Election 2017: What are the parties promising on transport?

A lovely train. Image: Getty.

Transport is important. I am assuming, dear reader, from the fact you are on this website at all that you are well aware of this.

Our political leaders, though, often neglect transport. It’s lower on voters’ priority lists than hospitals or schools, capital investment is easier to cut than revenue spending and, anyway, if a minister throws all their energy into getting a new railway line built, some other government will get to snip the ribbon in about 15 years time. Throw in the fact that building anything in this country tends to annoy a small but vocal crowd of angry homeowners and it’s little wonder so few politicians are banging the drum for new roads and rails.

This year’s manifestos are not completely silent, though – so what is the next government likely to do to keep us moving?

Let’s start with the favourites.

The Tories

Education gets around five pages of the Tory manifesto. The NHS gets four; housing gets two.

Transport doesn’t quite manage one.

But length isn’t everything, it’s what you do with it that counts, so is that page any good?

Well... no.

There’s a promise of “one of the largest-ever investment programmes in our roads and railway”, worth £40bn by the end of the decade. But this is one of those figures that may not be as big as it sounds: in recent years, the Department for Transport has generally been getting around £7-8bn in capital funding every year, so in the three years between here and 2020 you’d expect around £25bn anyway.

And much of the extra cash is likely to be swallowed up by a couple of major projects. To whit:

“We will continue our programme of strategic national investments, including High Speed 2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the expansion of Heathrow Airport.”

Or, to put it another way: don’t go expecting the Leeds Supertram to be back on the agenda any time soon, lads.

Elsewhere, in a section on the National Productivity Investment Fund, we are promised:

“...£740 million of digital infrastructure investment, the largest investment in railways since Victorian times, £1.1 billion to improve local transport and £250 million in skills by the end of 2020.”

This also sounds exciting, but the fact they don’t put a figure on it, combined with the vagueness of the answer, suggests to me that the lion’s share of that “largest investment since Victorian times” is going on those major projects listed above.

That’s not to say they’re not important. High Speed 2 should help deal with the capacity constraints on the West Coast Main Line. The Northern Powershouse Rail, thing, too, is a vital step if we’re ever to rebalance the economy in this country.

But what’s really noteworthy about that list is what’s not on it: Crossrail 2, expected to be the next major project to hit London, is nowhere to be seen. It was in the 2015 manifesto, so its exclusion is likely significant. It might well be dead.

The rest of the transport section is pretty vague: extra motorway lanes, extra rail capacity, “new lines and stations” and support for councils building cycle networks. There’s also a promise to push ahead with electric vehicles and low-emission buses.

Zac Goldsmith is sad. Image: Getty.

ast but not least, there’s the promise to expand Heathrow. This, while expected, has the amusing side effect of meaning that Zac Goldsmith – who left the Conservative party to fight a bi-election on an anti-Heathrow ticket, and lost – is now standing as a Conservative candidate on a pro-Heathrow ticket. Poor Zac. Nothing ever goes right for you does it?


The opposition is promising a “National Transformation Fund that will invest £250 billion over ten years in upgrading our economy” – that’ll cover all infrastructure, but transport is likely to be a big part.

  • Specific projects promised a Corbyn government’s love include:
  • High Speed 2, from London to Birmingham, on to Leeds and Manchester, and then all the way to Scotland;
  • Crossrail of the North – that’s Northern Powerhouse Rail in disguise;
  • Completing what used to be known as the Varsity Line, and is now apparently the “Science Vale” transport arc from Oxford to Cambridge through Milton Keynes;
  • Crossrail 2! Oh, huzzah.
  • And, more surprisingly, a new Brighton Main Line. Why not.

There’s also a promise of rail electrification, especially in Wales and the west, which is a policy that has been popping up in manifestos literally since the Second World War, so I’ll believe it when I see it.

Labour’s most prominent transport policy, though, is rail nationalisation: an endto the franchise system, and a return of public ownership. This, we’re told, would mean

“...capping fares, introducing free wi-fi across the network, ensuring safe staffing levels, ending the expansion of driver only operations, and introducing legal duties to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.”

Just like in the British Rail days.

Elsewhere, the manifesto promises better regulation of bus routes; retrofitting diesel buses; and reforming taxi regulation, so watch out Uber. There’s also talk of a few specific road projects to relieve bottle necks – the A1 North and Severn Bridge are both mentioned – and getting the National Infrastructure Commission to work on upgrading the National Cycle Network.

Lastly, the manifesto “recognises the need for additional air capacity in the south east” but stops short of promising to expand Heathrow. First, we need to deal with noise, air quality and climate change issues. I think that’s a “We’ll see”, as my mum used to say when she wanted to shut me up.

The LibDems

At first glance, the yellows don’t seem very interested in transport: there’s no transport section in their manifesto, and it took me a while to find its policies,  buried in the “families and communities” section.

