The travel industry needs to target its transport policy lobbying at the Treasury, Number 10 and Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves rather than the Department for Transport.
That is according to political commentator Steve Richards, who told the Business Travel Association (BTA) conference in Antwerp on Tuesday: “Transport policy is run more and more by the Treasury and Number 10.”
Richards noted transport secretary Mark Harper “has very little authority over the Treasury and Number 10”, saying: “Harper is the fifth transport secretary in as many years [and] never thought much about transport before getting the job.”
In the Labour Party, he said: “Rachel Reeves calls all the shots on transport. Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh is quite radical but doesn’t have much leverage with the [Labour] leadership.” Richards suggested a focus on Haigh would leave the sector “engaging with someone who does not have much pull”.
He insisted: “The most powerful figure [in the Labour leadership] is Rachel Reeves. She makes all the decisions.”
However, Richards warned the BTA: “Transport is always low down the list of government priorities. [Labour leader] Keir Starmer has his five ‘missions’ and transport is not one of them.”
He forecast prime minister Rishi Sunak would delay calling the forthcoming general election until autumn 2024 and suggested: “A lot of Labour policy still needs to be developed so it will be a good year to engage with Labour.”
Richards said the Conservative and Labour party conferences in early October would be important “pre-election conferences”, but he noted: “There is an anti-Tory mood that isn’t going to change. Sunak faces a poll deficit of 20 percentage points. The polls may be wrong but that is one hell of a lead. Sunak is the only one who still thinks he can win.
“It looks like there will be an overall Labour majority or a hung Parliament. Either way, Starmer will be prime minister, but a hung Parliament will mean a lot of instability.”
Richards suggested Reeves “could pull the plug” on the HS2 high-speed rail project, saying: “It’s unlikely, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Labour has to find money somewhere and a significant section of the Labour Party sees HS2 as a waste of money.”
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