COLUMN INCHES

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The Independent Online
As the state of the Britain's roads and railways caused open in- fighting between The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, London Underground's `summer of chaos' continued. Here is how some press commentators reacted:

TRANSPORT IS beginning to look like an albatross around the Government's neck, instead of one of our strongest assets. The party of public transport is being hammered on the issue by the Tory press. The press attacks on Prescott are nothing other than good old-fashioned snobbery and class prejudice. But for aides associated with the Prime Minister to have a go at Prescott is bizarre, because John has been tussling with Gordon Brown and others for two years to be allowed to "get to grips" with transport. It's all very well for the No 10 teenyboppers to start complaining that the voters are getting fed up with the chaos on Britain's roads, railways and the London Underground, but perhaps they would like to explain why time has still not been found in the Parliamentary calendar for the Transport Bill ... It isn't John Prescott who needs to get to grips with transport, but the "anonymous liars" (as Frank Dobson memorably called them) who are trying to undermine him. It is their pro-car prejudices and economic orthodoxy which have neutered the Government's transport policies.

Ken Livingstone MP,

Independent

YOU WOULD think that, with his obsessive concern for his public image, Mr Blair would give a high priority to getting Britain back on the move. But instead he has put a complete buffoon in charge of it, and two years into his administration he has absolutely nothing to show for his "integrated transport policy" except a pile of paper, a crippling surcharge on petrol, a spreading plague of humps in the road and a cunningly devised, permanent traffic jam on the M4. I flatter myself that I am particularly well qualified to write about this subject, since my eight-mile daily journey to and from work requires me to use a minimum of three separate modes of public transport: overground cattle-truck from West Norwood to London Bridge; Underground to Bank; Docklands Light Railway to Canary Wharf. Three separate organisations, each with its own separate opportunity to foul up. And by God, they do not like to let their opportunities pass ... The maddening thing is that I live on the top of a hill in West Norwood, and I can actually see my office from my bedroom window. So near, and yet so far. I often fantasise that, if only I could rig up a giant rope-and-pulley device, of the sort that they use on Army assault courses, I could get to work in five minutes flat. But, alas, my movements are in the hands of Mr Prescott.

Tom Utley, Daily Telegraph

WE HAVE lambasted Mr John Prescott and his transport ministers for months about their pitiful performance in seeking to achieve a new deal for the London Underground. What was once a problem has become, through more than two years of muddle, dither, and wrong turnings, a major crisis and national shame. The Underground system is almost literally collapsing about Londoners' ears ... Ms Helen Liddell has made a public mockery of herself, by allowing her minions to stir a storm in the Scottish media, denouncing this newspaper for alleged "racism", after we poured scorn on her failure to address Tube closures in the House of Commons last week, because she felt safer back home in her Scottish constituency. We find ourselves wondering why Ms Liddell bothered to come back to the Department of Transport from her northern glens at all, unless it was to collect her overseas allowance. Mr John Prescott, decent man though he is, has yet to show that he can either grip the Tube crisis, or pack the punch to force the Treasury to do so.

Leader, Evening Standard

EVEN LORD Ridley would have balked at the controls in Mr Prescott's Bill. The new Strategic Rail Authority, chaired by Sir Alastair Morton, is to be in charge of Britain's railways ... Sooner or later, Mr Prescott or his successor will have to make an honest man of Sir Alastair. He must be made chairman of a British Railways Board. Accountability must be clear or leadership will be fudged and blame shifted between the train companies, Railtrack and the Government. But then, of course, Sir Alastair will not be the real boss. Towering over him is the unmistakable figure of Mr Prescott, new monarch of the public sector ... He wants, he yearns, to take the credit. But will he accept the blame? That's nationalisation for you.

Simon Jenkins, Times

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