Yesterday I went to the Manchester’s Trafford Centre on behalf of the TPA to support the Stop the Charge campaign and to encourage Christmas shoppers in Manchester to vote ‘No’ in the congestion charge referendum.
Along with Peter Roberts, Chief Executive of the Drivers’ Alliance, we manned a prominent stall in the centre (pictured) and – with the cut-off date of 11th December for postal ballots looming – tried to gauge what the outcome of the vote might be by chatting with local people, many of whom had already cast their votes.
The response to our presence was heartening, many approached the stall to pledge their allegiance to the ‘No’ campaign and air their grievances about the manner in which the proposals for a congestion charge have been bulldozed through, with little regard for the overwhelming scepticism in the Greater Manchester area. Many took our information and some even expressed an interest in getting involved with the TPA as an activist, agreeing that any form of road pricing should be considered an additional tax amongst many others. Even some of those who didn’t have time to stop shouted their encouragement over to our anti-congestion charge stall, often proclaiming that they had already voted with a resolute ‘No!’.
Inevitably, some said they planned to vote yes. One lady claimed her house price would go up due it’s proximity to a local train station, a few never stated why, but by far the most were happy to state that they intended to vote ‘yes’ to get the extra investment in transport funding. And what improvements are you looking forward to in particular we asked? ‘Extra buses, cheaper fares’ they answered. It felt almost cruel to tell them that not one penny of the TIF funding is going towards a single extra bus, and it certainly won’t be going to the private bus companies in order to keep fares cheap.
The ‘yes’ campaign have had the benefit of a multi-million pound advertising campaign and it’s their information that accompanies the postal ballot that has been delivered to every member of the electorate in Greater Manchester, and yet, despite this huge advantage it appears that clear thinking and common-sense have prevailed. Peter and I spoke to at least seventy people and kept a score of those who said they’d vote yes, the end total was just six.
Now we aren’t pretending that this is an entirely accurate survey at all. Many who would vote yes were unlikely to interact with us, and some of those we spoke to may have only told us what we wanted to hear, but most ‘No-voters’ told us that their friends and family felt the same, frequently people asked us if ‘anyone is voting yes?’ and more than once we were shouted at – yes, that’s right, shouted at – and why? We were mistaken for the ‘yes’ campaign!
With less than a week to go the fate of congestion charge may well be in the hands of the people of Manchester, and a ‘No’ vote could put to bed all thoughts of a national road-pricing scheme. We won’t know just what will become of these proposals until midday on the 12th December, but I have every confidence in the local people, who demonstrated yesterday their utter contempt for this debilitating tax.