Critics of HS2 are scenting blood on all sides now. As the Sun reports, giving Ed Balls the final say on the project is another sign that the Labour party is at least constructing a coffin for the project, even if it isn’t driving the nails in just yet.
Meanwhile, on the Tory side, I understand that there are three whipping operations springing up around the report stage and third reading of the preparation bill next week. The PM’s backbench envoy John Hayes and his PPS Mel Stride are the most active from the government side, even though Hayes is not a whip. One Tory MP observing these things tells me: ‘Whenever the chips are down, he goes around drawing up lists of possible troublemakers and working out how to get alongside them.’ Anyone who has attended parties or drinks events where naughty Tory MPs lurk will testify to Hayes’ abilities when it comes to holding court from a corner of the room, drawing in would-be rebels like a magnet.
The official operation from the whips’ office doesn’t seem to have cranked up yet. Meanwhile, the rebels have set up their own organised whipping operation to draw more and more Tory MPs on side. Even those in the party who support HS2 are rather disgruntled with the way this threatened rebellion is being handled: one MP remarks to me that ‘we’re in a situation where the Prime Minister is more confident of the bill passing on Labour votes than he is from his own side’. And even that confidence isn’t exactly on the firmest foundations.
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.