Cameron Old Guard 0 – Plebs United 1

Although its members can just about be trusted with serving as gatekeepers for Downing Street –provided they show due deference to pompous toffs on bicycles that is – the plebeian class, judging by the results of the EU Referendum, cannot be relied upon to do the Prime Minister’s bidding in important matters like determining the future of our nation. In what will probably go down as the biggest political miscalculation in our recent history (if not of all time), David Cameron clearly thought that he could rely on the great unwashed to help him out with a little local difficulty with other members of his own party. As events have clearly demonstrated, he was totally wrong: it appears that there were large numbers of voters within the electorate who would rather take a great leap into the economic and political unknown than show support for the Government and our largely faceless masters in the European Union.

I have heard that some quarters in Brussels blame David Cameron personally for bringing about the vote for Brexit, and clearly he should answer for his miscalculation, but for those running the EU to seek to shift the blame elsewhere, although wholly expected, would be to totally miss the point. It has been clear for some time that the United Kingdom, as a nation that has not adopted the euro, and was unlikely to do so, and that did not subscribe to the doctrine of open borders, was really already semi-detached from the EU, and there is certainly little support in the UK for the federalist view that appears to predominate in Brussels. It has also been clear that, despite being an unpleasant topic for many liberal politicians to face, the widely-perceived problem of mass migration into the UK is inextricably linked with the EU’s freedom of movement policy.

In a characteristically arrogant fashion, the EU’s policymakers have failed to make any significant accommodations to still the UK’s qualms: they gave David Cameron very little that was positive to offer voters in the referendum out of the much-vaunted negotiations earlier this year, and it was very noticeable that the Remain campaign chose not to make much, if anything, of these concessions. In fact, it was very significant, I think, that the Remain side opted not to promote the positives of EU membership, but chose instead to concentrate on the putative negatives of quitting.

I slept soundly on election night – my days of sitting up bleary-eyed for half the night watching a succession of folks wearing gold chains reading out “numbers of votes cast” are long past – so, like many others, I awoke to learn that a political earthquake had occurred whilst I was in the arms of Morpheus. Given that news, the subsequent announcement that David Cameron was stepping down was no real surprise; he clearly had very little choice in the circumstances. I waited in vain for news that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had also fallen on his sword. It is surely only a matter of time before he resigns, or is reshuffled (see footnote): perhaps the view was that losing both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in one day would carry too much risk of catastrophically spooking the already fragile financial markets.

It is very tempting for us anti-HS2 campaigners to view all political events as potentially significant to our dearest wish to see the back of the HS2 project. We do however, need to realise that the EU Referendum was not about HS2, and that our politicians have had a lot dumped on their plates by the leave vote, and are hardly likely to give HS2 a thought at the moment. Nevertheless, only a few hours after I had learnt about the outcome of the vote I was contacted by a reporter from my BBC local radio station – I don’t have enough clout to attract the attention of national radio – to ask me what I thought the result meant for the HS2 project.

I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t already weighed this question up myself, so I was ready with my answer. I reflected that a Government without Cameron and Osborne at the helm would be devoid of two of the most fervent supporters of HS2. However, the political momentum behind HS2 is so strong, with more than four hundred MPs voting in favour at Third Reading in the House of Commons, that I feel it is probably too late for it to be stopped purely on policy grounds.

I told the reported that, nevertheless, I still entertained hopes that the cost of HS2 could prove its downfall, and that two recent announcements gave me some hope on this score. The first is the news, as I reported in my blog Looking above the bottom line (posted 24 May 2016), that the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, is undertaking a review of HS2 costs. The second is the claim made by George Osborne that a Brexit will cause a £30bn hole in the nation’s finances. If Mr Osborne’s claims prove to be the case, and are not just, as the Leave campaign categorised them, a scare story, then a new Chancellor of the Exchequer will be looking to reduce public expenditure by £15bn and increase taxes by a similar amount “in an emergency budget delivered within weeks of an out vote”; a prediction on timing that Mr Osborne has revised to the autumn since the referendum result was announced. Whatever the timing of the budget, could anyone really justify allocating more than £50bn to HS2, in the expected environment of increased austerity?

I think that it is far too early in a very unsure forward process to make any predictions about how Brexit could affect HS2, and I wouldn’t have gone as far as I have if I hadn’t been asked the question. I have seen far too many false dawns in the past six years and have seen the HS2 project survive all of the potential threats to its continuation, so I’m not about to get excited by the prospect of a Brexit spanner in the HS2 works. However, I am a little encouraged that Rail Technology Magazine felt the urgent need to publish the views of some rail industry vested interests that “major rail projects are more crucial than ever to the UK’s success post-Brexit” and for another rail industry mouthpiece to concede that “there is no knowing what effect the vote could have on projects like HS2”.

This hint of uncertainty that Brexit has cast over the rail industry is also reported by Penny Gaines in a thoughtful blog on the Stop HS2 website, but like me Penny refuses to be drawn too far on predicting what, if anything, withdrawal from the EU will mean for the HS2 project.

Meanwhile, at a time when all eyes should be focussed on the machinations going on in a rudderless Conservative Party, the Labour Party seems intent on diverting our attention, just to show that they are just as capable of stupidity and tendencies to self-harm as their political opponents. Insanity appears to be rife in the Westminster village.

Footnote: Whilst George Osborne was once seen as the heir apparent to David Cameron, his chances of succeeding are now rated as slight, we are told, and would be actively opposed by the pro-Brexit camp in the Conservative Party. For the view of the Sunday Telegraph see an article published on the weekend following the referendum. See also the similar article in The Guardian. [Since I penned this blog one newspaper has reported that Mr Osborne has announced that he has taken the decision not to stand in the Conservative Party leadership election.]

PS: In case you may be wondering, I voted to remain in the EU. I am not a particular fan of the EU – I find it hard to respect an institution that metaphorically sticks its corporate head in the sand whilst talking out of its fundamental orifice – but I do value the leadership that it has shown on environmental matters, employment law and human rights, although the UK Government does appear to ignore EU standards in these matters when they prove inconvenient. I’m afraid that the direction in which my vote was cast was largely influenced by Remain’s scare tactics: I am concerned that the value of my pension and other investments will fall due to Brexit, and that leaving the EU will give a renewed impetus to Scottish separatists.
Whilst these reasons are not perhaps as high-minded as I might wish, I feel, at least, that they have more merit than some that I have heard. Take, for example, the comment reported to me made by a delivery driver that leaving the EU would reduce the flow of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, although the expression that he used to describe this ethnic group was somewhat less politically correct than the way that I have put it. And, my friends, that man’s vote counts exactly the same as yours!



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