TfL takes over services to Hertfordshire

The franchise model is slowly dying in London.

The Department for Transport yesterday confirmed that TfL is going to be allowed to take over most of the services currently run by the privatised Greater Anglia franchise out of Liverpool Street to north east London and Hertfordshire, but prevented the organisation from achieving its wider goal of taking over rail services in southeast London.

Under the settlement, TfL will take over the maintenance of 23 of the 25 stations on the portions of the line it will be operating. Trains running between Liverpool Street and Chingford, Cheshunt and Enfield Town via Hackney Downs will now be operated under concession from TfL, almost certainly under the same model as the London Overground and Crossrail. The public company will also manage all the stations except Liverpool Street and Cheshunt, which will both remain in the hands of Network Rail.

The new routes will most likely be incorporated into the Overground network, which would leave the tube map looking something like this:

(click to embiggen)

It's a big step for TfL, because it represents the first time a former Network Rail franchise has been taken over without a clear end goal in mind. London Overground exists because of a long-standing plan to create a London orbital railway; the Silverlink Metro franchise was taken over in its entirety, and then linked together with a few branches taken from other operators to make the orbital Overground as it is today.

The Greater Anglia franchise, on the other hand, is being handed over for the simpler reason that TfL has proved it could do it better. The fact that the DfT didn't also hand over Southeastern shows it's not quite prepared to start heading down the road which ends with TfL in charge of all metro rail in London; but if TfL continues to run transport services better than the private franchisees it's competing with, it will get harder to knock them back.

The Overground is run by two nationalised firms—but they're Germany's and Hong Kong's. Find out why Crossrail's going down the same track.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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