The LibDems must avoid knee jerk reaction and leaving the centre for the left!

I don’t like being put in a box. Especially the left or right box. If I had to sum myself up with a political party I would say something like 40% Lib Dem, 20% Conservative, 10% Greens, 30% none of the above. I swing left or right depending on the issue. I’m a Lib Dem because they hold a majority of my views with a clear 10% lead over none of the above. I’m sad Clegg has gone. I admired how he held together slightly left and slightly right factions of the party grounded in the centre ground. I am proud he acknowledged that in 2010 that he owed it to the people who voted LibDem because they wanted a LibDem Government to go into Government when he had the chance. It was a bold, brave decision and one that has benefited the people of  Britain curbing the worst excesses of the Conservatives over the past five years.

 I’m a mature (another box I don’t like to be put in) student and I forgive Clegg for tuition fees. He is not the first politician to break a promise and nor will he be the last. When you work in a team you have to make difficult concessions and I respect his decisions. On the contrary I don’t have rich parents so I’m thankful for the fair student finance system that means everyone can go to university and indeed the figures of participation from less affluent groups in university are positive. I might have 50 K debt but it’s the best loan I will ever have. I wish my mortgage or car finance was on such favourable terms.

I’m concerned for the future of the party. A leftist approach would alienate members like myself. To be honest, furthermore  this weeks election has hinted the electorate rejecting the left to an extent. Although the left won’t accept this, instead writing Facebook posts verging on trolling, accusing people who voted certain ways of hating the disabled and other equally absurd accusations because they don’t agree ideologically with them! Equally I appreciate if I was party leader I would alienate a great deal of the party to the left of me. That’s why we need another Clegg! And if we do get another bash at being part of the Government we should grasp it with both hands! I don’t vote LibDem because I want them to have a chance to govern and turn it down! The opposition benches (or bench for our 8 MPs) don’t get us to do what we achieved in the last 5 years even if it had detrimental effects!

When you’re very left or very right it’s easy to verge on sounding like a dictator when arguing your stance to someone on the opposite side of the spectrum. I think the left are quite nasty in their arguments with opponents, however feel they believe it is justifiable because of the left bias in most mainstream media and institutions. It is almost an offence to admit to being anything other then hardline left at my university. As a liberal I’m very big on freedom of speech, something the lefties don’t appreciate. David Cameron said yesterday about building a strong economy encouraging people to work. I find this reasonable enough however don’t expect everyone to agree leading to healthy debate but instead Facebook is full of Cameron and the right hate the disabled and poor and are all fascists. On Saturday The Guardian had a dig at the democracy that gave Cameron the keys to number ten accusing people of failing to vote Labour when so many were visiting food banks. Food banks I believe are a very subjective opinion. Oops, cue the trolls again, I had an opinion.

 My Facebook “friends “ had posts ranging from slagging off the Electorate for how they voted to threatening to unfriend anyone voting UKIP. I mean, come on guys, freedom of speech. I detest UKIP policies probably more then I do Labour’s. I argue the immigration and anti-Europe drivel and myths are fuelled by the media and scaremongering and completely unfounded and we should welcome free movement of people but that’s my view. My view, others have fought so hard so that we can be in a position where everyone can have a view and a vote, even if that view and that vote are different from our own. The left have to stop thinking they have some kind of monopoly of moral and social justice and actually that there view on society is simply that, a view!

On the one hand social justice is very important to me. The principals of a welfare state are vital to a progressive state that provides for its population in times of needs.In terms of international support, frankly following our empire building, colonisation and subsequent contemporary neo-colonisation, we owe it to the developing word to provide support. (That’s not to say current models of neo-liberal solutions based on the  relentless power of TNC’s and aid conditional on the West’s way of doing things are the right way of doing things, buts that’s not a debate for here!). On the other hand I’m a huge believer in personal responsibility. Perhaps the “right” swinging in here BUT I had a very modest upbringing in a crappy Labour controlled Northern deprived city. I know what hard times are. I know the deprived face barriers.I know about living in a deprived community because I lived (and indeed still live) in one. I’m not like Russell Brand who attends a protest once or twice for a photo opportunity or the Guardian reading middle class who visit a food bank once then declare they know everything about the oppressed and can speak and come up with solutions for them! Yes, there are people in a bad way in the UK. I’m not denying that and as I said above I’m very proud of our welfare principals but some people are taking the piss, they go through their lives expecting everything on a plate, taking no responsibility for anything. This is not fair! You get out, what you put in. Britain is full of hard working people and Miliband’s swing to the far left and anti-business approach has obviously pissed off those people. The Conservative majority was achieved through real people voting! 

