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Labour’s bus policy has an appeal that can reach deep into communities

LABOUR’S plan to boost Britain’s bus network by £1.3 billion is a well-timed move to highlight the damaging effects of Tory cuts which have left many communities with truncated services, increasingly isolated and with millions of people – not just in remoter rural villages but even in many urban settlements – without adequate transport.

As always the worst affected are older people and anyone without independent transport.

The decline of the British bus began three decades ago when these vital public enterprises — most buses were then run by public corporations and local authorities — were deregulated and privatised.

Fast forward to today and not only are bus services stripped back but local councils are banned from setting up their own bus enterprises. 

So much for the enabling state allowing the invisible hand of the market to provide goods and services where there is demand.

We have learnt by now that not every, in fact not many, necessary human needs can be best met by the market. 

In the case of bus transport, the flip side of the ban on councils competing with private enterprise is the astonishing fact that much of our privately owned bus network is, in fact, operated by foreign state-owned businesses enabled by the twisted policies of the European Union to enter the market. 

Moreover, their profits are subsidised by public moneys, originally dispensed by the Department of Trade and Industry and now by local authorities.

In the crackpot world of EU competition regulations — which is the essential mechanism for the real-life project of deregulating bus services — we have bizarre spectacle of bus businesses run by the French railway SNCF, others run by Deutsche Bahn plus a shoal of the usual suspects — Virgin, First Group and Stagecoach — controlled, as we know, by some of the most unsavoury characters in the British business world.

With parts of the country in the run-up to council elections, Labour’s intervention on this vital issue allows for a focus on the kinds of day-to-day issues which sometimes get lost. 

This has been true over recent months, when the debates around Britain’s place in the world and its relationship with the states that make up our continent has too often centred on big issues. 

This without always allowing a proper debate about how the neoliberal regime of privatisation, buttressed by the EU’s framework of treaties — and the binding obligations that flow from them — affect our daily lives.

Step by step Britain’s buses need to be returned to public and democratic control with local authorities, which are the bodies most responsive to local opinion, given the responsibility for providing these services within the framework of an integrated national transport plan that encompasses all forms of transport. 

If nothing else, the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions and regulate energy use means that we need a national drive to reduce people’s reliance on car usage.

These are the kinds of policies with which Labour can reach deep in communities to mobilise the enormous potential that exists for a radical transformation of the way politics works.

The decades of experience which British people — in town, city and country — have accumulated has totally changed the climate of opinion around privatisation. 

These are the kinds of issues which challenge all kinds of voters, including those inclined to vote Tory, to look more closely at the connections between grand politics and the particular, the things that affect our daily lives and the values we hold.

This allows a human, personal insight into grand narratives like sovereignty and when casino capitalism is so spectacularly harmful to human life and happiness — socialism.


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