Whoops!

One trait that I have developed as the result of my bitter experience of the HS2 project is distrust, contempt and, yes, even hatred of politicians and the system that they employ to screw us, so I can’t begin to express my joy at the total omnishambles that we have all witnessed following the 2017 General Election polling day. The outcome of a process that I had previous characterised as an “unwanted and unwarranted distraction” (see footnote 1) has left bodies strew all over the battlefield and has resulted, in my view, in every political party, save for two in Northern Ireland and the Scottish branches of the two main national parties, finding themselves with little to celebrate.

I feel that our Prime Minister, for now, fully deserves the copious layer of egg that is adhering to her visage for perverting the clear intention of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (see footnote 2) and for taking us mugs so much for granted. Her punishment is severe: her credibility is shot, her future is uncertain, to say the least, she is stuck with Philip Hammond and she finds herself in thrall to the Democratic Unionist Party. For the Conservative Party it is the last of these that is likely to be most significant – although the Tories have retained “and Unionist” in their full party title, I doubt that the regressive, homophobic and misogynistic tendencies of the party that was the creation of Protestant fundamentalist leader Ian Paisley will chime very well with more forward-looking politicians in the Conservative Party (particularly the gay ones), and I don’t foresee a very happy marriage. I expect, however, that, for as long the two parties can tolerate each other, Northern Ireland issues will gain prominence in government thinking and that there will be an early announcement that HS2 is to be extended to Belfast.

For MPs packing their satchels for the new term at Hogwarts Westminster the distribution of seats between the parties is likely to result in unwelcome restraints being placed upon their freedom to roam, as the Whips are likely to require their charges to be ever-present in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster and available to take part in divisions, unless pairing arrangements are reintroduced. Also leave of absence for those much-coveted overseas “fact-finding missions” is likely to be hard to obtain. We should expect to see ambulances parked in New Palace Yard, bringing hardly-breathing Members to make up the numbers and vote, perhaps, for a final time, with death being the only possible excuse for missing a division.

The Labour Party must, of course, share in the blame for the election being held as, without their votes, the Prime Minister could not have obtained the consent of two-thirds of the whole House necessary to carry the motion that a general election be held. I have never understood why Labour MPs went along with this; surely there couldn’t have been a man jack of them at the time who thought that they could win a general election. I guess that it might have been seen as “running scared” if they hadn’t have picked up the gauntlet that Theresa May had thrown down, but it was as sure an example of turkeys voting for Christmas as I have ever seen.

As it turned out, a fortunate Labour Party was blessed with the gift of a totally-incompetent Tory election campaign, the ability to write a very seductive manifesto safe in the knowledge that they were never going to have to deliver on its promises, and having a leader from the old school of socialist politics who, in contrast to the underwhelming campaign performance of Mrs May (see footnote 3), can more than hold his own on the stump. The result was that they did much better than most expected, and the relief in party circles was so great that they appear to be treating the outcome as something of a victory.

However, this “victory” has to be put into perspective. After the 2017 election Labour holds 262 seats, four more than they managed to win at the 2010 general election – a result in 2010 that was seen as a failure then and led, ultimately, to the Leader of the Party standing down. Sadly for the Labour Party, the 2017 result will actually serve to strengthen the position of the current parliamentary party leadership, boost the strength of the left-wing faction in the grassroots and prolong the current situation of the Labour Party being widely viewed as unelectable (see footnote 4). Paradoxically, a really bad performance by Labour might have been the better outcome for the long term, allowing a much-needed cleansing of the Augean Stables to take place.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats improved their occupation of the Commons benches by two, surely many fewer than they were hoping for, their share of the vote actually dropped slightly, they lost a former leader and the present one only just held on with his majority slashed from 8,000 plus to 777. The Party remains, at 12 seats, a long way from the heady heights of the 57 seats secured at the 2010 general election.

As all three of the above parties have been enthusiastic supporters of HS2, I revel in their misfortune and rejoice at the collective good sense of my fellow electors in bringing all of this hardship down on their heads.