There you’ll find a hodge pordge of ideas: electrification, reopening of stations, “ensuring that new rail franchises include a stronger focus on customer”, apparently through the medium of a Rail Ombudsman. It’s also promising a “Young Person’s Bus Discount Card” for 16-21 year olds, presumably to make buses cool again.

The major investments promised are a familiar list: Crossrail 2, HS2, HS3 (that’s the northern one again; does it need that many names?), and the Oxford-Cambridge link, now going by the name “East West Rail”.

In terms of aviation, the party wants a “strategic airports policy for the whole of the the UK”; it’s opposed to Heathrow expansion.

And finally, the party also backs London Overground taking over more suburban rail services. That one we can get behind.

The others

The transport section of UKIP’s manifesto is promised “keeping Britain moving” which is an ironic title, because its two big polices are scrapping HS2 and ending road tolls, two policies calculated to stop Britain moving entirely.

It also opposes the Thames Crossing from Thurrock  to Gravesend, but is in favour of one further east. And it’s tentatively supportive of better east-west links in the north (though it doesn’t refer to them by any of their many, many names).

Less predictably, it’s in favour of the transition to zero emission vehicles, and while it opposes Heathrow expansion it thinks it’s found an alternative in reopening Manston Airport in Thanet, Kent. This is not a joke.

The Green party, unsurprisingly, likes green transport. It’s promising to nationalise the railways, re-regulate buses, invest in a series of new rail links... On the whole, except for the promise to cancel airport expansion, it’s not a million miles away from Labour.

Transport is a devolved matter, which is nice, because it gets me out of doing the SNP or Plaid, I’ve read quite enough manifestos for one day.  Phew.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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How the rise of anti-crime politics caused lasting harm to Black Americans

"I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become," James Forman Jr. says. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The police killing of George Floyd, and the protest movement that emerged from it, has reinvigorated a national conversation around reinventing criminal justice policy in the United States.

At the same time, reports that violent crime is rising in many US cities have resurrected talk of the much-disputed “Ferguson effect,” a theory put forward by law enforcement professionals, and some researchers, who argued that police slowdowns in the wake of the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests resulted in elevated rates of violent crime. President Donald Trump is trying to weaponise this narrative, paired with images of federal officers clashing with protesters in the streets of Portland, to wage a 1968-style backlash election campaign.

“People who want to mobilise a lock-them-up style of either policing or prosecution have tried to weaponise those short-term increases,” says James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School. “Criminologists will say you have to be very, very cautious about short-term movement [in crime statistics]. We don't know whether or not what we're seeing right now [with violent crime increasing] is going to sustain itself. But the fact is, it's here and people are talking about it.”

In 2018, Forman won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Drawing on his experience as a public defender in Washington, DC, he traced the emergence of anti-crime politics in late 20th century Black communities. Forman showed how newly empowered Black politicians fought for policies they believed would protect and uplift Black Americans, but inadvertently contributed to mass incarceration. 

CityMetric recently caught up with Forman to discuss crime trends, where he sees reason for hope in this moment and how the Black political class’s attitude toward crime and punishment has shifted since the latter part of the 20th century. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

There is talk right now about a resurgence of crime and violence in American cities. We saw similar, more localised concerns after the initial 2015 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. Do you fear this could reinvigorate the kind of politics you describe in your book among segments of the Black community and political class?

I fear that it could be reinvigorated nationally and also in the Black political class. Look at the political conversations that are happening in Atlanta right now, for example, a city that also has seen a short-term uptick in crime as it is a site of a lot of protests about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on the national level, as well as Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery more locally in Georgia.

I think that you can already see in some of the language of the local elected officials this idea that we have to be very careful about pulling back. [They are saying] “while the protesters may make some valid points, we can't risk returning to the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Those decades really traumatised the United States, and particularly traumatised Black communities. There's a deep fear about returning to the levels of the violence that we saw in the crack years.

You write a lot about class divides among Black Americans, where middle income and elite Black people don't suffer as much from extremely punitive policies. They also have closer ties to the politicians who are creating these policies. There are very specific groups of people, even in marginalised communities, whose voices are heard.  As a result of these dynamics, you write about Black politicians fighting for things like mandatory minimum prison sentences or against decriminalising marijuana. Is there still that disconnect between those who suffer the most from criminal justice policies and those who are actually heard in political discourse?  

Let me just say a caveat, that when we talk about class divisions in the Black community it's important to hold two truths in our head at the same time. Bruce Western and others have shown the way in which class, educational status, income can dramatically reduce the likelihood of being hardest hit by the criminal system – namely incarcerated. Middle class and upper middle class Black people get some measure of protection. It's also true at the same time that Black people of all classes are worse off relative to their class counterparts in the white community. 

