Sunday, 20 February 2011

Links to the Past

They say nostalgia isn't what it used to be; that may be true but it still exists, as brought home by two events which I attended in the last few days.

Site Battles

Firstly – 'Site Battles' on Thursday was a commemoration of the protests against Manchester's second runway in the 1990s, (Campaign against Runway 2 or CAR2) and was timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the opening of said runway. Veterans of the trees and tunnels were there, some reunited for the first time since the protests, to tell of their experiences. It generated a really good atmosphere in the room – these were people who had been though a life-changing experience together, on the front line in a battle for a sustainable future.
My involvement in the campaign was somewhat fringe – I remember visiting the camps on the site, taking food down and being part of demonstrations in the area. I have the utmost respect for those who lived there for months, buried in tunnels and sitting precariously in the trees for the cause. Here's an account from the time Schnews and here's the MEN account on the 'reunion' Reunion

It was good to see many links to the Green Party; among those speaking about their experiences were long time Green activist Lance Crookes (seen on video here and former Manchester Green Councillor Vanessa Hall. A 'World in Action' documentary of the time was shown, which included lengthy interviews with a 'youthful-looking!' Professor John Whitelegg and Gaynor Trafford, one of the 'Mobberley Mums' supporting the protesters who went on to be a Green parish councillor.

On paper you can argue that the protesters failed – the second runway went ahead. But together with the earlier protests at Newbury and other famous road battles of the 1990s, they helped to change opinion. Since those days it has become more difficult for both road schemes and airport expansions to get off the ground.

Expansion is still on the cards at Manchester Airport however – homes and environment are threatened by freight expansion – for recent news see Non-violent direct action is also still on the cards – this Monday sees the start of the second trial of protesters from an action at the airport last year. For details see manchesterairportontrial

George Osborne isn't Working

Given the apparent hostility of our new Government to the north – see here – it comes as a surprise to realise that the constituency of one of its principal actors is just down the road. Chancellor George Osborne is MP for Tatton which includes places like Wilmslow, Alderley Edge and Knutsford.. Famous previous Tatton MPs include Neil Hamilton and Martin Bell, indeed two of the biggest news stories of spring 1997 were the battle between those two, and the CAR2 campaign mentioned above, and both of them affected the same constituency!

Those with long memories will recall a poster advert from the seventies showing a long queue of people at a dole office and the slogan 'Labour isn't Working'. This event was a recreation of that queue at Osborne's constituency office in Knutsford, with the title 'George Osborne isn't Working'.
The idea was the brainchild of Respect member Richard Searle and provided an opportunity to dig out an old coat and flat cap for the occasion. As well as the photo shoot, it was a chance for people to deliver a message to Osborne, which could be anything from a lengthy critique of his economic policies to a simple request to take the advice of the initials of his name and just GO.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

Last week a Tory got some stick for a comment which denigrated waitresses and bus-drivers – see here. Clearly bus-driver is seen as a term of contempt – one cannot imagine, say, airline pilot being used in the analogy, even though they are both forms of transport. The bus-drivers insulted by Lord Lang do a job which I would not envy, combining as it does the role of driver, navigator, fare-collector, and security guard (difficult passengers on buses are rare in my experience, but the driver always has to be alert for possible trouble). Imagine if an airline pilot was expected to do all that on his/her own?

In a way the comment is hardly surprising, - the humble omnibus (meaning 'for everyone' in Latin) is the Cinderella of public transport. There is a famous quote from the 80's – often attributed to Thatcher, but actually Loeila, Duchess of Westminster that 'Any man who finds himself on a bus after the age of 30 can count himself a failure'. Thatcher probably thought it however and successive Governments of any persuasion have failed to dispel it. Outside London, where different transport arrangements prevail, bus use has generally been in decline.

I'm well past the age of 30 and am proud to be a regular bus user; it reliably takes me to and from my place of employment in the centre of Manchester on a daily basis. It is slow, but that gives me a chance to relax and read the paper and occasionally chat to a friend or colleague also using this form of transport. Sometimes the slowness can be irritating (e.g. last Friday morning as the bus had to wait several minutes to get into Piccadilly – surely the worst designed bus station in Europe).

Whilst Metrolink gets much more emphasis and publicity, Greater Manchester's humble buses are largely out of the limelight. Bus users will still have to wait until December to know the fate of major schemes – see here. Yet even when the Metrolink expansion is complete most of Greater Manchester's travelling public will be closer to bus stops than to tram stations, and many will still rely on the continuing rotation of the 'Wheels on the Bus' as described in the well-known nursery song. .