Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 2

(… continued from Welcome to another fun-packed year in HS2 Land, part 1, posted on 2 Jan 2015).

If the Labour Party forms the government in May 2015, or if it leads a coalition government, then, barring any last-minute coups, Ed Miliband will be our Prime Minister. Now Ed and I are not on close terms, but I get the impression that his mind may not be as closed to questioning the merits of HS2 as his Conservative counterpart. However, he will be a brave man to take on the pro-HS2 lobby in his party and will, I expect, need some very persuasive arguments to waver from his party’s currently expressed support for the project. It is also unlikely that HS2 is very high up on his list of policy priorities at the moment.

Ed Balls may be just the man to carry the anti-HS2 torch in a Labour Cabinet. There have been reports that his Party Leader would like to have moved him from Shadow Chancellor, but backed out of the confrontation that this would have caused. So I think that it is a fairly safe bet that, come a Labour, or Labour-led, government, Ed Balls will get the keys to No.11 Downing Street – after all it seems to be a well-established Labour Party tradition in recent history for Prime Minister and Chancellor to be at loggerheads.

There have also been reports that doubts about the prudence of splashing out on HS2 have been expressed by Treasury voices, and so we might expect that, once ensconced in 1 Horse Guards Road, Mr Balls might find some allies and Mr Miliband would find a strong anti-HS2 message from that quarter very hard to resist.

This is, of course, pure speculation – and probably wishful thinking – on my part, and the picture looks less promising should the Labour Party need to call on the support of other parties to command a majority of MPs. The most likely candidates for this role, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party, are both pro-HS2 – although why the SNP think that high-speed rail will ever get to Scotland, without taxpayers living north of the border being required to contribute the lion’s share of the additional cost, I just cannot imagine. So the voices of these partners in any coalition may drown out any anti-HS2 mutterings by Mr Balls.

It is, of course, not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that Labour could change its mind on HS2 whilst serving a second term as HM’s Loyal Opposition. I think that such a change of heart would be unlikely in such circumstances, since Labour would not be in the position of having to balance the books and making consequent spending choices, but you never can tell what a politician’s mind may deem prudent in any given set of circumstances.

The first time that the Labour Party was seen to wobble on HS2 was during the party conference season in the autumn of 2013. The response from the Government PR machine, reported in an article in The Guardian, was to caution that “HS2 needs cross-party support to go ahead” and that the Labour Party “would be kicking sand in the face of the north if it withdrew its backing”.

My own assessment is that it is far from certain that any decision by a future Labour Opposition to vote against the Third Reading of the Phase 1 hybrid Bill would necessarily cause the demise of HS2. Assuming that both sides of the House of Commons imposed a three-line whip, there would still be, I think, a significant number of rebels in each camp abstaining and voting against the Whip and the outcome of a division would depend on the composition of the House at the time and the relative numbers of rebels on each side.

Now whilst speculation and forecasting, of the nature that I have indulged myself with herein, are great fun, I have to confess that I have no particular insight into the Labour Party psyche or knowledge of its internal machinations other than what is published in the media, which is, more often than not, merely someone else’s speculation and forecasting. So it could all be a load of, well I suppose one might say, “b***s”.

However, rightly or wrongly, I feel that the best hope that the HS2 project will be scrapped lies with the Labour Party, although, for the reasons argued above, I consider this a somewhat vague and tenuous hope.

(To be continued …)



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on January 10, 2015 at 11:28 am

    There is a mode of presentation of factual truth within an unfair context being adopted by all parties. Sadly this is an era of politics that hold populations and communities hostages. The left right polarisation of the 40s to 60s is well gone over the centre ground. HS2 changes from Labour or Conservatives not certain. From a new coalition not probable. Down grading of UK credit borrowing limits is more likely to be the way.


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