Leftist factions in the LibDems appear to be plotting some leftist revival apparently because not being left enough cost us last Thursday! This is rubbish! We epic failed at the election because the media turned against us. The junior coalition partners  were the laughing stock of satirical media and ridiculed by the left, right and populist media. It became fashionable to hate the LibDems and unintelligently band around the word “tuition fees” without any thought for what we actually stand for and what we have done in coalition. The Conservatives came out of the deal unscathed and stronger! We didn’t stand a chance. A big surge to the left really is not the answer! I joined the party as opposed to just supporting them as I had done for many years prior,  during the height of the media scaremongering because I took the time to actually see what they were about and not just believe everything I read in the newspaper! 

Europe is very important to me. That’s pretty much my only red line. With the Lib Dems the only party who don’t dither over Europe, it’s a key reason for the 40% match between what I stand for and what the LibDems stand for. I would be happy with €Euro and Schengen Removal of borders but appreciate the full works is not everyone’s cup of tea. I think it is a farce we would even consider leaving Europe though. I mean, of course I’m all freedom and democracy so why would I be against a referendum where people decide. To oppose it would make me a hypocrite. I have just chastised  those lefties slagging off those who voted Conservative above and now I’m suggesting a referendum is wrong when so many people have an opinion on Europe. In my defence I can’t help but think that people are too uneducated to make that choice. That sounds quite mean. I’m suggesting half of Britain are uneducated, but I don’t mean it as such. I mean people have visions force fed to them from populist opinion and factions of the media, of myths around immigration and Brussels making all of our decisions but people just don’t understand the many benefits of Europe because nobody ever discusses them. Where would you go to find the truth about European integration? It would be awful for Britain to leave Europe. A complete disaster. For an example of what Europe was like before integration, think about World War 2. Business leaders know it, Labour and the Greens know it. Even Cameron and the less hardline Conservatives know it. Are the people of Britain going to have to wait until their jobs start disappearing on a scale worse then the recession before they know it! We are entering worrying times! I fear for the future of the UK. The Europe issue is far more pressing then the relentless bashing of the right from the left since the election result and will have much worse effects then any of the welfare/spending cuts people were protesting about yesterday, yet ignorance to the plight of our EU membership continues!

Apparently LibDem membership has soared since last Thursday. The haters queuing up to stick the knife in Clegg will argue it is down to his resignation and the end of the coalition. Although I’m suitably informed, the surge started prior to Nick’s resignation. Tony Blair has come out yesterday accusing Labour of losing the election by being too left. The guardian has revealed this morning that Labour had huge success in university seats. What we forget is most university students are rich and middle class, rebelling against Tory mummy and daddy whilst at Uni. Did you see how many students were protesting Saturday in London against the cuts that don’t effect them (and in my view don’t exist)? As soon as they leave uni and get a job they realise the Guardian and the protests were a load of bollocks! Hard working British people do not resonate with paternalistic, middle class generated, leftist elite! The centre is good!

Lurching to the left is not the right road!

LibDems have got a lot of work to do!

P

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Tales from my travels

Less a blog, more a travel book! And not a very good one!

