I don’t want to comment on that

Put yourself into the position that Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Transport, found herself in on Tuesday 10th January 2012.

It must be very hard to stand at the dispatch box in the House of Commons and try to sell a pup to that distinguished gathering, even when the assembled MPs appear to be extremely willing to be gulled. The boss says that you have to do it, but you’re intelligent enough to know that the proposition doesn’t really make much sense.

You may also be slightly embarrassed by memories of your own very vocal opposition to Ministers doing exactly what you are about to do.

How do you tackle this unpalatable task?

Well you could adopt the technique that I have seen in past Common’s examples of bowing your head over your written speech and delivering it in a monotone and at an almost imperceptible volume. Or you can do it the way that Ms Greening did; devouring the dish in front of her with gusto, sampling the edible bits with relish and hiding the bits of gristle in her napkin.

So why don’t we take a look into that napkin and try and identify some of the inedible bits of Ms Greening’s meal that she tried to keep from our view?

I have, in my blog Was it all worth it? (posted 16 Jan 2012), already given one such example, which is the inconvenient results of the public consultation.

Another morsel of gristle was the recommendations made by the Commons Transport Select Committee (TSC) in its report about HS2, some of which I discussed in Beware of Greeks bearing gifts (posted 21 Nov 2011). The TSC advised the Secretary of State that there were a number of issues that should be examined with more care before a final decision on HS2 was made. So did Ms Greening acknowledge the TSC report and its contents in her statement? Not a jot!

An intervention that is even more remarkable than this convenient attack of amnesia by the Transport Secretary came when Louise Ellman MP was called by Mr Speaker. Mrs Ellman is the Labour Chair of the TSC, so you would have thought that she might have asked about the reservations that her committee had expressed. Not a bit of it. In what appeared to be a Lab/Con pact of silence, what she said was:

“It is essential that the UK has a high-speed rail network, and I welcome today’s statement as it helps to achieve that. The Secretary of State said that she was considering how to include in the hybrid Bill a commitment to the whole of the Y network. Will she tell us more about that? Will she assure us that the money that goes to funding the very important high-speed rail network will not be at the expense of essential investment in the existing classic line to develop both passenger and freight services?”

It was left to Dan Byles, member for North Warwickshire and HS2 opponent, to refer to this particular elephant in the room (sorry, that should be “Chamber”):

“The Transport Committee’s detailed report raised a number of serious questions about the business case and the technical assumptions behind HS2. It also made the clear recommendation that the Secretary of State should not make a decision on HS2 until she had addressed those questions. Can she explain why she has chosen to ignore that clear recommendation?”

Ms Greening played with a straight bat:

“I think my hon. Friend would be the first person to agree that the Transport Committee’s overall comment on HS2 was that it was a good value-for-money project. The engineers have looked in detail at every aspect of HS2. I encourage my hon. Friend to look at the plethora of reports that we have put out today, many of them giving technical detail. I hope that will provide him with the confidence that he needs.”

If the Secretary of State was so sure that the points raised by the TSC had been addressed and adequately dealt with, then why didn’t she cover this important aspect in her announcement? She was pretty safe in referring MPs to the “plethora of reports” to check for themselves; I doubt that many of them will have the stamina to do this.

I plan to continue this examination of the contents of the Transport Secretary’s napkin in my next blog.

PS: The Hansard transcript of the announcement and subsequent questions by MPs may be found here.


11 responses to this post.

  1. Here is a very simple quesion for you Peter, In the first poll of 2012 a very simple quesion was asked and before you stated it was in favor with anti stophs2 but look at by how much 2%

    High Speed Rail 2, justified?
    Do the benefits of having a high speed rail line between London and Birmingham outweigh the negative impacts on the area?
    49% Yes and only 51 No

    So why only 2% better.


    • I haven’t seen that poll. Can you be more specific? Can you provide a link, for example?


      • Posted by hs2isright on January 24, 2012 at 6:43 pm


        Now – 56% yes and only 44% and that`s before you vote. More people for !!!! The only link I can find is on a stophs2 so can you answer that?

      • I think “HS2 is right” that it is a measure of the extent that the press coverage so far this year has been against HS2 that you have got yourself all in lather about the results of one poll. You even seemed to be excited about it in your first message when the for HS2 vote was only two points behind. Well any port is OK in a storm, I suppose.

        The truth is that Internet “click the box” polls, like the Touch FM one, are really only good for amusement. Serious pollsters, like You Gov and Mori, take great care to ensure that the sample used for the poll is representative of the population as a whole. The Touch FM poll carries no such assurance. Who knows who voted. Perhaps that even included you and me, and we are hardly representative, are we?

  2. I have not got in a lather about this result because HS2 is going to built so really any Poll is meaningless, but the only link to this poll is on the main Stophs2 website facebook page and you still cant get a result your way. No that’s the main question why is your vote so low?


  3. Posted by Rose on January 25, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Interesting that ‘HS2 is right’ made no comment on the blog ‘Was it all worth it’ which showed the results of the 55,000 responses, to last year’s ‘Public Consultation’ as a histogram.


    • Hi Rose. I’m afraid that I learnt long ago that you can’t enter into an intelligent debate with “HS2 is right”. I have tried many times to solicit a response to points that I have made to this person, but have failed every time. If you want proof of this just look back over the comments that have been posted.

      If it wasn’t for my strongly held opinion that everybody has the right to be heard, I would have given up to responding to comments posted by “HS2 is right” long ago.


      • Has a a got your tougue plese look back at your last reply and look back at your comments or do I have to call you the same your called someone on your blog. You strongly held option or is it that you think that you are always right. Peter please get your frinds to answer the Poll so you feel that you have a point.

    • Yes and I like to see the the breakdown of where people live that aswered the consulation. Or do i call you a Nimby as well and before you some Hs2 will be in view of my house when built.


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