by Stephen Tall on February 21, 2014
Labour peer and former transport secretary
Reason: for getting to grips with transport reality with his London by Bus week.
Last week, I gave the nod to Ed Miliband for his focus on ‘people powered public services’. Time this week to recognise another politician – Labour peer Andrew Adonis – for getting down ‘n’ dirty on the buses, riding 50 routes in inner and outer London.
His idea (and yes, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but none the worse for that) was to live for a week the transport reality experienced on the 2.3 billion journeys made annually. As he wrote at The Independent:
Buses are the poor relation of public transport. Train and Tube get the limelight, yet every day twice as many passengers ride London’s buses as the underground. … A recent survey found a quarter of all bus users reporting their bus overcrowded. With London expanding by 100,000 people per year- almost four double-deckers of new-comers each day- how is the bus system going to cope? … all ages use the buses roughly equally. And Londoners of all incomes use buses, particularly the less well off. Around two-thirds of all bus trips are made by those whose annual household income is less than £25,000, compared with just one-third of rail trips.
His travels, recorded on Twitter with the self-explanatory hashtag #LondonByBus, became something of a cult hit. The cynical will say he’s simply angling for the Labour nomination of London Mayor (or Head of Transport for London, or to resume his cabinet role in a future Labour government); the generous will say he’s merely taking his job seriously as Shadow Infrastructure Minister. Others will worry that it might seem a bit like micro-managing for a leading politician to be commenting on individual bus routes and roadworks.
But, as I wrote last year in the context of whether it’s any of our business if politicians send their kids to state or private schools:
Politics works when it is representative, when leaders understand the lives lived by those they seek to lead. If too many of our politicians become too detached from the grind of everyday reality — if they don’t use state schools or travel by bus or use the NHS — how can we hope they will come up with solutions that help the majority?
So, for bothering to try and understand the lives being lived by those Londoners he may (or may not) be seeking to lead, Lord Adonis is my Liberal Hero this week.
* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.