The assertion that Keir Starmer has yet to clarify Labour Party policy (‘Only a quarter of voters believe Keir Starmer has presented a clear vision for Labour, poll shows’, 3 April), may well be correct.
However, it is not an unexpected position. Given that the focus of the whole nation is to somehow escape from the Covid pandemic, there is little interest among the electorate at the moment for anything else. Moreover, if the Labour Party reveals its policies too early, there is always the danger of the Conservative Party stealing them and declaring them as their own.
One area on which Sir Keir could perhaps make ground is to stand on a platform calling for open and honest government and anti-corruption. The Robert Jenrick/Richard Desmond planning issue in Tower Hamlets, the Jenrick Newark Towns Fund saga, the awarding without scrutiny of high value contracts to Tory party friends and donors for PPE, the financial implications of the Jennifer Arcuri affair and the recent revelations about David Cameron and Greensill Capital, to name but a few, suggests there would be plenty of material to work with.
While the country grapples with Covid, the Labour Party could do worse than to campaign on the style and integrity of government, rather than specific policy issues.
M T Harris
The future of the left
John Rentoul’s piece about Peter Mandelson (‘Peter Mandelson: “It’s simply a myth that Labour can win from the left”’, 3 March) was interesting and enjoyable.
However, as somebody whose heart is in the soft left position, but whose head believes in Labour’s right, I would make two points. Firstly, I think Ed Miliband was far more nuanced than he is given credit for; his distinction between productive capitalist organisations and parasitical ones was useful. And given my understanding of Neil Kinnock’s outlook, I do not think that “his party” is that of the irresponsible left, but one of realism.
Secondly, George Orwell made an important point towards the end of his life: achieving equality by redistributing the income of the wealthy is unrealistic. It is necessary to expand the economy on which all rely. So while I have always been uneasy about Tony Blair’s and Peter Mandelson’s at times rather over-accommodating attitude to big business, I also recognise their real achievements, in particular the minimum wage, which was not the disaster anticipated by big business.
Perhaps there is still the possibility of a leftish party that does not deter (necessary) voters of liberal leanings?
Scrap ‘smart motorways’
It stands to reason that a motorway with only intermittent emergency refuges is fundamentally less safe than one with a permanent refuge (otherwise known as the hard shoulder). You don’t need a study to tell you that, although it is helpful in providing evidence and analysis (‘Fresh calls to scrap smart motorways as report finds motorists “more likely to die” on them’, 3 March).
However good the monitoring technology, it will never be able to make up the time delay between an incident and the immediate consequences. Highways England’s current “go left” campaign seems to be an exercise in distraction, because unless an incident occurs immediately before a refuge or an exit slip road, there is no chance to find a safe place.
Most worrying though is that the case for the All Lane Running (ALR) motorway expansion seems to have been based on the experience of the first smart motorways, like the M42 by Solihull, where the hard shoulder is used only in times of congestion and always with speed limits lowered from the maximum 70mph.
That model works because of the other safeguards built in. The ALR model has no such safeguards and therefore, by definition, intentionally compromises driver safety by reducing access to safe refuges in a high speed environment. Removing the hard shoulder also increases the risk of delay to emergency services, which have to negotiate backed-up traffic held up by the incident they are responding to.
ALR motorways should be scrapped, with the hard shoulder reinstated but available for use, according to the original smart motorways design, in times of congestion and with reduced speed limits. I doubt that would make much difference to overall traffic flow, because usually the emptiest lane is lane one, as most drivers just don’t “keep left”.
As a user of the M3 smart motorway it’s clear that our whole system of motorway use needs updating. The smart part of the M3 is far from smart; the middle lane cruisers are now in the third lane, so if you are in what was once the hard shoulder lane you have to navigate across to the outer lane to overtake and back again. It is not clear, as far as I can see from the present highway code, whether you can undertake in these circumstances.
The ex hard shoulder lane does not seem to be used by many except goods vehicles, which seems to negate the idea that capacity is increased. Capacity would be better served with less lane changing by allowing undertaking, thus solving forever the lane hoggers who annoy those who choose the inside lanes.
Another problem is that, on the M3 smart section, the inside running lane disappears and becomes the slip lane at a junction, which caught out an HGV on Saturday who pulled out at the last minute into the second lane. Having been caught myself when the “smart” section opened, I had anticipated and allowed room.
I noted on Saturday that, at one point, the next SOS space was one mile further on. How many motoring failures allow for a one mile trip? Perhaps Grant Shapps could show us by making his car “go left”, as in the current campaign, with a dead engine, loss of power steering and no servo for the brakes.
Shrug it off
One of my pet peeves (‘Face facts’, Letters, 2 April) is the phrase to “shrug” one’s shoulders. What else can you shrug?