Down the Tube? Up the social ladder

Public transport by name is increasingly exclusive by nature.

Next time you're on the Tube take a look around you. If you think that it's increasingly full of white, business class professionals, it's because it is. According to newly-analysed data from Transport for London, slipping down the underground escalator means taking a step up the social ladder.

The data paints a stark picture of a growing social divide in our city. While richer groups speed to work underground, poorer and more diverse ethnic groups are forced to take the bus. Public transport by name is increasingly exclusive by nature.

The latest figures show that almost four in five of London's Tube users are now managerial and professional workers, and the situation is getting worse.

In 2003, Londoners in the bottom half of the income spectrum made up 28 per cent of Tube users, but in the latest data from 2009, this dropped to 22 per cent.

It is hard not to link these divides to a difference in fares (the cash price for a Zone 1 single fare is now £4). This week I've been talking to cleaners and caterers who cannot afford to use the Tube in the city they call home. Instead they flock to the bus, which remains expensive and problematic.

Take Elena, a cleaner from Columbia who works for £6.08 an hour. She holds down two part time jobs. Without access to the Tube or train, she has to leave her North London home at 5am. Together with hoards of other workers on the minimum wage, she gets a chain of buses before dawn breaks. Her need to travel between jobs means that she spends almost five hours a day travelling for six hours work.

At present Elena pays £68.40 for her monthly bus pass. If she were to buy a full travelcard with Tube access, it would cost £106, approximately one fifth of her monthly wage after tax.

The mayor doesn't seem to get the problem. Since Boris Johnson was elected, the cost of a weekly zone 1-4 travelcard has increased by 23 per cent, and he remains committed to 20 years of above inflation fare increases.

Migrant workers like Elena are particularly likely to be affected. According to TfL's figures, some 39 per cent of bus users are from black and ethnic minority communities compared to 29 percent of Tube users.

Bus dependency also continues to cause massive problems for families. Alberto, another cleaner, says his daughter has to leave the house at 5am with his wife. She waits at her mum's work reading until school opens, and she always arrives tired. Meanwhile Alberto makes his anxious journey across London. If he misses one of his busses or falls asleep, he risks being fired.

"I've seen the transport prices rise like crazy but the salary never increases," he says, "For a salary increase you have to fight. Throughout the years my money buys less and less so I'm encouraging the workers to get organised ... The problem is getting worse."

There are economic consequences too. Transport is the circulatory system of our economy, but workers like Elena have been known to turn down jobs because they are too expensive to get to. It also makes it difficult to make English classes, and it hits women hardest.

London Transport figures

According to the figures -- unavailable online but released by TfL to the New Statesman -- some 78 per cent of Tube users are now from managerial and professional groups, defined as ABC1s.

In contrast, just 22 per cent of Tube users come from C2DE groups associated with the bottom half of the income spectrum. This compares to 37 per cent of bus users who are from this category.

When the Greater London Assembly estimates that roughly half of London's population is in each group, something is clearly out of synch.

Although this decline in diversity was visible when Ken Livingstone was mayor, he's developing policies to buck the trend. If he is elected next year, he says he'd cut fares by 5 per cent in 2012 and freeze them until 2013.

As for Boris Johnson, we don't know what the consequences would be if he won another term in office. Under his watch, TfL have suspended the Underground Users Survey until further notice.

If such a move saves costs, it also buries bad news.

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change