A general selection of my musings from my recent travels, not particularly well presented, organised or relevant but something attracted you to start reading this……

I was always a timid traveller. I would get anxious just before a long drive and I was convinced every time I got the train up to London for leisure there was a bomb onboard. And don’t even get me started on sea and air. I think it was a mixture of believing everything I saw in the media and reading/watching too many depressing books/TV shows. I always liked the idea of travel but was a tame tourist hence the bomb excitement over a simple train ride to London, almost a daily occurrence for lots of folk. It was only after joining the railway industry that I started to commute to London daily. I now look at the idiots who struggle with basics like finding their seats and my worries of yesteryear have long gone despite the risk of terrorism on the transport network probably more prevalent these days. Over the past couple of years I have aimed to get some sort of authenticity from my trips as opposed to run of the mill nice and easy package holidays. By authenticity I mean 3 nights without a proper bed slumped across 3 seats on night trains from Brussels to Helsinki instead of taking a three hour flight. It also means I get the moral high ground with the top dog at Greenpeace who flies from Brussels to Amsterdam because the 1 and a half hour train journey is too long for the environmental groups exec. My wife prefers the destination where as I’m for the journey which causes some conflict when it comes to planning our jollies.

My recent trip to Finland I did on my own, well I was meeting people in Helsinki who had set off 3 days after me and got there a couple of hours before me. As well as the risk of being shot down or hijacked (I don’t worry about engine malfunction because I have watched enough episodes of Air Crash Investigation to fix any mid-air scenarios that may arise) they also miss out on the rich tapestry of life you get on 96 hours of train journeys which you simply don’t get on a three hour easyJet flight.

It’s disappointing the German railways (DB) City Night Line brand is being withered away. Gone is the night train to Copenhagen replaced by an (ancient) regular train from Frankfurt to Hamburg. The train stops everywhere and takes 8 hours. Decent night trains could offer a real alternative to flying short-haul (perhaps even for Greenpeace employees) unfortunately from my experience they are far from a luxury product full of interaillers, the less affluent, ethnic minorities and drunks. Doing lots of miles in the dead of night, the fact most German stations are hives of activity all hours making them safer places to wait after hours then some of the UKs dingy affairs along with the bargain fares give the railways something to work with to compete with the airlines especially with the environmentally conscious travellers. That is assuming unlike the Greenpeace gaffer they are all for the environment signing Heathrow third runway petitions and chaining themselves to trees and not bathing for months until it comes to their own travel habits. I would love to see a selection of luxurious (but not too pricey to out price the average guy) sleepers leaving the UK every night for varied destinations in mainland Europe. Maybe I’m wishful thinking for a romantic vision of sleeper trains whose days have now passed. It’s odd to see the only sleepers getting any TLC are the UKs. I have never been on the Anglo-Scottish one but the FGW Penzance one is pointless. It sits around so much en-route it could leave Paddington a day late and still make Penzance on time. It acts as a late train from London to Exeter and an early morning commuter train for Cornwall. It’s two main cities Exeter and Plymouth have awfully unattractive pick up and arrival times!

Frankfurt to Hamburg was no difference to the norm described above. I started with 3 seats to myself so made a bed, sharing a carriage with a few women and all was well until Cologne. It was there,that a bunch of drunks got on, thinking it was hilarious to sing and bang the floors for effect. This went on for two hours. It really is a sad reflection on society that people have so little respect for each other and I have blogged before that I expect these morons are regular guys and girls who for some reason (usually alcohol) and increased confidence from being with friends seem to find it acceptable to behave like cunts. I would love to track them down when they are being normal, going to work and reading the kids bedtime story and just stand in front of their houses and make loads of noise and shout rude words to see if pisses them off! Back to Germany and I can’t help but think that Germany is like the UK in the 1980’s. I expect Angela Merkell may take offence at being called backwards but I don’t mean it as an insult. The spitting, boozing on the streets from morning until night and what seems like mandatory smoking for everyone from aged 12 don’t seem too great however it was good to see a country that doesn’t ban things for being too risky. Posters and magazines that would be slated by Mail and Express readers in the UK (like the Hovis bread advert because the girl had a short skirt) are plastered around underground stations and on proud display in newspaper stands not censored behind dark plastic wrappers so as to not cause offence or heaven forbid be seen by teenagers. Because teenagers don’t know about these things! Health and safety which apparently is a construct of the Brussels beauracrcy machine is ironically nowhere to be seen in Germany. The train doors release as the train slows down at the station not ten minutes after stopping to make sure all the people who lack the common sense not to open a moving train door are catered for. German underground trains don’t carry minute detailed instructions for boarding with prams or standing clear of the doors because people just get on with it. In fact it’s good to see a city of a decent size with good urban transport (Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham take note). It’s good to just be able to get on with your life, free of nanny state, free to make my own decisions and free to live with the consequences. The only bit of nannying I want from the state is the freedom to get on with my own life without fear of other people effecting that freedom. I like the anything goes attitude of the German’s and the Dutch too. Neither are Coca-Cola or booze companies banned from sponsoring things because they are pure evil and the reason for liver cancer and obesity, nothing to do with people’s responsibility. On a lesser note it’s also nice to see a huge selection of reasonable priced and quality food and drink at German stations, open beyond dusk. It’s a far cry from the stale, overpriced Upper Crust sandwiches and other crappy Select Service Partner offerings here in the UK.