One area where class is least protective is policing and police stops. The police do not know how many degrees you have. They don't know how much money you have in your bank account. I want to be very clear that in making this point about class, I'm not making the argument that race or racism don't matter in this context. 

In terms of how it plays out now, I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become. Twenty or 30 years ago they had a consciousness, but there's levels of understanding. Many of the people I write about in the book wanted to promote the interests of the Black community. They weren't motivated by indifference or callousness. When presented with mounting evidence of how awful this system has been in Black lives, they're reconsidering and recalibrating. 

Lots of former elected officials have said to me some version of “I didn't know at the time and I appreciate that you showed us in our full complexity. I appreciate that you showed the pressures we were under. If I had known then what I know now, maybe I would have been less quick to go along with some of these harsh measures.” 

The second thing that has affected the Black political class has been the emerging movements, led by Black people in particular and led by young people. They not only educated leaders, but pressured them and made them understand that there is a political cost. If you're not moved by the moral argument, then you'll be moved by the political argument. You'll be moved by the people protesting outside the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles, for example, where Black Lives Matter LA has held, I believe, a year of consecutive protests against a Black district attorney who has had really some of the worst practices.

From what I can tell, she's been pressured by the movement to change some of her positions on important issues like prosecution of low-level drug offenders, for example, and the aggressiveness with which she prosecutes police officers for acts of violence.

What do you make of the calls to defend or even abolish the police?

What I find so compelling about abolition, initially in the prison context and extended to the police as well, is that it shifts the conversation and forces us to go through experiments in which we imagine what it would take to build that world. I think that exercise is very important, because it pushes us further than we are naturally inclined to go. Cultivating a broader imagination is an incredibly important part of this work, because as you know from my book, often it was lack of imagination that caused people to fall back on [punitive policies]. 

That's what caused D.C. Councilmember David Clarke to call the police rather than public health experts when he was overwhelmed with letters about heroin addicts in public space. He was anti-drug war, but he couldn't imagine responding to a call for help with heroin addicts with anything other than police. That's a very common move from even really good and progressive people. 

People who are for defunding, for abolition, are absolutely right about reinvesting that money into alternative structures that support communities. But the reinvestment part doesn't follow naturally from the terms. We might want to come up with a term that captures the new stuff we want to do. I think that's particularly important because one of the reasons Black communities have ended up supporting more police is that Black communities have always wanted their fair share of the resources.

Then, the evidence suggests the United States has too many police officers doing prophylactic, preventative, or stop-and-frisk style policing. The style of policing that leads to district level harassment, pulling people over for no reason. But we have too little investment in the parts of police departments that investigate unsolved crimes. I'm talking about the investigator or the detective who comes to your house after there's been a robbery, an assault, a rape, or homicide. 

As compared to European countries, in the United States we actually underinvest in those parts of our police departments. Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside shows this in dramatic detail. She describes an LAPD that's stopping and frisking Black drivers wantonly and yet the homicide detectives are still relying on a fax machine and the fax machine is broken. They have to go with their own money to Staples to buy a printer. Meanwhile, other aspects of the department are kitted out in this ridiculous riot gear that makes them look like they're in Fallujah. 

That under investment is particularly damaging to Black communities because we're disproportionately victimised by crime. Because of racism and this allocation of resources, the police are less likely to respond in Black communities. The kids I used to work with in the charter schools in DC, we talk about no snitching, but one of the reasons they would never call the police after they'd been victimised by crime is they would say, “They're not even going to come. You're wasting time.” 

I did a Q&A with Jill Leovy too and her argument is one I've struggled to articulate in our present moment. She argues the state doesn't have a monopoly on violence in low-income Black neighbourhoods, because investigations of violence are deemphasised and crime victims or their loved ones often take retribution into their own hands.  But right now, establishing or preserving the state's monopoly on violence isn't an appealing talking point. 

Yes, this is another thing nobody's talking about. Whatever we're going to do instead of the police has to be accountable to the public. The best, most direct way to have accountability is to have the individuals be public employees. As long as we have 300 million guns in this country at least some of those state employees are going to themselves be armed. It's unreasonable to ask them to do the job without it. Not as many need to be armed as are armed now, but some of them need to be. But they can't be hiding behind union contracts or civil service protections which make it impossible to remove even the worst performing, most abusive officers. 

We can not call them police if we want to. That's semantic, but maybe symbolism matters. But those people have to be state employees. They can work with community-based nonprofits, but there are also communities that don't have as robust of a nonprofit network, and they deserve protection too. These [community] groups have to be accountable to the state and, when they don't exist, the state has to be there. 

Progressives get all the points I just made when it's applied to education. The notion that things be public and accountable to the state is understood when it comes to schools. It's exactly why so many people on the left are opposed to charter schools, because they say they don't have public accountability. They want these things to be a state function. But this point about the difficulty in removing this entirely from the hands of the state is, I think, one that liberals and progressives understand from other contexts.

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.