How rude is that?

When I was young I was taught that if an opponent resorts to insulting you it either means that he is ignorant or that he thinks he has lost the argument. Now I am not so young I still believe this to be the case.

When the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, Secretary of State for Transport, visited the Kenilworth and Southam constituency last September he was, as one should expect of a Government minister, very polite to me and my fellow action group representatives. At the time of the Conservative Party Conference in October last year he was still expressing sympathy for people living near the proposed route of HS2. So when did he decide to resort to name calling?

I have looked back through that file of press cuttings of mine; it looks like Mr Hammond first started insulting me and my fellow protestors against HS2 with the “nimby” tag on the eve of the launch of the public consultation on HS2 at the end of February this year. In an article in the 28th February issue of The Times he is quoted as saying: “Opposition to high speed rail is driven by ‘Nimbys’ peddling inaccurate scare stories.” What a good way to start a process that is supposed to be a genuine and open consultation Mr Hammond, by accusing those who happen to disagree with you of “inaccuracies”.

Less than one month later, the Metro free paper appears to have upped the ante somewhat. In an article in the issue of Monday 21st March, this newspaper reported that he described opponents of HS2 as “dishonest Nimbys” (the website version of this article is here). So is Mr Hammond guilty of replacing the Parliamentary description “inaccurate” by a more direct term, which some might find defamatory?

His Cabinet colleague, the Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP Secretary of State for Wales, sent the clipping from the Metro to Mr Hammond. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of the letter that she wrote to him; it is I am sure interesting reading. I do, however, have a copy of his reply. In this letter Mr Hammond describes the phrase attributed to him by the Metro as “journalistic paraphrasing”. Well we all know that journalists are capable of inaccurate reporting, either deliberately or by carelessness, but they seldom, I think, make things up entirely. So that leaves the question of what he actually said that the journalist paraphrased.

There is almost a sense of contrition in Mr Hammond’s letter. In it he says about his use of “Nimby”:

I agree with you that the term is not particularly helpful to the debate and I shall seek to refrain from using it. However, as in this case – where I was asked a specific question including the term – it is much beloved of journalists and I am not optimistic about the prospect of weaning them off it.

If you really mean that Mr Hammond, then I have a suggestion for you. Make a public statement apologising for using the term and promising not to use it in future.

Now I feel a personal statement from the author of this blog coming on.

On this blog page I have never sought to hide the fact that my home is within about 600 yards of the proposed route. I made this clear in the fourth paragraph of my very first blog (10 Mar). I also stated that I didn’t think that the effects of HS2 on my home would be too bad. My main concern is the affects on the environment in general and worries that HS2 will prove to be an expensive “white elephant”. Do you really think that I would be spending hours writing this blog, contributing to the organisation of a local action group and attending meetings all along the line if I was only worried about the effects on me of a railway in a deep cutting that doesn’t come any closer to my home than 600 yards?

I have also taken great care to fully research my blogs and to avoid any temptation to exaggerate. I may express the occasional opinion, after all isn’t that what blogs are about, but I can assure you that I am doing my level best to avoid any “inaccuracies”. There is absolutely no need to exaggerate or tell lies about the environmental case against HS2; the facts speak for themselves.

Unfortunately Mr Hammond was not present at the HS2 debate that took place in Westminster Hall on 31st March (the Hansard report is here). If he had been there he would have heard his “Honourable Friend” Dan Byles MP say:

Why is the Department for Transport not addressing the questions that opponents of HS2 are asking? Instead, it is addressing motives, and using words such as “nimby” and so on instead of addressing arguments. The Department should address those questions, but it is not doing so adequately.

Good question and sound advice. Mr Hammond please take note.

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