So now there isn’t just uncertainty over Labour’s support for HS2, but also uncertainty over the uncertainty after Maria Eagle tried her best to deliver as upbeat a speech as possible about the high speed rail link. The Shadow Transport Secretary did deal with the issue, and she made clear that Labour’s support is now conditional. But what she didn’t do was suggest that Labour was questioning the value of the whole project. Eagle told the conference hall:
‘That’s why we support High Speed 2. And, unlike the Tories, no blank cheque for any government project. So, as Ed Balls rightly says: we support the idea of a new north-south rail line but, if costs continue to rise – and the value for money cannot be demonstrated, we will have to ask if this is the right priority for £50billion pounds.
‘So I say to David Cameron: get a grip on this project. Get a grip on its budget. And get it back on track.’
So in Eagle’s eyes there are two tests for HS2. If costs rise, then Labour will have to ask whether this project is the right one, and if value for money cannot be demonstrated then Labour will have to ask if the project is the right one. Ed Balls’ line was:
‘Because the question is – not just whether a new High Speed line is a good idea or a bad idea, but whether it is the best way to spend £50 billion for the future of our country.’
The Labour leadership is arguing that this line from Balls was never a shift in policy – and that he and Eagle are saying the same thing. One interesting question now from both Eagle’s speech and Balls’ offering yesterday is whether the party needs to see further proof of value for money for HS2 that will cement its support and end the uncertainty about the uncertainty.Tags: High-speed rail, HS2, Labour, Labour conference 2013, Maria Eagle, UK politics