Another party that notionally supports HS2, on the probably mistaken assumption that high-speed tracks will reach Scotland one day, is the Scottish National Party (SNP). Although, the party won 35 Westminster seats, the second-highest number in its 80-year history, this was well down on the 56 seats that it held in the last Parliament, resulting in a few tears being shed on election night. Perhaps of more concern for supporters was that the SNP share of the vote fell from 50 per cent in 2015 to 37 per cent and they lost two of their big hitters in Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson – I shall miss Mr Robertson’s ability to rattle Theresa May at PMQs.

The two parties that oppose HS2, UKIP and The Green Party, did not have a good night at all. UKIP’s downward spiral into extinction continued: its share of the vote fell off a cliff from 12.6 per cent in 2015 to 1.8 per cent and its leader has resigned in the wake of this debacle. The Green’s share of the vote more than halved from 2015 (3.7 per cent down to 1.6 per cent), but a very impressive, trend-bucking performance by co-leader Caroline Lucas saw them hold onto their one Commons seat (see footnote 5).

Whilst the continued opposition of these two parties to HS2 is appreciated, I don’t think that the combined Commons forces that they can muster, at one MP, is going to hinder the future progress of HS2 through Parliament, even when that single Member is the formidable Ms Lucas.

Whilst I am on the topic of Commons opponents of HS2, I must record my regret that the representative in the 2015-17 Parliament for the constituency that borders on mine, Warwick and Leamington, lost his seat. Chris White consistently used his vote to oppose the passage of HS2 Phase 1 through the Commons and I am very grateful to him for that. My own MP, Jeremy Wright, who equally consistently failed to take part in HS2 divisions, increased his share of the vote by a couple of percentage points but suffered a reduction of 40 per cent in his majority.

I am also pleased to note that Members who have spoken out against HS2 in the Commons have been returned, notably Cheryl Gillan, Sir William Cash, Michael Fabricant, Jeremy Lefroy and Chris Pincher.

Footnotes:

  1. See my blog Fess up failure fuss, part 2 (posted 31 May 2017).
  2. In moving the Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons, the deputy Prime Minister claimed that “The Bill has a single, clear purpose: to introduce fixed-term Parliaments to the United Kingdom to remove the right of a Prime Minister to seek the Dissolution of Parliament for pure political gain” – see Column 621 in House of Commons Hansard for Monday 13thSeptember 2010.
  3. Although she has regularly trounced an apparently hapless Leader of the Opposition at PMQs.
  4. Whether this is a true reflection of the abilities of the Labour front bench is immaterial, as it appears to be the widely-held view of the electorate, fuelled by media that is mostly hostile.
  5. Ms Lucas won 30,139 votes – almost twice as many as second-place Labour – and almost doubled her majority from 7,967 to 14,689. Her share of the vote increased by 10.4 per cent.

 

 

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John on June 12, 2017 at 7:14 am

    A plague on all their houses
    The failure of MPs who opposed hs2 to work together and form a cohesive opposition has condemned us to a mind boggingly expensive line from somewhere in London to somewhere in Crewe.
    I really don’t see the rest of it ever being built

    Reply

  2. Posted by Sarah Green on June 13, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Hi John, I stood as Green Party candidate in Ruislip Northwood and Pinner specifically to call for a Public Enquiry into the environmental destruction proposed by HS2 here. The wetlands of west London are the sacrifice zone, with electricity sub-stations, work compounds, spoil dumps and haul roads replacing our nature reserves, wildlife and water resources. The electorate had a chance to vote against HS2 here but chose not to. So it is not just the political parties it is nearly all of us allowing the madness of HS2 to happen. The Stop HS2 groups did not get behind the candidates that opposed HS2, this surely can change and we can educate our neighbours and encourage people to get involved. HS2 breaks the Paris Climate Accord as high speed is not carbon neutral and destruction of this many ecosystems and ecoservices is contributing to climate change acceleration.

    Reply

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