Caroline Lucas publicly approved re-nationalisation of railways and discussed potential improvements to train services at this year's Green Party Conference in Brighton.
The party's first and only Member of Parliament addressed a large audience of Green Party supporters at the City's Hilton Metropole. The cloudy, grey weather outside seemed to appropriately coincide with the disheartened mood at Conference regarding current political and economic conditions; most notably transport.
During the discussion, panel members highlighted concerns with the present railway privatisation. Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), said: "Prices of transport are drastically rising." This comes after the Coalition announced plans to increase rail fares by up to 9.1% this year. Consequently, the CBT Chief Executive also advocated a re-nationalisation of trains, stating that essential network extensions would be more expansive under state control.
Lucas admitted a "step-by-step approach" is needed in order to gain back assets from private franchises. One of the Green Party's main transport aims is for the state to regain control of the railways. Train prices in the South are up to 30% higher than the European average, with a growing difference between prices of travel and incomes of British people, panelists commented.
Bring Back British Rail is a campaign group formed in 2009 by student Ellie Harrison. She spoke alongside the Green Party MP on the panel debate, saying: "It was lunacy to privatise the railways in the first place.” Her campaign has garnered widespread support from social media users: over 40,000 'likes' on Facebook and Sky News coverage. An introduction of British Rail once again would enhance nostalgia for the "train-spotter" generation, the BBBR founder joked.
Also on the panel was Peter Pinkney, National President of RMT, who expressed concerns for continuing private control of an essential service for millions across the UK. He spoke at the TUC Conference in Bournemouth last week, noting that while speaking to Labour Shadow Transport Secretary, Maria Eagle, she speculated about possible re-nationalisation negotiations in Ed Miliband's speech. However, there was no mention of rail service re-nationalisation from the Labour Leader on the same day.
Chair of campaign group Compass, Neal Lawson, disapproves with the "neo-liberal ideologies" of all three major parties, despite being a member of the Labour Party. "They are no longer democratic," he said, with his comments receiving rapturous applause from party activists.
Conversely, in response to a question from the floor regarding Green Party transport policy, Lucas' democratic credentials were also tested when she said: "I'll make sure all the points mentioned are in our party policy." She quickly rectified these words by letting members know that their ability to vote at Conference on transport issues will influence party policy, instead of her views alone. This definitely raises questions regarding the authority and jurisdiction of MPs in comparison to party members.
Caroline Lucas predicts the current number of Green MEPs to increase three-fold in next year's European elections. This would provide the Green Party with a greater mandate to discuss transport issues on a European level, potentially leading to greater action. We can only hope that some action will be taken soon, our transport system is in a state of inflationary chaos, we need change, or else the whole nation will continue to suffer.
By Ceirney Eddie