By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter
The proposed HS2 route passes by a corner of my former Wycombe constituency – allowing for boundary changes since – and I was thus less caught up in the debate over the project than neighbouring Bucks MPs: Cheryl Gillan, David Lidington, Dominic Grieve and (ahem) the Speaker. I have no fixed view, though if £1000 is to be taken in tax from every family in the land to be spent on improving the rail system, I can't helping wondering whether HS2 is really the best way to do it.
There's no obligation on MPs to have a settled view on everything, but had I stayed in the Commons this wouldn't have been an option in relation to the plan. MPs usually represent the views on their constituents on local matters – the Burkean view of the role being that of a trustee rather than a delegate is seldom applied in this context – and HS2 means housing blight, compulsory purchase and despoiled countryside in parts of Bucks. It is scarcely surprising that my former Conservative county colleagues are opposed to the project, and known to be.
Since most of them are Ministers, and senior ones at that (Secretary of State for Wales, Minister for Europe and Attorney-General in the order that I've placed them) there is naturally been speculation about resignations and reshuffles this week. I have no hard information, but it has been pointed out to me that there is a solid reason why anyone hoping for such events is likely to be disappointed – namely, that though an announcement's due today a bill isn't until next year.
If a week is a long time in politics, 2013 is an aeon away. The Bucks MPs and other Ministers through whose seats HS2 will run (such as Nick Hurd in Ruislip, Northwood) are in a position to remind their constituents both that they are opposed to the project and that they will vote against any bill when it comes before the Commons – but that until or unless there is a bill there's no measure to vote against and, therefore, no necessity to resign. And who knows what reshuffles will have brought by, say, the autumn of 2013?
My order reflects constituency opposition to HS2: Chesham & Amersham and Aylesbury are more directly affected by HS2 than Beaconsfield (and, as I mentioned, Wycombe). Cheryl Gillan's opposition to the scheme has been particularly vehement. But the Bucks Ministers feel a sense of obligation to the Government they serve as well a stronger one to their constituents, and David Cameron will scarcely want to have an emergency reshuffle.
As I say, I have no special knowledge, but expect to see the Bucks Ministers vote against the bill as backbenchers next year – presuming it's tabled on time (and it could come as late as the autumn) – but to stay in place during this one. I could be wrong. But if I'm not, expect Steve Baker, my successor in Wycombe, to continue being the public face of Tory opposition to the scheme in the Commons, a role he has been fulfilling to date with energy and commitment. P.S: it's far, far too early to put any number on the likely tally of rebels.