Traingate and the reputation of the railways

My Dad was a train driver and I worked in IT for the railways, so defending our reputation against all kinds of charges – wilted cheese sandwiches, over-packed trains, silly train fares, lateness – became part of life (especially at parties).
The railways’ reputation also suffers from people’s first experience of train journeys as a child – invariably a special event and when the seats seemed so big.  Add to that people’s discomfort when someone they don’t know sits next to them – captured by Ben Elton in the eighties with his “double-seat, double-seat, gotta get a double-seat” routine.
Then there’s the fear some people have of empty railway stations late at night – one friend once used a photo of low-lit platforms on Nottingham station as a cover for a book on crime; and some tried to stop the move of the City Council to Station Street cos of a perceived fear of crime at the station.

So my initial reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s video about a “ram-packed” midday train to Newcastle was cautious.
(Granted, it did make me think that a trip to Sunderland – yep, Salop are playing a Premiership side away in the Football League Cup again – might not be worth it.)
Cos staff do work at getting passengers seated, even if it takes a while, partly for safety reasons.
But I didn’t realise how extensive the video coverage of a mainline train service would be.
Virgin Trains have now presented their side of the story.
20160823 Labour friends of trains ab0611h
So embarrassing for the new honest politics to be caught out so badly.
Seems, despite the video images, some are saying there was an issue at some stage.  But a situation to justify a video and to exemplify privatisation?
This was celebrated as Jeremy’s best political intervention – speaking out for the people.
But the political messages were strange anyway.  The first part of the case for public ownership is how with a clearer public first ethic and not having to carry the cost of profit, we can provide better services.
But overcrowding on trains to and from London is also about how London has over-heated relative to the rest of the country.  Patronage on “Network South-East” has gone up, and more of the paths available on our main railway lines have been given over to commuters.  We either need longer platforms and longer trains, or we need more capacity – one of the big reasons for High Speed 2; or the regional planning approach of the 1970’s Labour government.
Other arguments for public ownership can help – the role of rolling stock companies, the profiling of financial returns from train service franchises, the cost of regulating the finances, the potential to involve local government.
But for those of us who’ve felt a general responsibility to defend railway travel in general, the video stunt was disappointing, cos we knew there weas a range of issues going on – I’m just not sure we expected video to show it like it did.

Liking Facebook is not enough in days like these

So what do you do when a movement for “popular administration and control” isn’t popular?
Well, “what do we have on the spaceship that’s good?”  But unlike Apollo 13, survival is not enough for the Labour Party.
Nevertheless, half a million party members.  And 4,000 strong rallies.  A vigorous social media presence.  And web-sites you can trust for the news.

The Tory’s days are numbered“.
A bit unfair to pick on one person’s excitement in posting on the Corbyn rally in Kilburn (& we can ignore the grammatical mistake) and to pick on another’s enthusiasm in sharing the post with me, but what is the process whereby rallies such as these leads to the Conservative party no longer being effective?
What are the stages, or the tests by which we know we’re making progress?
Will it be reaching parity with the Conservatives in the polls? And then taking the lead? Progress in Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity with the public (from minus 41 points, or minus 35 even)? With Corbyn supporters seeking credit for the London Mayoral victory, will it be Labour holding the county councils we currently have next May? Will it be the new members being seen to win people over in numbers on the doorstep, on the phone, in the communities and at places of work? Will it be public opinion changing to say they now prefer REMAIN?
Just how does it all pan out?
Remember the Chilcot report that says – you should be able to predict the consequences of your policy.
Oh, but Owen Smith can’t summon rallies like what Corbyn can. 
But these kinds of numbers for rallies were achieved last year, including in Nottingham. Since then, Labour has been less popular than a chronically split Conservative party that’s been making unpopular decisions in majority power (and despite growing problems in the delivery of public services, including the NHS and falling numbers of Police). And we’ve at best scraped a draw in local government elections, and lost the EU referendum for reactionary reasons. With the new supporters invisible.
So how does this get converted into something that has wide popular support?
Cos so far, it’s not been working.

