proud of: Living locally and producing jobs.
  • Quality of election material: Quite blue. Second one rather more impressive than the first. Couple of the pictures could do with being better quality; one looks like it might feature Theresa but might equally be a woman from round the corner. Exceedingly detailed; the magazine is a summary of the manifesto. While liking detail and thinking in politics, and nice to see the party does actually have some policies (they do an excellent impression that they have none at all), a summary pledge card on top of the detailed document might have been an idea.
  • Party has leader?: Yes.
  • Candidate remarks: Still a friendly chap who seems on top of his brief. Thoughtfully suggested in conversation that he’s in favour of actually privatising the railways. Gives an air that this is the candidate’s election more than the party leader’s, which given he is a better candidate than his party leader is sensible.

Green Party

  • Summary: Like the Tories, the Greens have put up the same candidate as last time. The leaflet promotes its policies through a series of Twitter “hashtags” and is very proud to have been “supported and funded by ordinary people.”
  • Key Policy 1: Opposition to the Government’s extreme Brexit.
  • Key Policy 2: “An economy for everyone”.
  • Transport: Renationalise railways and better buses.
  • Proud of: Campaigning to protect the libraries and buses.
  • Quality of election material: Small and coloured green, with more enthusiasm than specifics.
  • Party has leader?: No, but the Greens aim for localism and the leaflet is small so perhaps no mention expected.
  • Candidate remarks: Still a pretty impressive Green candidate.


  • Summary: The Labour Party have decided after last time that perhaps seven election communications is overkill. Two communications have appeared this time: one is a nice bit of A4 paper and the other is a newspaper-quality four-page spread.
  • Key Policy 1: The NHS.
  • Key Policy 2: Better education.
  • Transport: Renationalise the railways (benefits of this seem to go without saying, aside from the last trial having come in only marginally below national average traffic growth).
  • Proud of: Campaigning to protect the town’s libraries (opening hours and branches have been sacrificed on the alter of social care).
  • Quality of election material: Still red. “Widow and orphan” control could have done with another quick rake-through. Candidate looks serious but generally happy.
  • Party has leader?: No.
  • Candidate remarks: New candidate after the previous one finally got the message (one win and two losses against the same Tory throughout). This one is ex-Army, now much involved in a community. Support for the party that sent her to Iraq (picture on the leaflet to prove it) presumably suggests Labour has moved on or Iraq was a while ago. Talks very fast. Blunt and direct. Unlike some of her door-knockers does actually know why her party supports certain policies, but doesn’t take kindly to being told the experts disagree.

Liberal Democrat

  • Summary: This leaflet was procured by going up to the candidate in the street and demanding an election leaflet, which it turned out he didn’t stock. This explained why one hadn’t come through the letterbox anyway. So this leaflet is for the candidate next door, which is inclined to focus on why you shouldn’t vote for the others. What the candidate for my constituency has provided is a questionnaire in which I can tell him what he thinks about the issues that he thinks matter to me.
  • Key Policy 1: No damaging Brexit.
  • Key Policy 2: The NHS and/ or £26,801,284 on education (see some railway prospectuses vis-a-vis the rather precise education offering).
  • Transport: Wot?
  • Proud of: Something about a strong local voice.
  • Quality of election material: Orange and easy to read, though low on detail. Candidate seems to have only posed for one picture. Not sure if it opens the right way round. Grasp of commas is terrible.
  • Party has leader?: No.
  • Candidate remarks: Nice chap, but not very memorable. The candidate whose leaflet I’ve got is memorable, mostly for her impassioned call at hustings that we kill all the badgers.

United Kingdom Independence Party

  • Summary: This seems to be the first time UKIP have stood in my constituency, or at any rate the first time they have felt it necessary to appeal for my vote. The latter suggests desperation. The leaflet (singular) explains that this is a second EU referendum, which I might find less irritating were there actually a party standing explicitly in favour of Remain.
  • Key Policy 1: Reduce immigration
  • Key Policy 2: Kill foreign aid
  • Transport: Cancel High Speed 2 (not in election literature; had to go to hustings for this snippet).
  • Proud of: Um. (Honestly “um”, not remoaner sarcasm. UKIP does not rest on its laurels, which means it never promotes its record.)
  • Quality of election material: Purple-themed. Fairly easy to read, but not very upbeat. Candidate looks awkward.
  • Party has leader?: No.
  • Candidate remarks: Better than the candidate for the same party in the seat next door. Both trying to present themselves as centrists (an approach which is currently doing the Lib-Dems no good at all). Spent the hustings calling for the cancellation of High Speed 2, which obtained a sum total of no reaction at all. Would help if such key policies were more relevant to the constituency than irrigation methods in the Gobi Desert.

One thing we do seem to be fortunate about in this constituency is the candidates are all quite local; one hears about imposed party wonks from London and last time the Lib-Dem had been imported from 50-odd miles away, but this time it seems four of them live in the constituency. (The Labour candidate is the exception, being some rural rustic from ten miles down the road.) This is much to be praised, and suggestive of strong local parties, but means making the point of local candidates being a Good Thing is quite difficult because four of them have to lose.

