Judith Orr explains why the state of Britain's railways is producing a political crisis for New Labour, while Gareth Jenkins blames years of underinvestment.
It was only 2,000 workers. Hardly enough to shake a majority government off course. Yet within days of the first South West Trains strikes the air of crisis around the government threatened Stephen Byers' position. ScotRail drivers refused to work rest days and stopped one in four trains running. Arriva train drivers returned a 17 to one vote for strike action, and even commuters are planning a passenger strike on 1 March . The media was suddenly full of talk about a return of the 1970s.
Alan Milburn's plan to hand NHS patients to Bupa adds a new intensity to Labour's privatisation plans. However, his party's other market-driven flagships are sinking, stuck in the doldrums or simply failing to leave the dock.
The government has reversed its strategy on university fees, student loans, Railtrack and Education Action Zones. The 'Public-Private Partnerships' for London Underground and British Nuclear Fuels are near to collapse. The same scheme took flight in air traffic control but is currently in slow spiral descent. Adding this to Blunkett's downgrade of cannabis from class B to class C, and his announcement that the hated asylum vouchers are to be scrapped has led many commentators to talk about 'U-turns', and a newer, bolder and more progressive New Labour.