Transport: Finally in the Spotlight?

The NHS, benefits, immigration and education – those are just some of the major policy battlegrounds that our beloved political parties fight tooth and nail about; day and night, year after year.

Yet there is one significant area of public policy that is usually overlooked, dismissed as being trivial or sometimes just forgotten about. For years, transport has been such a minor issue in British politics that the ropey Department for Transport (DfT) has often been a dumping ground for slightly useless cabinet ministers during reshuffles. Indeed, in recent years the department’s Secretary of States were even burdened with the job of Scottish Secretary – with neither job seemingly important enough to warrant a dedicated cabinet member during Tony Blair’s last term in power.

Earlier in his reign, Blair had shoved Transport in with various other random departments, from ‘the Regions’ to Environment to Local Government. While Brown and Cameron have finally reinstated the role of Secretary of State for Transport as a single entity, every person holding this role since 2007 have barely lasted more than a year in the job before being reshuffled to perhaps a more meaningful position.

The reason is simple: transport has been an after thought. Almost every single person in the country uses a car, bus, train, plane, bike or even a boat most days of their lives. This is a subject that affects us all. We go to visit friends or family and we meticulously plan our route. Once we arrive, we moan about the traffic endured or the roadworks on the M6. Drivers hate cyclists. Cyclists hate drivers. The trains are always late….and expensive. Don’t get me started on potholes.

In Westminster, these things are annoying but trivial. Politicians know they can win more votes harping on about education and health. And thus Transport has been used as stepping stone for budding politicians with a brighter future ahead, or as a dumping ground for those with no future whatsoever ahead.

Things are changing, thankfully. Infrastructure is something that George Osborne has cemented as a cornerstone of his growth policies, and projects such as HS2 will go on to define this government. Perhaps – in several decades time – it will be the one thing that reminds us of this coalition. Personally, I can’t decide if I support the idea of HS2 or the way it is being executed. Regardless, it is something that at least shows ambition and foreward thinking.

Hurrah! A transport policy at the heart of government and at the heart of debate. It’s divisive and people are arguing about it, but it’s nice to see transport policy causing that for once. Patrick McLoughlin – the current Secretary of State for Transport – seems like he is interested. He seems like he cares and I can’t see him being moved away from the department until the election. HS2 and the whole airport debate are just too big – further disruption in the department will cause havoc.

It’s not just HS2, either. Crossrail is one of the biggest infrastructure projects under construction anywhere in the world.

Additionally, I firmly believe that the results of the ongoing Airports Commission will play a huge part in shaping the future of the British economy and our place in an ever competitive world. I feel so strongly about this that I have been working for many months on a plan that we have now submitted to the Airports Commission. Regardless of the decision eventually made by the commission in 2015, it will be controversial; more so than HS2. But it will also be pivotal. This is a government that is finally tackling major transport and infrastructure projects like high-speed rail and airport expansion head on, and transport is finally back at the forefront of politics in this country.

Now if only they could fill those potholes……

 

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