Friday, October 20, 2006

Stop jabbing me with your umbrella

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

PO talk

These queues just get worse and worse, don’t they? Still, at least they give you time to chat.

On Monday the Liberal Democrats‘ (“Cashier number three“) called two Commons debates. One was on the need for green taxes and the other on the future of the Post Office.

Ed Davey opened the post office debate, his contribution made more urgent (“Cashier number one”) by the publication of an interview with Alistair Darling in that morning’s Financial Times. There Darling -- the Trade and Industry Secretary -- talked ominously of a further round of branch closures. Already (“Cashier number two”) a network that was 22,000 strong 20 years ago has dwindled to 14,326 offices.

According to Jim Fitzpatrick, a Darling underling, it’s all down to market forces. “The world is changing, and people are choosing to operate differently.” But in reality it is often government that (“Cashier number one”) that is making the choices.

As Ed said: “The problem has been caused by the government’s decisions over the past few years on pension books, television licences, passports and (“Cashier number three“) the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and by their indecision on the social network payment, the Post Office card account and the future of Royal Mail.”

And the Liberal Democrat alternative? It is to be found in the policy we approved at this year’s Spring Conference. Sell 49 per cent of the Post Office to raise capital, give it the power to borrow in (“Cashier number two”) the capital market and stop taking business away from the network.

Those who opposed these plans when they first appeared were afraid what Labour would say about them. But Labour is in no position to attack us over the Post Office. It is the Liberal Democrats who realise the importance of a flourishing network of sub post offices to the health of our communities. Labour has lost site of the public interest here altogether.

There is another point worth making. Most (“Cashier number one”) of those protesting against closures talk about rural post offices because their fate is the most emotive. But the loss of suburban offices (“Cashier number one”) is just as important…

All right, stop jabbing me with your umbrella. I was just going up there.

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