In fact the whole constituency election is very local, with four of the five candidates standing seemingly wholly in their own right without any mention of party machines or who will be Prime Minister if enough of their fellow party members get elected.

The concept of fairness being hammered at in this election provides an opportunity to refresh (as though they’re newly discovered) some rules of how to tell where on the political spectrum your candidates lie. In order of likely controversiality:

  1. Left-wingers say fairness is everyone getting the same stuff. Right-wingers say fairness is everyone getting what they’ve worked for. (Variations on how broad the “same stuff” is and what flex is allowed to “worked” based on disability.)
  2. Libertarians trust you to do the right thing for everyone. Authoritarians trust themselves to decide what’s the right thing for everyone. (There is an awkward brand of authoritarian liberal who trusts themselves to decide on the certain definition of liberality that you are judged against.)
  3. Left-wingers blame the people above them in the social and economic pile for problems. Right-wingers blame the people below them in the social and economic pile for problems. (The embarrassing bit is that block of centrists who blame themselves for problems, which at least has the benefit of personal responsibility but makes identifying someone to blame for failed leadership very difficult.)

Here is a reminder of the circumstances in which you do not need to vote.

Here is a picture of some election hoardings, seen seven years ago:

Truro 9 JPG

Vote early, vote carefully and vote hopefully.

“Trails from the Rails” is going to Altnabreac tomorrow after which, barring a sudden splurge of blogging ideas, see you on the other side.

Article 50

Dear World,

I have recently taken the opportunity to read Theresa May’s letter on triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

I would like to take to this soapbox to comment that she has missed the obvious grounds on which to ignore the result of the June 23rd 2016 referendum, which is to point out that on due calm assessment leaving can have no realistically-obtainable overall positive benefit, as is acknowledged openly in her letter. The most beneficial outcome is a non-negative result. This should have been appreciated before the referendum, but as there was no specific “Leave” concept before the referendum the fact that it has only become apparent afterwards is not grounds to ignore it. As the facts become more readily appreciated, one should broaden one’s mind to take this into account.

Two years today, or in 730 days, we will lose direct and automatic access to the European single market – the only market with which we have a land border, which surrounds us on all sides, which is wholly more geographically adjacent to us than any other market (London to the eastern border of Latvia is 1,500 miles; London to Morocco is a little over that; Western Ireland to Newfoundland is just over 2,000) and with which we have and should reasonably continue to have most of our trade. In losing immediate access to this market, we lose the ability to influence its rules. We could, for example, have resolved the “Polish lorry driver” problem by promoting in Europe environmental rules insisting that trans-continental freight traffic should go by rail. There is enough of it and the Poland-UK corridor is long and narrow enough to fill direct freight trains. The EU, in directing the establishment of key transport corridors around the Union, has the high-level authority and funding clout to deliver this sort of scheme continent-wide. In the relatively short-term, this would reduce the need for lorry drivers across the continent, justify rail companies making the co-ordination and investment decisions to meet the logistical needs and improve the continent’s carbon footprint. (Nobody in a low-margin/ loss-making uncertain business like continental European railfreight spends a year lining up train path, wagons, crew and locomotives with the potential to discover that the Day 1 load consists of half a removal van and no authority is willing to provide hard cash until things get better.) As much of Europe has invested in common designs of UK-sized diesel locomotive (if not standard means of supplying electricity to trains for tractive power) this would not actually have been a difficult game to play if anyone had cared enough to use the EU positively in this regard. As an individual state, all we can demand is that Polish lorry drivers trans-ship their goods onto British trains or lorries at Calais. This will increase our costs at negligible benefit to both ourselves and the Union.

The worst-case outcome is a “crash-out” in two years’ time. This will cause a minor humanitarian crisis, as EU citizens risk the potential of being rounded up and deported (and, having finished panicking at the newspapers, deport themselves to save time); threaten the border between the two halves of Ireland, with the possibility of obliging the Government to make reunion arrangements; justify the Scottish National Party holding another referendum on the break-up of the United Kingdom; and, as the Prime Minister points out herself, increase the risk of security problems caused by disjointed policing and a lack of intelligence-sharing.

The withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community is a small side-touch that will deprive us of access to a community of technology in a small, complicated sector which brings much high-value development potential to key parts of the UK. On the positive side, it may leave us unable to build any more nuclear power stations.

As a heavyweight power in the EU, providing the largest military heft, offering world-beating security and technological skills and a positive budgetary input, we have a relatively substantial ability to dictate policy – as the EU keeps kindly pointing out by remarking on the enthusiasm shown by our Governments down the years for free trade, to the point where we vetoed punitive taxes on Chinese steel inputs and in the process put our own steelworks out of business. The policies dictated to the EU may not be the policies that we want to dictate as a people, but if our Government is not dictating policy that is in our interests as a nation (or failing to explain why it is in our interests) then that is a problem with the Government which is about to be placed in sole charge of our national development. In a way, the EU offers an opportunity to ensure that our priorities as a friendly ex-Imperial nation can be broadcast internationally. It is not unpatriotic to want to maintain our extensive soft power on the Continent, building alliances and exchanging favours in the clean-air back rooms. If our Governments ran the relationship less as an “us and them” affair, as both John Major and Tony Blair briefly tried to (aiming to convince the population rather than kow-tow to the never-possessed with pseudo token “victories”), it can work very much in our favour. Outside the EU, we will have something less than the international status of Japan, which designs very nice short-life technology, has a terrifying work ethic, is in a constant state of deflation and is usually ignored.

