Prescott in trouble with grass roots

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The Independent Online
JOHN PRESCOTT is under fire from Labour Party activists for the Government's failure to tackle Britain's growing transport problems.

Grassroots Labour members, normally among Mr Prescott's strongest supporters, are rapidly losing patience with the Deputy Prime Minister's record in charge of Britain's roads, railways and bus services.

Their criticism was echoed by Labour's official policy commission on the issue, which is co-chaired by Michael Meacher, one of Mr Prescott's ministers. The attack emerged last night in policy documents to be discussed by Labour's annual conference in Bournemouth later this month.

A nationwide consultation exercise among Labour members welcomed Mr Prescott's plans for an integrated transport policy but demanded urgent legislation to turn them into reality. However, the policy commission accepted that new laws were needed - a move that could strengthen Mr Prescott's hand as he continues to campaign for several measures to be included in the Queen's Speech in November.

Local parties voiced their anxiety about the state of Britain's railways. "There was concern that the privatised companies were still making profits while the Government continued to pay large subsidies," said the report, compiled by Labour's policy commission on the environment and transport.

"The commission was similarly concerned and felt that people's experience of the railways had not been radically improved since privatisation," it added. Some constituency parties demanded the re- nationalisation of the railways, with others suggesting the Government take an equity stake in return for its subsidies to railway operators.

There was "widespread agreement" in the party that improvements to bus services were crucial to reduce the growth in car journeys. There were demands for bus passengers to be given compensation for delays and cancellations, and for new controls from public bodies over privatised bus companies.

Local parties urged "tough action" against car users and hauliers who caused pollution and traffic congestion in cities. Members in south-west London proposed measures to "restrict car use in urban areas, have more 10mph and 20mph zones, close some roads to cars and encourage fewer car journeys".

But Labour activists in rural areas expressed concern about the impact of policies which curbed car use, warning that people could not leave their cars at home unless there was reliable and affordable public transport.

The report admitted that Mr Prescott's plans to partially privatise the National Air Traffic Service (Nats) had provoked "some concern" in the party.

And policy documents prepared for the Bournemouth conference revealed that Labour activists are disturbed about a variety of other issues. Many constituency parties were concerned about the potential impact of genetically modified crops and food on the environment and public health, with some parties demanding a total ban.

The Government came in for criticism over proposals to cut benefits for disabled people and to introduce performance-related pay for teachers. There were also demands for a big pay rise for nurses.

Foreign policy also provoked dissent. Among moves criticised was Tony Blair's high- profile support for military action in Iraq and Kosovo.