Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 1

It’s really hard to credit, but the year 2015 will bring the fifth anniversary of the HS2 announcement. Although to some of us it seems that this blight to our lives has been around for ever, it also feels like only yesterday that we were scuttling around forming our local action groups, taking the first tentative steps to cooperate with similar groups along the route, and meeting so many new people.

You would think that, on the brink of the sixth year of its existence, all of the matters concerning HS2 that needed to have been settled would have been. But, of course, that is far from the case, and there are still some big questions that haven’t found an answer. Perhaps this accounts, in some part, for the constant activity around the project that has kept action groups busy and given me the material for approaching 370 blogs to date. Looking ahead, I can see no reason why 2015 will be any different; indeed my crystal ball predicts that there could be some significant announcements and events during the year.

For many, but far from all, of us this coming year will provide the opportunity to appear before the HS2 Select Committee – my own slots have been scheduled for two days towards the end of January. This is a topic that I have blogged about at length, so I will say no more, only to wish everybody who does take the trip to Westminster the best of luck.

The Select Committee proceedings will, we know, suffer a hiatus due to the most important political event that will take place in 2015, which is undeniably the general election. Apart from the February break, the recess dates for 2015 have yet to be formally announced, but legislation that came into force last year requires that Parliament will be dissolved on 30th March 2015; so we can expect that the Select Committee will not be sitting for the whole of April and for, probably, at least the first couple of weeks of May, although the start date for the new Parliament has yet to be announced.

Although there are no safe bets in politics, and the electorate seems to delight in making fools of the pundits, I expect the safe return to Westminster of at least five of the six Members of the Select Committee. Four of them held comfortable majorities at the last general election and beat the Liberal Democrat candidate into second place – I can’t see too much of a challenge coming from that quarter in 2015. The fifth, Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi, has to fend off a challenge from the Conservatives, but her majority was over eight thousand last time. The only Committee Member whose future on the green leather benches is not one to bet the mortgage on is Liberal Democrat MP, Michael Thornton. You may remember that he just held on to the Eastleigh seat for his party at a by-election a couple of years ago that was forced by the resignation of Chris Huhne, who had a small matter in the criminal court to sort out. His majority of under two thousand faces a challenge from both the Conservatives and Ukip that he may find hard to resist.

We have yet to see the election manifestos of the parties that will be contesting the general election, but I think that we may safely assume that HS2 will not be a major issue in that election. If past statements can be relied upon, two parties’ manifestos are likely to include the scrapping of HS2 as a policy item: Ukip and the Green Party. It is a fairly safe bet that neither will win sufficient seats to form a government, or even to lead one in coalition.

We can expect the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to either reaffirm their pro-HS2 line in their manifestos or ignore it, leaving the only uncertainty being what the position of the Labour Party will be. It might be inferred, from statements that the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer made at the time of the 2014 Autumn Statement (see footnote), that he is still eyeing the cash that would be spent on HS2 as possibly better used elsewhere in these times of continuing austerity, but he made no specific reference to scrapping HS2 in his comments. However, bearing in mind the strong support for HS2 in some quarters of the Labour Party and the general consensus that more investment is need in UK infrastructure, I would be amazed if the Labour Party manifesto were to contain any specifically anti-HS2 sentiments.

Assuming that the distribution of seats amongst the major players, and the outcome of any inter-party talks that may take place contingent upon the result, allows a government to be formed, I can see only four possible general outcomes:

  • A Conservative majority government;
  • A Conservative-led coalition;
  • A Labour majority government;
  • A Labour-led coalition.

I think that we can, for the present purposes, safely rule out a fifth possibility, which is a government of national unity.

If the outcome were to be a Conservative majority government, then David Cameron would continue as Prime Minister and, most likely, George Osborne would stay on as his Chancellor. I think that, whilst these two strong supporters of HS2 are in post, we cannot expect any change of policy on HS2.

The same two men would probably remain in post if the second option, of a Conservative-led coalition, was the outcome, and a pro-HS2 policy would, in all likelihood, prevail. I think that this would be the case even if one, or both, of the two anti-HS2 parties were a member of the coalition. I can’t see HS2 being a big enough stumbling block to stand in the way of a coalition agreement. If you doubt me on this, just remember that the Liberal Democrats ditched a commitment not to increase tuition fees in 2010, when the smell of power was filling their nostrils and thoughts of ministerial trappings their heads.

So I think that it follows that we must look to the Labour Party for any hope of HS2 getting the chop after May 2015, and that is a theme that I will explore further in the next posting.

(To be continued …)

Footnote: See Joe Rukin’s blog on the Stop HS2 website (posted 4 Dec 2014).



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Les Fawcett on January 2, 2015 at 10:48 am

    I agree with your analysis. HS2 is not going to be a major election issue unless we make it into one. I changed my support at the May 2014 elections to a party who don’t support HS2 – the Greens – knowing that in my solid Labour constituency my little protest wouldn’t have any effect on my MP, but would be relevant to the EU vote. Labour will not ditch HS2 until they realise they can get more benefits with less cost by changing the route radically. They could win a lot of support by promising an independent review of HS2 with the promise that those northern cities expecting HS2/HS3 will get something like it, and the numerous places that were to be by-passed by HS2 will get the benefits from new tracks fully integrated into the network instead of a segregated showpiece railway that actually damages the network. (HS2 Ltd like to talk about “freeing up capacity on the existing network” while proposing to save £8.3bn by CUTTING services; they can’t have it both ways.)
    HS3 is an afterthought to rectify some of the inadequacy of HS2. Wouldn’t it have been better to design a national network from the outset?


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