David Cameron insists that a project like high-speed rail needs cross-party support. That may well be sensible, but his desire for Labour to retain its support for the new line is founded more on the necessity of getting the legislation through Parliament, rather than a great belief in parties working together on the big things. The fact is that Cameron needs Labour votes because yet again he cannot rely on his own party, the party of government, to push the bills through.
Labour obviously scents blood, not just because there’s sport to be had in making a Prime Minister squirm and plead for the Opposition’s votes, but also because dropping support for HS2 would lend the party some useful credibility. Today on LabourList, new Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh writes this:
‘The Labour Party cannot – and will not – give the Government a blank cheque. That is what you would expect from any credible official opposition seeing a Government desperately mismanaging a project.’
Danny Alexander today insisted on Marr that HS2 would be under budget, adding darkly as a message to Labour that ’what we’re concerned about is not just London and the South East of England – which you are obsessed about – and the City of London when you were in office , what we’re concerned about is the economic health of the whole country’.
But the Tory party has already been shifting its narrative on HS2 from the economic and capacity case to the emotional North/South unity message. David Cameron took that one step further on Friday by warning that ‘if Labour are to run away from this, they will be letting down the Midlands, they’ll be letting own the North, they’ll be kicking sand in the face of council leaders right across the country’. The only retort the Tories now have is that Labour would be ‘abandoning the North’ by walking away from HS2, but the party might wriggle out of that today – the Sunday Telegraph today carries an intriguing report about an alternative, existing route being studied by some Labour figures. But what’s clear is that the debate is moving from what will work economically to an emotional one: it’s now about credibility for Labour and North/South unity for the Tories.
Nigel Farage, Matthew Parris, Rory Sutherland and Cheryl Gillan will debate whether the government should ‘Stop HS2!‘ on 31 October 2013 in Westminster. Click here to book tickets.Tags: HS2, UK politics