It’s a shame the demise of European night trains. I did the Paris to Berlin one and now that’s gone, I didn’t make Copenhagen on the night train because it broke down at Hannover and now that’s gone. Although this did mean I got to do the regular ICE /DSB daytime train from Hamburg to Copenhagen which uses the ferry from Puttgardin to Rodby. What was otherwise a pleasant international journey was again marred by 7 guys sat in the seats directly in front of me. I have to hand it to them though, they broke a new record in alcohol consumption. Again they seemed like regular guys on a weekday. They started as we left Hamburg at 925 am with about five cans each of top strength beer and doing shots downing miniature spirit bottles whole. The train was shifted into the car deck of the Scandlines ferry and we had to vacate the train during the crossing. When we returned to the train they had added a bottle of duty-free Whiskey to their collection which they had finished by Denmark’s capital. How can people even be alive after so much alcohol consumption. I can’t imagine how their bodies took it in. As the booze intake increased the decibels they output also increased. One of them can’t have been as drunk as the others or his conscious didn’t abandon him after 5 pints because he kept telling them to shush, although towards the end this was as annoying as the other noise. I like a beer on the train. I like to look out of the window, to read, catch up on work, daydream, sleep, even talk when I’m travelling with company. Although usually travelling in a group usually makes it cheaper to go by car. I would be embarrassed to cause so much of a disturbance to others. I can’t see why people think that kind of behaviour is acceptable in public places!

I’m pleased to say the next leg of my journey, a five hour train from Copenhagen to Stockholm, 12 hour sleeper to Lulea and then 2 hour bus ride across the border to Kemi in Finland was drunk free and a pleasurable journey with the only thing rising through the journey being the amount of snow on the ground. In fact I was the drunk being told off. I was about to open my 330ml can of Heineken when the train manager appeared from nowhere and told me only booze purchased onboard can be consumed. Although I’m against these schemes which profit the train company at the expense of the passenger (and an illegal monopoly) it was noticeable the nicer environment. Not wanting to diss the Germans again but the Swedish are a much sexier bunch then their dowdier German near neighbours, even the Swedish men almost manage to pull off those bright colours. It seems a lot more modern then some of its European neighbours. There is a distinct lack of neon lights compared to Belguim and Germany but still a lot of heavy industry, a rarity in modern Britain. It’s also amazing to see just how much snow they have but most amazingly how it doesn’t stop everyday life. Public transport remains (very) efficient, pavements are also cleared, the UK could learn a lot.

