Road pricing rejected in Manchester referendum

Again, the joys of direct democracy.

Despite attempts to bribe Mancunians into adopting an englarged version of London’s congestion charge, as the first step in making drivers pay to use roads across the country, the promise of hundreds of millions of pounds of investment could not win a majority.

A large majority of Greater Manchester’s electors voted against the regressive scheme, a pet project of New Labour which was unwisely supported by the Green Party because of the investment in public transport.

The Guardian reports:

In a referendum, the proposal was defeated by a majority of 4 to 1, meaning there is now little chance of a pay-as-you-drive scheme being introduced for at least a decade. Sir Neil McIntosh, the returning officer, said 1.03m votes were received – a response rate of 53.2%.

Of those, 79% were against.

Voters were unimpressed by the promise of £1.5bn of government money for public transport, and 10,000 extra jobs created by the construction of tram lines and improved buses and trains. Instead, the public appeared to regard it as an extra tax for motorists, which would cost individuals up to £1,200 a year.

The result is an embarrassment to the government, which created a £2bn fund dedicated to supporting local charging schemes. The fund is likely to be reallocated to other projects or become a victim of budget cuts.

The city’s yes campaign may not have been helped by the decision of Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, to abolish the western extension of the capital’s charging zone. It is expected that other cities that had been considering schemes, including Cambridge, Bristol and Leeds, will abandon their plans.

Labour politicians in Manchester had worked closely with ministers at the Department for Transport to try to convince voters. A vitriolic campaign was fought between the yes and no camps.

Had it gone ahead, the charge would have been introduced in 2013, by which time 80% of the public transport improvements would have been completed. There would also have been discounts for the low-paid and exemptions for parts of the city that had to wait longer for improvements.

Motorists would have paid to cross two charging rings during the morning and evening rush hours. The outer ring roughly followed the orbital M60, while the inner ring surrounded the city centre.

Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, who opposed the charge, said: “I am delighted with the result. It’s a brave politician that goes forward with such a scheme, unless it is an extraordinarily good scheme that virtually everybody benefits from.”

He said the result showed there was hostility to road charging: “You have to come up with an extremely good scheme whereby you reduce other road taxes if you ever want road pricing by consent in this country.”

Stringer said it was a pity that three years had been wasted on the “ill thought out” scheme. He said officials must now go back to the government to talk about how they can invest in trams, trains and buses for Greater Manchester.

For more information, check out the Campaign for Free Public Transport website.

Stoke votes to scrap elected mayor

London’s Tory mayor, Boris Johnson has already hiked bus fares for the poorest – he’s now set to scrap the target of 50% affordable housing across the city.

One man wielding such power is the antithesis of democracy. Ideally, proposed legislation should be put to the public vote, of course. But until then we need to be sure that decisions are being made through parliamentary rather than dictatorial processes.

So it’s good to see that a majority of Stoke citizens have voted to abolish their elected mayor

The current political system, which is unique in England, will be replaced by a council leader and cabinet set-up.

The referendum vote was 21,231 for a council leader and cabinet, and 14,592 for a mayor and cabinet. The turnout was 19.23%.

A government commission said the city must change its system, under which the elected Labour mayor Mark Meredith and his chief executive make all decisions.

H/t: Miles.

Luton votes to leave EU

You probably missed this week’s edition of Tonight (formerly World In Action and as strident as the name suggests).

I saw it quite by accident; you can watch it online for the next 27 days.

Voters in Luton were given a say on the EU consti-treaty and the UK’s membership of the EU in a mock referendum. There was real campaigning however – both the “yes” and “no” supporters handed out leaflets and canvassed voters.

In the Tonight programme, Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT union, appears in person (not in a personal capacity!) to make the trade union case for withdrawal from the EU.

Here’s the result:

63% voted against the EU consti-treaty, 27% voted for it, and 10% were undecided.

54% voted to leave the EU, 35% were in favour of continued EU membership, and 11% were undecided.

Manchester road-pricing plans will be put to public vote

Road charging is a form of indirect taxation which hits working people the hardest. At a time of high inflation, plans to add to people’s cost of living won’t be well recieved.

I’m sure that a majority will reject the proposals, even if the local authorities spend millions of pounds of public money to campaign for their plans, and even if the wording of the referendum is such that people are encouraged to think that it’s all or nothing.

Let’s hope that the use of referenda will be extended in both local and national government across England. It’s not enough to vote in elections for legislators, we must also be able to vote on the legislation itself.

From the BBC website:

The people of Greater Manchester are to decide whether a congestion charge is to be introduced in the region.