Ultimately the “non-negative” outcome aims to maintain economic and security co-operation, allow maximum certainty for businesses which have to plan ahead, create a Free Trade Agreement covering shared economic sectors and maintain our matched regulatory frameworks and standards. It will presumably therefore seek to maintain these matched regulatory frameworks and standards in the future in order to maintain this Free Trade Agreement, which means that when we change our standards we will have to persuade Europe to do likewise and when Europe changes its standards we will be following suit. Where civil servants currently misinterpret and gold-plate European legislation to ensure compliance with our Treaty obligations, they will instead misinterpret and gold-plate European standards to ensure we remain within the terms of our Free Trade Agreement. On the negative outcome, we will have to follow rules created without our input despite us currently being the second largest nation economically within the EU. On the positive outcome, our opinions will be attended to as befits a country with a population of more than half of the residual states put together. This positive outcome is what we have already. We are about to spend millions, if not billions, on ensuring that we maintain our current mildly dysfunctional but usually beneficial relationship with an organisation that we are purporting to be leaving.

This is the most gratuitous waste of money engaged upon since the construction of the Findhorn Railway, which had the small decency to be carried out at private expense. I wholly resent that my tax money, paid to the Government in the belief that it would go on hospitals, schools, transport development, arts, libraries and culture, strategic support and relief for the Third World, national defence, emptying the municipal bins, supporting the poor and ensuring that traditionally less-prosperous countries in Europe have the skills and infrastructure to trade with us effectively will instead be burned on a renegotiation which will get us nowhere.

This is not a time to come together and support the Government. This is a time to come together and ask, when the NHS is struggling, when our schools are stretched, when the verges outside my house are filling with untidied litter, when libraries are closing and the Public Accounts Committee reckons clean electric trains are now beyond the nation’s budget, why it is that we can afford to pursue the vanity project of a consummate delusional idiot who is so pleased with what he’s achieved that he spends all his time on US television?

How To… Get Sacked from the Government

Apparently if ministers leak Government plans for Brexit then they’ll be sacked.

This is a good idea.

It suggests to the population that the Government has a plan available to leak, and will therefore calm fears that there is no plan.

The document setting this out also helpfully provided the Lord High Leaker with something to leak to round off the week.

Meanwhile here is a picture of a beach at sunset to make it look like this post has content.

Algajola 1 JPG.jpg(It’s on the north coast of Corsica at Algajola in case anyone cares.)

Today’s Excitement

This feels like an awful long time ago…

Don’t bash the Americans though. Most of them didn’t vote for Trump. Owing to a certain curiosity of the electoral college (which is one of the stupidly complex methods of electing a single person known to humanity), Clinton won the popular vote.

At least first-past-the-post almost invariably gives supreme British executive power to the people who won. If anyone in the States wants to consider electoral reform one day…

(It is nonetheless tempting to suggest that Clinton not saying something publicly after conceding this morning is an indication of reasons for not getting the required breadth of support to win. And it says something about the US that all it can put up for presidency is two people that everyone wanted to vote against.)


The incident on the Croydon Tramlink this morning comes as something of a shock. For a little tram, five people is a distractingly large number of fatalities. And looking at the tram lying on its side on a shattered bend, it is hard to picture any conclusion that doesn’t say nasty things about light rail safety. (Accidents are rare. The problem for the statistics is that they should be, because trams are hardly commonplace.)

A valuable reminder – as though we ever need any – for maintaining safety on heavy rail. Touching wood as we tick towards ten years since Greyrigg…

Light Blue Touchpaper


I don’t usually use this blog to refer to other people’s stuff.

Still, some while ago I fell across this old online cartoon series called I Drew This, by a young liberal personage who scribbled away through the mid-Bush years. The cartoons (and, therefore, presumably, the cartoonist) took a general view that most Bush positions were illogical, and since most of them were illogical one overlooks occasional moments where the liberal position seems vaguely uncertain between cartoons several months apart.

However, even immediate current affairs stuff remains relevant occasionally and I would like to refer to the cartoon of Wednesday 22nd March 2006 to summarise an argument on one side of Brexit: http://www.glasswings.com/comics/idrewthis/d/20060322.html

We are currently somewhere between panels 4 and 5, but missing from the cartoon is the seventh panel where the eagle’s plumage grows back (and who knows, it may look better afterwards).

When I get round to it I will write an argument (of my own) for another side of Brexit specifically inspired by a Toynbee article (oh dear), but generally reflecting a view which I feel should be taken more widely.


(The cartoonist, for anyone who is interested, now writes the rather cute and optimistic series Phoebe and Her Unicorn, which is currently freely available on the GoComics website a few doors down from Peanuts and Pearls Before Swine.)