I make it over the border into Finland at Tornio and a short bus ride to the city of Kemi where I have 4 hours to kill before my sleeper train to Helsinki. It’s like stepping into the apocalypse. There was an eyrie mist off the Baltic Sea over the town at dusk which gave it a strange glow but there were literally no people, no pedestrians, no cars. Everything was closed. Shops, restaurants and bars all closed about 5pm, even the pubs. The fact the Christmas tree was still up and lit in the main square made me seriously think some kind of Armageddon happened around Xmas and I’m the first to arrive on the scene (or that it’s a marketing ploy as it is in Lapland area). I know the urge to leave home in minus 5 temperatures amidst lashings of snow must not be tempting but for a whole city it was bizarre. You know it’s bad when you do a find your nearest McDonalds search and it comes up with one 150 KM away. I eventual found a Pizzeria on a side street and guess what? I was the only customer. The pizza and beer was good followed by a walk round a late night supermarket (9pm late night not late night by normal standards) just to pass time. All the stations I have been to on my travels so far have been huge with food and drink to while away the hours to departure. Unfortunately Kemi Central station like everything else in Kemi has nothing but a deserted waiting room. It doesn’t have many trains. My connections have all worked perfectly so far and as I wait here at Kemi station for 3 hours (not even any wi-FI) Im starting to wish I hadn’t added in extra contingency to account for delays. My journey home is much tighter connections, will be interesting to see if I make it back to West Yorkshire by Maundy Thursday as planned (read on to find out if you are that interested). As I left the pizzeria I commented to the waitress whose English was far superior then my non existent Finnish about the town being quiet and when I said I was killing time for the train, she asked where to, to which I replied Helsinki, to which she replied “naturally”. Maybe a bit of North-South divide present in Finland too. I can’t see Kemi ever being a Northern powerhouse in any sense! 

So my third night in a row of not much sleep on the train proved the worst. The train was busy. A girl was asleep in my seat when I boarded and didn’t want to wake her and claim my rightful seat like I would have in the UK owing to the potential language barrier of making my case. Although up until now I have found the Finn’s English very good which makes my complete lack of knowledge of the Finnish language a tad embarrassing. Obviously though I have never had course to learn Finnish and would struggle to remain competence owing to my little need to speak it overall. I feel like telling everyone I speak a bit of Dutch and French to highlight I’m not a complete idiot. I took another empty seat waiting for someone to kick me out of it en-route but nobody did however the guys in front decided to fully recline their seats leaving me with very little room and not much sleep. Out of the window vast landscapes of what I can only describe as Christmas tree forests whizz by, the snow had started falling thick and fast and the traditional wooden finish houses made for pleasurable window shopping en-route. A couple of quick stop offs in Tampere and Turku before onto the capital. Being from the North of England where the highlight is getting a 20 year old cattle truck over a 30 year old pacer, there is something exciting about travelling on the modern double deck trains. So far have spent all my time on battered old sleeper rolling stock somewhere on a par with the UKs mark 1 stock. It was interesting to note a short shower hose in the toilets of Finnish commuter trains which I’m guessing acts as a sort of bedae? Interesting toilet habits of the Finns. However on arrival Helsinki will have to wait. I’m checking into my hotel and catching up on 3 days missed sleep. It’s bloody tiring this authentic travel!

A week in a  Helsinki  and day trip to Tallinn taught me a number of things:

It’s bloody cold in Finland.

Everybody in Helsinki  lives in an apartment (literally didn’t see one house)

The state control all sales of spirits and wines (except pubs) through its Alko brand stores (personal freedom and monopoly issues going on here!)

The Finnish are far too keen to get naked- I’m talking Saunas.

Helsinki to Tallinn is just Dover to Calais before duty free disappeared- booze cruise time!

So it’s time to start the long trek home! My first mistake was to believe the Silja line advertising that the port of Turku was a short walk from the station. A short half hour walk although it did transpire there was a station at the terminal served at ferry times. My bed for the night was the MS Baltic, a huge ship to take me to Stockholm with a short stop in Mariehamm which I believe is for some customs loop hole so the ship can sell cheap booze or something. Despite this being my third ferry crossing of my jolly I’m feeling somewhat apprehensive about this journey across the Baltic Sea. Although the crossing actually proves relatively smooth my cabin is at the back near the engines and so the sway of the sea has been replaced by the vibrations of the engines. The journey seemed more of a river passage then a sea crossing. The Baltic between Turku and Stockholm is littered with lots of islands. 10 hours, a fine buffet,a few bottles of duty free and a bad nights sleep later and I’m in Stockholm and around 30 hours from the bright lights of West Yorkshire.

