AFTER 31 people were killed in the Ladbroke Grove rail crash in 1999 deputy prime minister John Prescott promised that safety would be the top priority on the railways. Money would be 'no object', he said, when it came to installing the new safety system.
But an announcement is expected that New Labour will not stump up the cash to introduce the European Rail Traffic Management rail safety system. The government-appointed Strategic Rail Authority, headed by a former Virgin boss, is set to make that chilling decision. How many more have to die for profit on the railways?
Since New Labour was elected in 1997 seven people died in the Southall rail crash in 1997, 31 died in the Ladbroke Grove tragedy in 1999, four died in the Hatfield rail crash in 2000, and seven died at Potters Bar in 2002.
The rail safety system was recommended after the Clapham rail disaster 15 years ago, when 35 people died. Its introduction had already been postponed to 2008, before the recent news that money would not be made available.
Only two years ago transport minister Stephen Byers signed a declaration organised by survivors of Ladbroke Grove promising to implement the recommendations of the inquiry into the tragedy. Lord Cullen's inquiry called for the system to be put in place. The fact that it has not been is a slap in the face to the survivors' families, and causes deep concern for today's rail users. Louise Christian, solicitor for the crash survivors, says:
'Yet again it's kicked into the long grass, and when we get another fatal crash caused by a train going through a red light everyone will say, 'Why wasn't Lord Cullen's recommendation implemented?''
Funding for the polluters
THE government's environment watchdog is investing tens of millions in oil companies that it has also prosecuted for pollution. The same oil firms also stand accused of contributing to climate change. This may lie behind floods which have plagued much of Europe in recent years, and which in Britain are a major problem for the Environment Agency.
The agency's pension fund last year invested £46 million of what is essentially public money in oil firm BP Amoco and £18 million in rival oil firm Shell. Shell has been fined £20,000 by the agency for spilling 140 tons of soap into the Manchester Ship Canal. BP was fined last autumn after it allowed fuel from one of its petrol stations near Luton to leak into groundwater.
Jenkins-death of a traitor
'ROY WAS one of the most remarkable men ever to grace British politics. I shall miss him deeply.' That was Tony Blair's response to the death of Roy Jenkins last weekend. In fact Jenkins did great damage to millions of working people's lives. His 'achievement' was to split the Labour Party and keep the Tory government in office for 14 years longer than it would have been otherwise.
Back in 1981 Labour was moving to the left and activists were demanding that MPs should be more accountable. In response Jenkins led the 'Gang of Four' out of the party to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
In all 27 Labour MPs left. At the 1983 election the Tories got 13 million votes. Labour and the SDP won over 16 million between them but, with a split opposition, the Tories had a parliamentary majority of 144. The SDP, without any real base in the unions or the working class, soon fell apart. It was forced to merge with the Liberal Democrats. Pave
But it helped pave the way for New Labour. Blair swallowed many of the SDP's right wing 'modern' views. In the mid-1990s Blair consulted Jenkins more and more. Their closeness continued after Blair made it to Downing Street. Blair was undoubtedly sincere when he said he will miss Jenkins. Traitors often like each other.
Council tax - no relief
DON'T HOLD your breath that planned changes in the way the council tax operates in England and Wales will be any fairer on ordinary people. The local government bill went through its second parliamentary reading this week. It allows the government to revalue properties for council tax purposes and change the 'bands' which determine how much you pay.
At present the biggest council tax bill is, at most, three times the rate for the lowest. But salaries for the rich can be 100 times those of the poor and the difference in house prices can be 30 to one.
The Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party have long urged a change in the tax so it taxes the rich more, and at a higher rate, than the poor. The more likely 'reform' is that the government will simply uprate the bands to take account of house price changes. That could lead to chaos with workers in the south of England getting inflated bills because the price of housing has soared.