Tories have come out fighting over plans to private the East Coast Main Line – by accusing their political opponents of caving in to trade unions.
The Government has insisted on pressing ahead with a contest for the East Coast Main Line franchise, which is currently run by a state-owned business.
Labour has argued that the line should remain under public control, pointing out that it makes a profit which currently goes back to the taxpayer, and arguing that it could be used as a benchmark to see whether privately operated franchises were better or not.
But speaking at the Conservative conference in Manchester, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin slammed Labour leader Ed Miliband – and claimed he was taking orders from the RMT rail union.
He said: “Take East Coast trains. Our plan: a new private operator from next year running more trains to Leeds, faster services to Edinburgh, new routes, new trains, growth.
“His plan: letting the RMT call the shots and leaving that route stuck in state hands. Ed Miliband obeys his paymasters. He doesn’t listen to passengers.”
In his own speech to the conference, Mr McLoughlin said proposals to improve the A1 would be confirmed soon.
He said: “Soon we’ll set out plans to improve vital congested roads like the A303, the A27 and the A1 in the north.”
And he highlighted the success of the North East’s automotive and rail manufacturing sectors, telling Tory delegates in Manchester: “Rebuilding Britain means making things, too. Electric cars in Sunderland.”
Labour MPs in the North East criticised Mr McLoughlin. Dave Anderson, MP for Blaydon, said: “The reality is that it isn’t just the unions who want East Coast Main Line to stay in public hands, it is also the travelling public.
“The travelling public has said very, very clearly that it has been doing a great job in public hands and should be left there.”