A party preparing for government forgets gesture politics and focuses on what really matters

by Kevin Meagher

The relative lack of female train drivers may well be an issue that could do with rectifying, but is it really a “national scandal?”

Mary Creagh thinks it is. The Shadow Transport Secretary gave a quixotic interview with the Daily Telegraph over the Christmas break where she blamed children’s television programme Thomas the Tank Engine for “negative stereotypes,” arising from the lack of women choo-choos.

“The only female characters are an annoyance, a nuisance and in some cases a danger to the functioning of the railway” she said, as the internet rocked with mirth.

When passengers are ruing New Year fare increases while enduring the misery of another year of overcrowded trains it seems indulgent – and unfocused – to alight on gender stereotyping – if indeed it is such a thing –  in a single kids television show (a period one at that) as the top issue for Labour’s frontbench transport team to bother about.

And, it would seem, pointless too. Has the decision of haulage giant Eddie Stobart to name its entire fleet of wagons after women had any appreciable effect on female recruitment into long-distance lorry driving? (Answer: only 0.5% of the UK’s 300,000 truck drivers are women, so, no).

In fairness, Creagh was simply backing a campaign led by train drivers’ union, Aslef. It’s not that the general point about the lack of women in the rail industry is not a worthy one, but it is an undeniably marginal one when Labour is so flaky on the big transport issues like HS2.

It is the mark of a party playing to the gallery rather than focusing on the public’s real priorities. Loitering in opposition rather than preparing for government. It leaves the average voter wondering: “If they think this is a top issue, what the hell would they do if we actually put them in charge of anything?”

The other notable intervention over the break came from Tristram Hunt, the new shadow education secretary in an interview with Mary Riddell for Fabian Review, (a pre-released version of which was carried in the Daily Telegraph). Hunt cited the impact immigration has had on some schools (not all) and how some poor White kids are missing out as a result.

Is immigration merely a correlating factor with the relatively bad results poor White kids are achieving, or its cause? Hunt’s interview doesn’t delve far enough into that, but at the very least there are significant resource implications in meeting the needs of a school with a high percentage of migrant children. And at a time of austerity less spreads thinner.

Tales of teachers using Google translate to try and teach their multi-lingual classes abound. While it’s already well-established that White boys from poor backgrounds are faring worse in school than just about anyone else.

To rent-a-quote pontificators like The Independent’s Owen Jones, this was “grim stuff” and “evidence-free nonsense”. Of course any framing of immigration as a problem to deal with usually elicits this response from the gesture politics brigade.

Yet the Institute for Public Policy Research recently argued for the restoration of the Migration Impacts Fund (the scheme that allow councils to manage bottlenecks in service provision arising from immigration) to help with this very problem.

Intuitively, clustering migrant children with sometimes complex linguistic and cultural barriers into mainstream education presents difficulties for teachers and pupils in struggling schools. We already know there are 240 schools in England where over 90 per cent of pupils do not speak English as a first language – 1.1 million children across the country – a figure that has risen by a quarter since 2008.

But the public is in a more sophisticated place on immigration the liberal-left pontificators assume – and is chiefly worried about the practical effects on key services like schools. Just by raising these issues, Hunt helps to show Labour is listening and on their side.

Indeed, a recent YouGov poll asked people what they felt were the most negative effects of immigration. While 24 per cent were worried the country was “becoming less British”, 49 per cent cent cited “increased pressure on public services”.

And as if we needed reminding, a poll by Ipsos MORI across 19 countries shows that Britons are by far the most concerned when it comes to immigration control. 43% of people pick it as one of the top three most important issues facing the country – far higher than anywhere else.

The top three. So if Labour frontbenchers are going to get a mauling for what they say, its better if it’s in the service of keeping Labour on-track with public expectations, rather than drifting into off into the sidings of gesture politics.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

Tags: , , , ,

5 Responses to “A party preparing for government forgets gesture politics and focuses on what really matters”

  1. swatantra says:

    Equality doesn’t mean that men/women; boys/girls muslims/jews are the same.
    They’re different, and the first step in equality is to recognise that difference. But diversity means recognising difference but respecting that difference as long as it doesn’t impinge on the liberties and opportunities of others. You can be different but at the same time accomodate and work with the norm.
    That means having special reception classes for ESL pupils for a few weeks and then bringing them into the mainstream; Most ESL students will be keen and eagar to learn, probably keener and more eager than the indiginous kids. So mixed ability classes and mixed community classes are just a pain in the neck for teachers. Sensible banding or setting is necessary.

  2. paul barker says:

    “A Party … for Government.”
    But you arent that. Labour is facing a struggle to survive in 2014, if you get through the Year in one piece then you can worry about preparing for Power, in 2020, maybe.

  3. John reid says:

    There’s several people who wanted to be M.P.s but never got elected, yet, the reason there’s not enough female train drivers is more to do with women not wanting to be them, there could be all women shortlists for train driver applications, but it wouldn’t change the amount applying, M.P.s should realise in the real world, that some people do jobs, not because they want to, but have too, and M.P.s should note, that it’s privilege not race that get people where they are

  4. Mario Dunn says:

    Spot on.

  5. treborc says:

    Any way it’s difficult to drive trains, make tea, change the babies nappies, and clean the carriages. We men have only to drive trains and dream of ladies or football.

Leave a Reply