Rio de Janeiro Olympics were special

Held in South America for the first time, with stunning scenery and with better picture quality and presentation than ever before.
Yep, harder for the British to follow cos of the past midnight viewing, and harder to appreciate more broadly cos of the BBC’s obsession with the medal table (once it was appreciated that Team GB was going to do well).  New ways of presenting the success was found (e.g. golds by sporting discipline) and old favourites (e.g. numbers of personal bests achieved) not even brought to mind.  The Chief Exec of our efforts said these rates of success could now be envisaged for the future, overlooking that other countries now know we’ve invested something like £4 million for each medal and some are likely to follow suit, especially the next hosts, Japan.
The weather disrupting the rowing, such as to threaten the chances of emerging countries to have more than one race, and consequently their resolve to take part in future, says that rather like Formula 1 has done, ways to recognise the efforts of others need to be found.
The problems with the games have been well highlighted – but beyond managing ticket sales, and some failures in judging technology – the Brazilian hosts cannot be held to blame for the fear of the Zika virus, doping and the challenges to eradicating it, the nature of those involved in the IOC.
riocauldron01It was always gonna be hard for the opening ceremony to compete with London’s, but in the cauldron, Rio 2016 excelled. The captivating, hypnotic wind-powered kinetic sculpture.  And another reminder about the role that art plays in making events special.
As for Britain and the original aims of the Much Wenlock Olympian Society, we remain challenged on public health, community development and sports participation.  Tragic, given how Team GB has shown in Rio 2016 just what the potential of a developed country, with the sixth biggest economy, is.

Pizza production in The Meadows

Pizzas – one million, two hundred thousand of them are manufactured every week in two factories in the Queens Drive industrial estate.
Around 1,150 are employed at The Pizza Factory, although the owner – 2 Sisters – uses over 300 workers employed through agencies.

NOJR20160817B-002_B pizzafactorygt1708922 The Pizza Factory 15288401-large
Photos from the Nottingham Post who have published 2 news articles on the loss of perhaps as many as 325 jobs, following Tesco’s deciding to buy their own brand pizzas from another supplier.
(Jobs losses announced.) (Business consults with Unite the Union.)
Unite have published a statement.

Olympic grace, will and misdirection

The Olympics should be great to watch on TV, the draw of the medals giving significance to sports that are usually ignored.
The ethos should be great too – wars to be stopped to allow the games to take place, taking part doing your best, boosting public health.
Then the drama.
Three standout moments for me.


The British trampolinist who broke down when she knew she’d win a medal and she hadn’t expected it, and she’d been poorly in 2012.   The Chinese world champion trampolinist who came behind her and you could just see that she thought the scoring was wrong – and yet after that moment’s bewilderment, she regained her grace.  And the Chinese boxer’s scare stare into the camera – she was to lose to Adams, but what a look.
And of course you need good opponents – even when you were sick of that Argentinian who kept coming back against Murray even though he had a dead leg.
You might even need good losers – the grace with which the British epee finalist, invited to complain about some of the judging decisions against him, said, that’s the sport. Sports broadcasters across the developed world are praying that will not be picked up as a trend – just how would they fill their schedules?
The emphasis on the Olympics medal table by the BBC is getting tedious. Yes,we’re second but we are 65 million people and we’re the world’s fifth largest economy  – sorry, sixth, post Brexit.   There is though a bit of payback here – for years Team GB suffered when we obeyed the amateur code while others didn’t, and then there’s the doping – which we  British never do (er, I’m sure that’s right).
The coverage too is getting tedious too.  Failing to accurately describe what’s happening; or to properly develop our understanding of some of the sports covered.  (Yeah, sweeping.)   Wanting competitors’ emotions rather than understanding.
Repeating the myth that it’s about the will rather than ability, capability and knowledge – and training, investment and access to facilities.
The Guardian has an article suggesting that at the current rates, we’ve invested GBP5.5m per medal.

The article also explains that sports that could use investment are losing out.
And gives an honourable mention to Derby City Council for acting to keep facilities open to support the swimming club for the GB swimmer who won gold.
The Meadows has a swimming pool that Rebecca Adlington once used, and in fact was the base for the Rebecca Adlington of the 1920’s – Constance Jeans – who at one stage held 5 world record times in swimming. Yet, the pool was nearly closed cos of the cuts in public services expenditure.
Meanwhile, free sessions are being offered to kids, but the take up is not good – not clear why – have heard suggestions such as:
– kids suspect it can’t be free, or
– the emphasis on participation passes less well-off communities by,
– we don’t have the right kind of people trained to engage youngsters.
I don’t know.
But we know the spirit of the commitments made for London to win the right to host the 2012 Olympics has been lost and we could do better, especially if we did more to support councils in sports participation, for excellence, for recreation and for public health.