The Sketch: Binned and shredded - Labour's transport plans are going off the rails

Looking down on the Transport ministers (and it is impossible to do anything else from the press gallery), you notice a character they call Kim Howells. You're pretty sure you've seen his big face somewhere before.

Wasn't he the minister for art, recently? Surely not, this plain, pleasant,provincial fellow - what would he know about art? Nothing at all, as it turned out, so now he's the minister for railways.

And what does he know about railways? Why do you keep asking these questions? Mr Howells told us that Britain has bought more rolling stock than ever in its railway history. But alas, we lack the electricity to run it and the platforms are too short to accommodate 12 carriages, so the new stock is unusable. It stands in sidings, degrading quietly.

But why - crazy question - can't they change the regulations? "The regulations are very difficult to explain ... they should be rationalised," Mr Howells said, and in a moment of clarity unusual in a Labour politician, he added the word "slashed". There was something plaintive in his remark, and it seems he is certainly not going to be the minister to slash the regulations. Nor is his boss, Alistair Darling, who described the regulatory impact as "daft". He didn't say that like it was a bad thing, now I think of it.

But let's not be too hard on the likeable Mr Howells. He's never really been a minister before, certainly not much of one. He's still on a learning curve. As are they all. Not one of them was a minister before 1997, so of course they're still learning from their mistakes. Or at least making mistakes which might be learnt from. Amusingly, the Government continually denounces the (now) Opposition's idea of splitting the railways up into different entities - and then they used precisely the same model for the London Underground.

They produced a 10-year integrated, multimodal transport strategy which lasted just long enough to see the minister off, then to be shelved, binned and shredded.

They set up a Strategic Rail Authority which is also to be binned and shredded. They renationalised Railtrack and turned it into Network Rail (which has, in all probability, a year before being binned and shredded). They had targets, they abandoned targets. They had service agreements, they abandoned service agreements. They published statistics that were so bad they fiddled them and then stopped publishing them. As a government, they've spent £3trn since they were elected and yet they cannot adjust regulations to allow 12-carriage trains into stations.

Mr Darling responded to Theresa May's urgent question about sky marshals. Mrs May noted the fact that there had been 10 days of confusion with pilots and airlines claiming that no protocols had been established as to whether the marshals would be armed, or under the authority of the pilot or even police. "Underlying it all has been the theme of trust in government," Mrs May went on to loud objections.

Mr Darling's defence was based on the fact that the scheme had been announced more than a year ago. Odd then, do we think, that it had been introduced in such a shambolic way, with so little consultation, with so little agreement, with so little work done? No, of course we don't.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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