The leaders of all 10 authorities met on Friday and unanimously agreed to a public referendum on the issue, likely to be held in December.

If seven out of the 10 Greater Manchester boroughs vote yes the scheme will go ahead.

Government funding for £2.8bn of public transport investment depends on the charge’s introduction in 2013.

Motorists would be charged for crossing the M60 and a second ring around the city centre at peak times.

The decision was reached by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) on Friday.

Residents of all 10 boroughs will vote yes or no to one question, it was confirmed, although the wording is yet to be agreed.

Lord Peter Smith, leader of AGMA said: “Today’s news is an important step forward for the people of Greater Manchester who now have an opportunity to vote on one of the most important decisions this city region has seen for decades.

“People will have their say on whether they want to say yes to a transformed public transport system in Greater Manchester including a congestion charge to ensure their region can continue to prosper.

“It is all or nothing.”

Although welcoming the poll, campaign group National Alliance Against Tolls (NAAT) said it had doubts about the fairness of the campaign.

“Any sort of vote is considerably better than the scheme being bulldozed through by the authorities,” said spokesman John McGoldrick.

Tram expansion

But he said the resulting vote was likely to be held under section 116 of the Local Government Act 2003, which he argued would not be a true referendum.

“These polls are not subject to any rules and it means that the authorities can continue to spend millions on their promotion campaign,” added Mr McGoldrick.

Transport bosses said the investment would be split across 30 different public transport schemes across Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs.

They have pledged to have at least 80% of the improvements in place before the charge is introduced in 2013.

These will include the Metrolink extension to Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester Airport, Rochdale town centre and Oldham town centre.

Extra trains and buses and improved stations have also been promised.

A consultation on the scheme is currently taking place and feedback from the public will shape the final package that will be put to a vote, AGMA said.

Abandon the Lisbon Treaty – sign the petition

The wording is as follows:

The Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty has resulted in a decisive no vote.

However, politicians across Europe are calling for the ratification of the Treaty to go ahead.

The British Government are planning to put the Lisbon Treaty to its third and final reading in the Lords next Wednesday 18 June. This would complete its ratification in the UK.

We believe that the Prime Minister should respect the result of the Irish referendum and abandon the attempt to ratify the Lisbon Treaty

Even if every country other than Ireland and the Czech Republic goes ahead with ratification, the Treaty will have no force in law.

But I’m sure there’s a loophole to be found somewhere – if not, the law can be ignored if it suits the corporate elite.

So, sign the petition!

As I write, there’s over twenty thousand signatures. Spread the word.

The Irish people say no, the Eurocrats hear yes

Right, so. A victory for popular sovereignty, first of all.

Ireland’s constitutional “oddity” (as it was described by some commentators) means that – would you believe it – the people must be consulted on major changes in the country’s affairs.

By a narrow but significant margin, the No campaign won:

All but six constituencies have rejected the treaty.

Ireland was the only country to hold a referendum on the treaty. The campaign for a no vote won significant majorities among the urban working class and in rural areas in particular.

All the established parties in the Irish Republic backed the treaty. The Labour Party backed it as did some trade unions and the Green Party was split on the issue, with their government ministers campaigning for a yes vote. The bosses organisations spent millions campaigning in favour of the treaty.

Activists from the left and the anti-war movement have held rallies across the country and delivered leaflets to millions of homes.

Socialist Appeal describes the significance of the vote:

Thus a small nation of 4.2 million (with an electorate of just over 3 million) may decide the fate of the latest attempt to achieve some kind of EU-wide Constitution. Had the citizens of other EU countries (almost 500 million of them) been allowed to vote most likely many of them would have voted in a similar manner.

What the vote reveals is an instinctive mistrust of the European Union bureaucracy and what it stands for. We should not forget that the European Union has been used as an excuse, in all countries that make it up, for draconian anti-working policies over a period of decades. Let us not forget the Maastricht Treaty with its stringent conditions on public spending, which were used to justify cuts in pensions, social welfare and so on. Everything was done with the excuse that “this is necessary if we want to be a part of Europe”.

So long as the economy was booming workers could, to a degree, tolerate these attacks on their living standards. After all, there were jobs. Yes, jobs with worsening conditions and longer hours, but there was an outlet. Now unemployment is growing, inflation is on the up and workers across Europe are feeling the pinch. And Ireland is no exception.

In this vote we see a rejection of the policies of the present three-party Irish coalition government. Before the previous Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, resigned there was concern that the electorate might use the referendum to cast a vote of no confidence in him. With Ahern gone they though this problem had been removed. They ignore the fact that working people in Ireland can see that the new Prime Minister stands for the same things. It is against policy that the electorate has voted, not individuals.

