If the strange mood of Tory unity over Europe is giving you the heebie-jeebies, then have a look at high-speed rail. When disunity boils over, which it is likely to do later this autumn, it will cause the party real problems. Unless, of course, Adam Afriyie decides to launch some kind of coup on HS2, in which case Parliament will probably unite to support the new line and that will be the last we hear of it.
Labour is now crouching in the undergrowth, waiting for the Tory disunity to bubble over. The party hasn’t quite dropped its love of stirring things up a bit, and the disappearance of Maria Eagle from the Shadow Transport Brief means the party is really ready for the right moment to trash the ‘north-south line’. Incidentally, in private Eagle was also frustrated with the way the party hadn’t taken her advice on the branding of the new line – she had suggested the ‘north-south railway’, which the Tories have now stolen.
But she’s gone now, and though this morning her replacement Mary Creagh made very clear that ‘Labour supports the idea of a North-South rail link’, she repeated the Ed Balls line about there being a question about whether this is the best use of money:
‘David Cameron and George Osborne have made clear they will go full steam ahead with this project whatever the cost. Labour will not take this irresponsible approach. There will be no blank cheque for this project or for any project, because we need to ensure it is the best way to spend £50 billion for the future of our country.’
These questions gained greater force this morning with the publication of the Treasury Select Committee’s report on the 2013 spending round. The report said ‘there appear to be serious shortcomings in the current cost-benefit analysis for HS2′ and that ‘the economic case must be looked at again’. The Committee says the bill should not proceed until that work has been done. As the voices against the case build into a clamour, it becomes easier for Labour to plot its retreat from the line altogether. The question now seems to be when the party will do this: Balls and co will want to ensure as big an impact as possible.
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: High-speed rail, HS2, Labour, Mary Creagh, UK politics