Labour in U-turn over new transport policy

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Indy Politics

Transport Correspondent

Labour has ditched a transport policy document drawn up by Michael Meacher, its former spokesman on transport, and has postponed the launch of its new strategy until May.

The move appears to represent a significant shift to the right with Labour trying to avoid any firm commitments on transport policy.

One MP, angry at the move, said: "They just want it to be a consultative document, which means they promise to do nothing, or a campaigning document which means they just knock the Tories. Michael's document was a well worked out transport policy."

Mr Meacher's policy was to have been published in November following approval by the Labour Party's policy forum but the new transport frontbench team of Clare Short and Brian Wilsonhave ordered a redraft, withthe approval of Tony Blair.

Mr Meacher's policy was thought to have too many spending plans and too many specific policy commitments. One critic said: "It was just a wish list written by Transport 2000 [the pro-public transport pressure group] and it would have cost far too much money. It would never have got past the policy forum anyway."

The document appeared to take Labour beyond its existing stance of saying that there should be a "publicly-accountable and publicly-controlled" railway by specifying that Railtrack should be renationalised. It also appeared to Mr Blair and his advisers to be too anti-car as it urged restraint on car use and massive redirection of funds from road to rail.

The scrapping of the transport policy will anger those in the centre and on the left of the party who have been waiting for Labour to make firm commitments on transport, which they see as a popular vote-winning issue.

Mr Meacher's demotion to the relatively minor post of employment from the high-profile job of transport spokesman is thought by leftwingers to have been ordered by Mr Blair because he was managing to give rail privatisation a high profile.

One angry MP told said: "They portrayed him as ineffectual, but he was on TV every night and it was that they didn't like. He kept on raising the profile of rail privatisation and they don't want to be associated with the renationalisation of the railways."