I have often told people who ask me that the key to being an MP was not that we have a lot of power - we don’t - but we have ‘access’ to power and if you know how to use the access, you can move mountains.
And this is what I achieved in Westminster during the week on your and our town’s behalf. For 16 months the ongoing dispute between Southern Rail and the unions has dragged on and on and on. And caused tremendous frustration for parents taking their children to London for one reason or another, students going to uni or college in Lewes or Brighton, kids travelling to St Richards in Bexhill, occasional travellers popping up to London or Brighton, and in particular the poor long-suffering residents who have had to commute, somehow, to work every day.
And not forgetting the dreadful impact it’s had on local businesses and their staff. Let’s be frank my friends, it’s been an absolute nightmare for Eastbourne and beyond for a long time now.
Which is why I often said that a priority of mine if I was to be re-elected was to do my utmost on your behalf to try and achieve a real breakthrough in the dispute. Not as the usual suspects have put out that I would ‘solve’ the dispute in three months! To do that I’d need a few more powers than I actually have as an MP, but it appears some local Conservatives are following a game-plan toward me of ‘ let’s just make it up’, which is a tad wearying but such is politics, for some.
Anyway, this week I’ve managed to secure a chink of light in this intractable challenge. As reported earlier, I have spoken in Parliament over the dispute, quizzed Theresa May at PMQs, sent in written questions to the DfT, and constantly been on the media pushing the line. In all of my interventions the main thrust of my argument has been that the dispute is totally deadlocked, which it is, and the only way to break the logjam would be for the Secretary of State and the DfT to intervene, to actually sit down with the unions face to face and negotiate a compromise. Disappointingly this approach had been rejected over the last 16 months using the utterly spurious claim that the DfT had nothing to do with the dispute! This was of course nonsense as Southern Rail only have a management contract and, consequently, pretty much do exactly what the DfT tells them to do. Plus, for weeks now in Parliament numerous Government MPs have reiterated that Chris Grayling the Transport Minister couldn’t intervene.
Well folks, good news comes to those who work hard, as my dear old mum used to say!
At a meeting I organised this week in Westminster between myself and the two trade union leaders of ASLEF and the RMT, the union bosses made a public commitment that if Chris Grayling agreed to meet with them both, with no pre-conditions, they would suspend the three strike days planned in early August, and ASLEF would also suspend their overtime ban. A very constructive and fair offer in my opinion, which I said so at the time. There has been intractability on both sides but I saw immediately this was a good deal and should be taken.
Within a few hours the Secretary of State finally stepped up and showed some leadership and contacted the unions to say he would agree to meet with them. At last.
I do hope that I have been able to break the impasse, that all sides will now sit around the negotiating table in a positive frame of mind, and thrash out a compromise allowing our rail network to get back to something like the semblance of a normal train service. Eastbourne and the South East of England simply cannot afford for the delays, cancellations and chaos that we have had to put up with for well over a year to continue.
I’ve opened the door as your MP, as I promised I would. I hope all the parties involved will now seal the deal.
Have a good weekend folks. Hope to see you around town.