The next leg of my long journey home was Stockholm to Copenhagen by train. I have found the Swedish railways highly efficient making huge distances without losing a single minute en-route. I had pre-booked food with my reservation and received a ready meal of Chicken in white sauce I had to microwave myself on the train which was nicer then it sounds. I think I arrived in Copenhagen on the same day the entire population of Denmark were leaving by train for their Easter break. I needed to make a reservation so went to the ticket office where they have a deli-counter style system where you take a ticket and wait to be called. Not good when your train leaves in 5 minutes and you get number 519 and they have just called 226! I finally made it out of Denmark and over the border into Germany, home edging ever closer. I have covered around 1000 KM since jumping ship at Stockholm and all has been ontime that is until the penultimate train before I reach the night train in Hamburg to take me through the night towards Brussels and the Eurostar back to the UK. 

One day at home and then it’s a 300 mile drive to Cornwall with the family for the week! I need a rest!!!!!

P

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My European rail adventure -day 3 Munich to Amsterdam to Home

Sleepers are thriving in Europe. Whereas the UK has the Anglo-Scottish service (not sure what will become of that post independence -border checks at Carlisle!) and the Cornish sleeper ( London to Exeter for 2am then sits there 3 hours and then becomes the first Plymouth-Penzance stopper). In contrast in mainland Europe sleeper services are thriving with lots of odd combinations of destinations served such as Metz (France) to Port Bou (Spain) the equivalent of us having a Southampton to Scarborough sleeper (not via London). From my own travels they are well used though and admittedly the distances are greater then in the relatively small UK. You do wonder when they do any engineering work on the tracks though although I did pass a worksite in the night on the adjacent line which we slowed down for.

I took the DB City Night Line (CNL) from Munich to Amsterdam. I opted for the reclining seats as I was travelling alone. I think it is a British thing that makes you weary of sharing a berth with strangers. The seats were slightly more comfortable then the UK’s Night Riviera FGW service where the seats are fixed and don’t recline. I thought I had got away with anyone sitting next to me until a man who snores very loudly got on at Stuttgart. A Syrian with no ticket and no papers was also removed from the train by the onboard security guard adding to the excitement and strange goings on one expects on a sleeper train across Europe. Unlike the Night Riviera the CNL moves at speed with only operating stops and calls at the likes of Frankfurt , Bonn, Cologne and Utrecht arriving at Amsterdam 10 hours later. We were half an hour late but all my previous CNL journeys have been significantly late so I took this into account when booking onward connections.

The sleeper workings must be very crew and rolling stock intensive. On arrival at Mannheim the front of my train is dragged off to another platform to be attached to a portion from Berlin. A portion of a train from Innsbruck then attaches to the remaining bit of my train. There are also run rounds at Stuggart and various loco changes as we cross international borders. FGW crews struggle when they have to run round at Exeter during engineering work. It is hard to see how productive and efficient these sleepers are.

There also seems to be a lack of health and safety on mainland Europe’s rail network. Odd considering the UK blame Europe for our over the top HandS. Railway workers (I’m assuming they were anyway) walking across tracks with no high viz, guards dispatching trains whilst on their phones, trains being propelled with doors open and passengers on. They could do well to have a flick through our RSSB rule book. It also seems mandatory for staff to smoke over customers whilst going about their job with a cig in their mouth and for customers to ignore no smoking signs on trains and stations. I expect it is very much like the UK before the smoking ban but it seems odd now you are so used to no smoking on the UK network.

After a dubious Omelette for breakfast in a hazy local produce smokey bar I’m heading down to Rotterdam then Brussels for the Eurostar back to London hoping for a better journey then the one out on Monday with the Belgium national railway strike. Annoyingly Eurostar put all the passengers in the same carriage on what was quite an empty train from Brussels. It is a blatant act putting its reservation system over its customers comfort. After being squashed as far as Ebbsfleet I got up and noticed the next carriage was empty!

Back in the UK and I missed my connection thanks to border checks at StPancras because my train called at Lille making the border check at Brussels invalid apparently. Really is time we signed up to Schengen agreement!

P

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