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Labour Party conference backs public ownership

1 November 2013

In a major victory, Labour conference delegates overwhelmingly endorsed TSSA’s call for rail to be brought back into public ownership by the next Labour government.


Delegates voted to send a strong message that “conference calls on a future Labour government to run our railways in the interest of passengers by retaining and extending this successful model of public ownership [referencing East Coast] to each franchise as it expires and by integrating track and train operations”.

TSSA and 40 constituency parties had submitted motions on the public ownership of our railways, showing the strength of feeling on the issue. However the conference arrangements committee attempted to block them from debate. It was only after our team’s round the clock efforts, and a barnstorming speech by TSSA delegate Jill Murdoch, that the conference voted to reject the proposed agenda and instruct that our motion should be heard.

Jill takes up the story, “The conference arrangements committee was playing games with us, so it became critical to win a ‘reference back’ of their report – something that is rarely done at Labour Party conference. Constituency delegates and trade unions alike clearly supported our bid to get public ownership of the railway reaffirmed as party policy and we managed to carry the vote against the CAC – apparently the first time that has been done since 1982!”

The following day TSSA president Mick Carney moved our motion, with ASLEF’s Tosh McDonald seconding – both received a rapturous reception with a standing ovation spreading across the hall. Whilst the vote doesn’t automatically set Labour’s manifesto policy, it provides a very strong steer that the wish of the Labour party as a whole is to see our railways back under public control.


Let private operators fade away

In the keynote speech by Labour’s then shadow transport minister Maria Eagle, she laid out a plan for passengers to see a more integrated network rather than a patchwork of franchise holders, all with different ticket restrictions and branding. “End wasteful repainting and rebranding of trains and stations with every new contract. Restore a coherent InterCity identity to national train services” she said.

Announcing a raft of new policies, including ending the undercutting of ticket offices with cheaper fares online (“just to provide another excuse to close them”), she also focussed on East Coast. Addressing the PM directly, she said “David Cameron: even at this late stage, abandon this costly, unnecessary, ideological, dogmatic, cynical, wrong- headed, vested-interest driven, disastrous privatisation”.

Declaring that Labour would allow the publicly-owned Directly Operated Railways to bid for further contracts, she said, “End the nonsense that means the only rail company in the world barred from bidding is the one that is running [East Coast] – and doing so well. Even the French, German and Dutch state railways can bid. How completely bizarre that Tory Ministers have no problem with a government-run rail service so long as it isn’t British.”

Huge support for East Coast campaign

MPs were lining up to endorse our call to Keep East Coast Public at a packed rally. Sheila Gilmore MP (Edinburgh East), Pat Glass MP (North West Durham), Sarah Champion MP (Rotherham) and John Healy MP (Wentworth and Dearne) all spoke from the panel, with more MPs chipping in from the audience. They were joined by Maria Eagle, Cat Hobbs from public ownership campaign ‘We Own It!’, Unite’s Diana Holland, Manuel Cortes and East Coast rep Andi Fox.

There was a huge enthusiasm for more action right along the line with MPs stressing just how popular the campaign is with their constituents. Maria Eagle noted that even though the government were eager for the franchise to be awarded ahead of the general election in May 2015, she felt there was still a significant chance that even without a change of heart due to public pressure, the process might not be completed in time for technical reasons.


TSSA’s Andi elected to Labour’s executive

East Coast travel consultant Andi Fox has been elected to serve as one of the trade union reps on Labour’s National Executive Committee. Andi first became a local rep in Doncaster in 2002 and currently serves as the Yorkshire member on TSSA’s Executive Committee.

She will now sit together with Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman and others as part of the group which sets the overall direction of the party.

Thinking ahead to her term of office, she told the Journal, “I aim to be a grassroots voice, tabling the views of ordinary supporters. I would like to think I could also use the opportunity to raise the profile of women in the trade union movement within society at large.”


Energy price freeze wins praise

Introducing Labour’s plan to freeze energy prices for 20 months whilst it ends the abuses of the ‘big six’ energy companies, Ed Miliband used his keynote speech to ask, “What happens when competition fails, what happens when it just fails again and again? Government has to act – with the train companies that put the price of the daily commute further and further out of reach, with the payday lenders who force people into unpayable debt, and with the big gas and electricity companies, that put prices up and up and up.”

By the end of this year average fuel bills are expected to be £450 higher than when the Conservative-led government came to power. Despite the protests of the highly-profitable energy companies and strong opposition from the Conservatives, the policy is hugely popular with the public – something that Labour spin doctors worried at the prospect of backing public ownership of rail should take note of.

With 17 months to go until the general election, Labour are increasingly setting the agenda and developing a platform to deliver for the majority of Britons. To get involved, sign up at


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