Monday, 7 July 2014

An open letter to those who aspire to be MP for Salford & Eccles

At the moment the Labour Party in Salford is busy selecting the person to be the candidate for Parliament at the next election. Hazel Blears is stepping down and Hazel has generally done a good job with inevitably a few mistakes along the way. I could write about Hazel's record but that would need another post. As a Labour Party member in the constituency I will have a vote on who could replace Hazel and I'm thinking about how to use it. I thought I would write a few thoughts and ask the candidates how they might address the issues that I think are important.

To start with there are some priorities that I expect all the candidates will emphasise, therefore these are important but won't be the deciding factor in selecting a candidate.  I'll make it clear that I believe all the candidates, as Labour Party members, will be keen to promote greater equality and fairness, they will be in favour of Opportunity, Education and the National Health. They will all want greater investment in public services, particularly for the benefit of the poor and vulnerable. They will all want a "sound economy" to pay for these things. The Labour Governments of Blair and Brown had some fantastic achievements and as a long-term resident of Inner City Salford I know very well how much better life got under a Labour government. We had investment in Education, Surestart, much improved policing with reduced crime. We got shiny new hospital facilities and innovative regeneration of challenging housing areas. There was still a lot to do and many mistakes were made along the way, and not just the Iraq War. As we look back the Labour Government was good for the people of Salford.

So what do I want from the next MP for Salford? First and foremost I want someone who cares passionately about the people of Salford. I want someone who will not be seduced by London. Governments generally are far too dominated by the needs and desires of London and the current Labour Party is not showing enough willingness to tackle this. The economy of London has a cancerous effect on the economy of this country and it is time for this to change. Londoners get far higher public subsidy than the rest of the country and this has to change. I hope that our next MP will be willing to challenge unfair distribution of public subsidy to London but we Northerners (Okay I was born in London, but I've lived in Salford and Manchester for 26 years and now count myself as an adopted Salfordian) can't just winge about the North/South divide. We need to work together to build our own vibrant economy. The economy of Salford and Manchester is doing well but many places in the North are doing a lot less well. We need to work together with Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Newcastle and the places inbetween. We need better, faster train connections to other Northern cities before we improve the link to London.

I love living in the city but I want to live in a city that feels safe, well-connected, fair and designed for the benefit of all. Salford has over the years been improving but I want to see the improvements accelerated and I'd love to see government supporting this. So; First of all we need at least the same level of investment in public transport that London gets; we need need to be able to organise public transport for people with well organised routes that are strategic and not just organised for private profit. We need simple ticketing that allows multi-mode travelling and at a reasonable price. We need to get away from the idea that buses are for the poor and build a bus, tram and train system that gives a serious choice to everyone. We also need to tackle the problem of aggressive motorists and insist that those who consistently break the speed limit will lose their licence. That means a lot more monitoring of speed and strict action. I walk across the A6 every day and sometimes many times a day. It goes through the heart of my community and it's wonderful that it is limited to 20 MPH but many motorists ignore the speed limit and this should not be an option. Over many years the investment in roads for cars has been huge but we now need to invest more in making our cities safe for walking, cycling and public transport.

It is fantastic that people are moving back into the city but in my community that mainly means new apartment blocks for private rent and at fairly expensive prices. We also need affordable housing. I want to live in a vibrant mixed community where people have genuine choices about where to live. We need a lot of investment in house building and I'm not idealogically tied to allowing councils to build council houses again but we need to ensure that there is affordable rented housing and a mix of housing types in every community.

Finally, politicians aren't held in high esteem by the public and I think it's important that our MPs help build trust in politicians again. The days of deference are long gone but trust is built by honesty, integrity and understanding. I want an MP who will be honest about mistakes as well as successes, I want an MP who will challenge in Westminster and who knows what it is like for ordinary people in Salford. So, I want to know how our prospective MPs propose to stay in touch and safeguard themselves against the corrupting influence of Westminster.

So I might summarise my questions to those who would be MP as:

  • How can the economy of Northern England be strengethened?
  • How would you build local democracy?
  • How would you like to devolve power away from Westminster?
  • Would you be in favour of English Regional Government or strengthened City Regions?
  • How can we get investment in Public transport for the benefit of all?
  • How will we tackle the curse of the private motor car without alienating too many voting motorists?
  • What are the priorities for house building? How can we get more affordable rented properties?
  • How do you intend to stay in touch with the lives of ordinary people?
And a couple of slightly cheeky questions to finish...
  • How often do you use buses?
  • How often have you cycled in Salford?

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