On Tuesday 10 March Richard Worrall and a small group of pensioners from Walsall Pensioners Convention, along with others from across the country, set off for London, taking local buses all the way from the Midlands to the Capital City using their Concessionary Bus Passes. On Wednesday they arrived in London along with a huge petition of over 200,000 pen-on-paper signatures, sending a loud and clear message to all political parties to Love the Bus Pass and commit to safeguarding it in the next Parliament. Here Richard tells his story of an awe inspiring campaign.
I don’t suppose that new MP Brandon Lewis, protégé of Eric Pickles, realised that his words, back in 2011 sparked a unique (and we hope, successful!) campaign to persuade all parties, whoever is elected on 7th May, to keep the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme the ‘bus pass’ for older and disabled people.
Writing in Conservative Home, 23 September 2011, Mr Lewis since fast-tracked to ministerial office said: “It is a successful policy which we rightly pledged to retain … Yet it is a policy that no government could have financially sustained … Ahead of the election, we avoided discussing reform for fear of alarming millions of key voters: we need to urgently look at reform now.”
Nick Clegg then added fuel to the fire by calling for millionaires to be banned from joyriding on buses saving next to nothing, but a neat way of destroying the principle of universality and introducing means-testing.
So ‘Love the Bus Pass’ was born a pen-on-paper petition supported by the National Pensioners’ Convention, but organised and funded locally by its Walsall branch with the help of donations of hundreds of postage stamps from grassroots petition organisers in every corner of England. Huge thanks are due to hundreds of individuals and local organisations, not just for their generous support, but above all for their outstanding hard work and dedication.
For eighteen months up to June 2014, we had achieved 40,000 signatures when a letter posted to the editor of each of England’s 750 or so local and regional newspapers caused awareness to shoot up, and the campaign to ‘go viral’. By September, the total had grown to 152,347, and these, in eighteen lever-arch files, were duly delivered to No. 10. And the signatures kept on coming, so that by year’s end, another 10,000 had arrived, mostly by post, but some by e-mail.
A second round of letters went out in January and the second delivery took place on 11 March. Before Parliament dissolves on 30 March for the General Election, we hope to have delivered a total just over 200,000 signatures to No.10. This huge response is testament both to the sense of threat felt by millions of pass holders, but also, to the enduring power of the local press.
National press coverage, despite our many attempts, has been absent which says something for their sense of priority while it has been in the hands of local and regional editors whether they publicised a campaign which is of interest to millions of their readers: all credit to the many who ‘got it’, and shame on those who didn’t, as they effectively withheld awareness of the threat, and the campaign, from hundreds of thousands of readers nationwide.
In late February, over 500 letters were posted to English MPs asking them to state their own and their party’s position on the bus pass, the position being, as of mid-March, that while some parties have made vague statements about maintaining the pass, NO party has yet made the specific commitments we are after: to keep the 2008 legislation intact and to ensure that the scheme is fully funded by Government (which it currently is not). As of 13 March, 25 MPs had replied, nearly all not addressing the questions put … that’s about £16 outlay for each reply!
Why pen-on paper? Numerous people over the course of the campaign have suggested an e-petition, which we resisted. Yes, you could get greater numbers with much less effort, but this is all about widening awareness of a threat and putting effective pressure on politicians, and there have been tens of thousands of conversations, together with hundreds of constituent approaches to sitting MPs, in all parts of England, from socialist Sandwell to Tory Tewkesbury.
SIGN UP! HELP US PAST 200,000! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request a form, or easier still just send a message saying you wish to sign up, giving name(s) and address(es)