London should run its own transport system

London Underground train at Stratford (source Chris McKenna)

In a democracy, you need a very good reason to deny people something they have voted for. The Labour government has yet to come up with that good reason regarding the tube.

For the result of the London-wide election could not have been clearer. The people of London, for better or worse, clearly voted against Labour’s PPP plans for the tube. But democracy in London appears not to be enough.

For whatever the financial arguments at stake, the constitutional issues are more important.

To allow the London government to raise money by borrowing on the markets would offend against the British constitutional tradition. The role of the Treasury as the guardian of the public purse must be maintained. The Scottish parliament may not run a deficit, the Welsh assembly may not even vary the tax rate. Devolution and federalism are not the same thing.

What is at stake here is more than just the future of London transport. The ongoing debate is not so much about how to run a railway, but how to run a country.

This article was written by Richard Laming, a member of the Executive Committee of Federal Union. He can be contacted at richard@richardlaming.com. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union. First edition, 13 August 2001.

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