The vote was also a rejection of the big business interests that lie behind the European Union. It is also an indication that things are going to be different in Ireland from now on. The level of strikes has gone up, with some very militant struggles in the recent period. The Trade Union leaders campaigned for a “Yes” vote but failed to convince the workers. In the coming period they will also fail to hold back the tide of militancy.

This was not just one little referendum in a small corner of Europe. It is the tip of an iceberg of a much bigger picture, one of growing instability across Europe and one of growing polarisation between the classes, where the workers and the capitalists are moving in opposite directions.

It was no surprise to hear, even before the result of the referendum had been officially declared, that Gordon Brown had assured the EU president that the UK government would ratify the constitutional treaty – despite Ireland effectively killing it.

I’ll give the final word to the RMT Gen Sec, Bob Crow:

“The Irish referendum result is a massive victory for democracy and the Constitution is now dead in the water, despite our own government’s attempt to railroad it through without the referendum the British people were promised.”

Labour’s assault on national self-determination

[Monday]

Oh dear. As I wrote on Wednesday, Sir Emyr Jones Parry has been appointed as chair of a commission on holding a referendum on primary law-making powers for the Welsh Assembly.

Now Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain has spoken out, saying a referendum before the next election would return a “no” vote. This despite the timing of the referendum being linked to public opinion. In other words, the agreement between Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru was that a vote on primary law-making powers would be taken when there was public support for it. No government ever volunteers a referendum it thinks it will lose – just look at New Labour over the consti-treaty!

Here’s what Lenin Cymru says:

The idea of a referendum on or before May 2011 looked certain, after the Ieuan and Rhodri press conference earlier in the week. I noticed that even the display board in the background had the Plaid-driven terminology “One Wales Cymru’n Un”. Another sign that Plaid’s is providing the government’s direction. Following that conference, what else could regressive London Labour do? Answer: put up their reasonable face, Peter Hain to undermine that certainty.

Peter Hain’s arguments deserve a little dissection. He argues that an “early referendum would be lost” and that “there would not be a consensus in Westminster, most of Welsh Labour would be against an early referendum.” What he is really saying is that Labour MPs in London can’t handle this, the Labour party is too divided. He knows that to retain Labour MPs’ support and maintain the appearance of unity within the party, then he has to talk down the prospects of a referendum. Otherwise, it’ll be a won referendum and a ’99 election result all over again.

This Hain interview is no doubt designed to sure up the fractures growing ever more evident from the comments of the likes of Don Touhig on the unionist wing, the man who says a former UN ambassador is not up to the job of chairing the Welsh constitutional convention. Should Labour party unity, as Hain suggests, be the main criterion deciding when one should hold a referendum? Or should public opinion be the guiding light?

Sexy Plaid socialist Adam Price is pissed off:

Of course, we have been here before – this was the same Peter Hain that famously ruled out a Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition. Now that it exists, he seems determined to undermine it. What particularly was the motivation for yesterday’s remarks? Is he soothing furrowed brows among Westminster colleagues piqued at the appointment of Sir Emyr? Is he jostling for position with Rhodri Morgan as the true power-broker within Wales? Or is he as Secretary of State saying that the One Wales agreement only binds Labour in the Assembly not Labour at Westminster?

After all, what he actually said was: “I did not take the Government of Wales bill through, nor did MPs vote for it to be bounced into an early referendum”

To most people that sounds like a threat that the Westminster Goverment may veto a referendum – either directly or indirectly – which would effectively render the One Wales agreement null and void.

Considering that the Scottish Parliament has seen some good reforms for working class people, would voters really reject the Welsh Assembly having similar powers?

Hain also criticised the Tories, who have come out in favour of an English Grand Committees – or at least, Sir Malcolm Rifkind has done so, one never knows what Tory leader David Cameron thinks.

It’s clear that the Tories will try and do something about the West Lothian question – but not about the English question. There is majority support for an English parliament, according to opinion polls.

As for Labour, the only union it cares about these days is the United Kingdom. Harriet Harman, Labour’s Deputy Leader, was speaking out on The Andrew Marr Show this Sunday:

I think it’s right that we’ve devolved power, and this was a decision by the House of Commons to set up a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, and also to set up a Greater London Assembly.

So I think it’s right that you look at the constitution from time to time and see where you can devolve power.

But I don’t think it’s right to break up the United Kingdom, and I think that that’s where ultimately the suggestion of the Conservatives would go.