Another day, another promise that a government project will be in time and on budget. Yesterday it was universal credit, today it’s High Speed Rail, with a letter from the construction companies behind the project in the Telegraph. The letter, signed by chief executives and chairmen of Arup Group, Atkins UK, Balfour Beatty, Kier Group, Laing O’Rourke, Moot MacDonald Group and Skanska UK, dismisses ‘artificially inflated figures’ on the project’s cost. It says:
‘We gladly accept the challenge of completing Phase One of HS2 on schedule – and for less than the Government’s target of £17.16 billion.
‘We applaud the Government’s support for investment in infrastructure and in particular HS2, which addresses a looming capacity crunch on rail and road networks.’
Unfortunately, Tory MPs are becoming less and less enthusiastic about applauding the government’s support for HS2. I hear a steady stream of backbenchers have been in to see George Osborne’s PPS Amber Rudd and treasury minister Sajid Javid, complaining about the cost of the project, and pressing for a U-turn. Those MPs who are worried are not the usual suspects like Cheryl Gillan, who has a constituency interest in preventing the project going ahead. One says to me that ‘intellectually, the case is dead, but it’s just George Osborne who is the block’. That’s quite a big block.
But something has changed since the Syria debate. Tory MPs already thought they were psychic, rebelling until the government came into line with their own demands, but now they believe they have even more power to effect U-turns. The reasoning goes that now the Tory leadership has failed to force something on the backbenchers and the sky hasn’t fallen in, another big policy insurrection won’t hurt.
I note that John Baron, leader of a fair few letters and difficult votes on Europe, and prominent anti-interventionist in the Syria debate, has written to the Prime Minister to argue that HS2 should be dropped. Baron’s constituency isn’t anywhere near the proposed route. Expect to see plenty more co-ordinated action on HS2 in the next few months from the backbenches. They’ve made Britain reconsider its role in the world: now they want ministers to drop Britain’s national ambition.Tags: Conservatives, High-speed rail, HS2, UK politics