Andrew Bridgen is Member of Parliament for North West Leicestershire. Follow Andrew on Twitter.
many fellow Conservatives who have taken the view that HS2 is a White Elephant,
we find ourselves in a strange position today by being in agreement with an
article written by Lord Mandelson in which he states HS2 could be an "expensive mistake” and damage the north of
This intervention should act as a warning shot to the
Conservatives that it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Labour could
abandon the cross party consensus – and leave us high and dry supporting a
project with spiralling costs which ploughs through dozens of Conservative
During the High
Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill debate I asked the
Shadow Secretary of State for Transport to ‘reassure the House that Her Majesty’s Opposition’s support for HS2
will continue up to and beyond the next general election? The support being given to the Government in this case is, I believe, rather like the support given by
the rope to the hanged man.
The response I received was ‘The honourable Gentleman is speaking
in hope rather than expectation. I know his own personal concern about the
scheme and I understand his point, but I can be clear with the House that
Labour supports getting on with building this north-south line."
Maria Eagle, the speaker, is only one reshuffle away from Labour being in a position to
cancel HS2, so they are leaving themselves wriggle room. Lord Mandelson also wrote that Labour's backing for the
project in 2010 was a "politically-driven" decision intended to
"paint an upbeat view of the future" following the financial crash.
He added further
caveats, such as "the
last Labour government had assumed that the project would attract funding from
the City rather than the burden falling on taxpayers" and the economic benefits
of HS2 were "neither quantified nor proven" and failed to take
account of how the money might be spent on other projects instead. Alistair
Darling has also come out as a HS2 sceptic, and one has to wonder who the next
Labour heavyweight to come out against HS2 will be?
With Ed Balls having little
to work with for the 2015 Labour election manifesto, the idea of taking £50
billion off the future balance sheet by scrapping HS2 to spend elsewhere, which
simultaneously would put dozens of Conservative MP’s and candidates on the back
foot could be an enticing prospect for the Shadow Chancellor, particularly as
the Northern cities who stand to receive the perceived benefits from HS2 will
continue to vote Labour. According to Yougov, 46 per cent of people oppose the
project and outnumber those who support it by 12 points.
Many in the media are sceptical about HS2 and the
nearer we get to a start date, the weaker the business case becomes. Lord
Mandelson calculates every move he makes which marks his intervention in this
matter as particularly significant prior to the Hybrid Bill in the autumn and
this could be the beginning of a process of support withdrawal by Labour which
would leave the Conservative Party shunted into a political siding.