The weekend’s Hs2 media froth explained.

This weekend some papers were full of a speculative story that Hs2 is to be cancelled. Reports appeared in the Guardian, the Sun and the Express. The Sun’s story was a classic example of the disconnect between the journo writing the copy and the sub-editor writing the headline. Not only  wasn’t HS2 being cancelled, the PM, Teresa May wasn’t even in the loop and certainly didn’t offer any new opinions – far less actually confirm Hs2 was being cancelled.

sun PM

Only May never said any such thing. She’s not even quoted in the article. It’s another sub-editer ’embellishing’ a story (or lying, as it’s more accurately known).

This bit from the same story in the Express gives the game away.

express

Two MPs have asked that scrapping Hs2 is ‘considered’ and spun the story to the media that it IS being scrapped!

So, what do we really know from all this speculative froth? Only that it bares the fingerprints of two long-standing Tory opponents of Hs2 – MPs Andrew Bridgen and Cheryl Gillan, who’re almost certainly the people who’ve fed this stuff to the media to prop up their votes in the forthcoming general election. The massive irony is both MPs are claiming Hs2 should be cancelled to help pay for Brexit. The very same Brexit they both voted for! So much for the promised extra £350m a week for the NHS then!

Ignoring the froth, let’s remember a few things about the Governments stated position on Hs2. PM Teresa May has always been a supporter of Hs2 and voted to build it. Chancellor Philip Hammond has also been supportive. Both know that cancelling the project would destroy the Governments industrial strategy and stop tens of thousands of jobs being created as well as leave us reliant on a Victorian rail network that’s creaking at the seams. It would also leave our former EU friends (and soon to be competitors) with a massive PR coup when it comes to attracting businesses. May has previously stated her intention to put infrastructure investment at the heart of post-Brexit economic policy, so why change now? Let’s not forget that the UK ranks 24th in the world ranks of quality infrastructure (see link) and cancelling Hs2 would only make this worse. There’s nothing to be gained from cancelling Hs2 as the project isn’t a vote loser – as the 2010 and 2015 elections showed. Plus, the anti Hs2 campaign’s collapsed.

Few will remember the cartoon in a French newspaper when the Channel Tunnel opened. It showed French President Francois Mitterand arriving through the tunnel in a high-speed TGV train, whilst Margaret Thatcher met him in an old tram. It was an effective dig on the fact you’d speed through France and the tunnel on a high-speed train which would then crawl to London at 70mph on the normal UK railway as the Brits hadn’t built a high-speed line to match the French!

One can imagine EU nations saying to businessmen “why would you want to set up business in the UK, their infrastructure is crumbling and no match for what we’ve built across the EU – look they’ve even cancelled their last chance to drag their railways up to modern standards!”.

A cynic might ask why two Brexit supporting MPs have inadvertently admitted that – far from turning the UK into the land of milk and honey – Brexit is having serious financial consequences for the country (and don’t even mention that lie on the side of a bus). In Gillan’s case, it may well be because she’s backed the wrong horse. Her constituency is Chesham and Amersham. It voted to stay in the EU by 60% on a huge turn-out. It’s a wealthy area that stands to suffer considerably from Brexit as its residents find their city jobs moving abroad and their weekend trips to holiday homes in France & elsewhere curtailed by the exchange rate and need for visas. Gillan needs to try and prop up her vote as a Lib-Den resurgence & collapse of UKIP could well cause her problems, so keeping Hs2 antis on side is part of that. Planting media stories like this is part of a cynical re-election strategy, nothing more. Bridgen’s constituency voted leave, he doesn’t have the same worries, but keeping his Hs2 Nimbys sweet won’t do him any harm – especially as he’s fallen out with some over the £2m sale of his house to Hs2 Ltd!

I’m willing to predict that the last thing you’ll see in the Tories 2017 election manifesto is a commitment to cancel Hs2. Ignore the media froth, this is simply a couple of MPs trying to keep the idea out there to prop up their votes at home. 

Will Hs2 feature in the general election? Will it heck…

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As all the parties start getting over their surprise that a general election’s been called and begin to muster their troops I thought it worth looking at the stophs2 campaign and their hope that Hs2 will be an election issue. Of course, the answer is – will it hell.

Since Hs2 appeared on the scene we’ve had two general elections (in 2010 and 2015) and numerous local elections. None of them have seen any serious swing or influence brought about by Hs2 or the people who oppose it.

StopHs2’s ‘Campaign Manager’, Joe Rukin even went as far as to stand for MP in Kenilworth in 2010. He later admitted to the Hs2 petitioning Ctte that it was a con to get a free Stophs2 mailshot out to voters, but even that didn’t do any good. He got all of 327 votes or 0.7% and this was meant to be an anti Hs2 ‘stronghold’! Nowadays Rukin has pretty much given up and spends most of his time ranting about football on Twitter rather than Hs2. (see @JoeRukin). The other umbrella group (Hs2aa) threw in the towel last year, so don’t expect any anti hs2 publicity in local or national media in the run-up to the election as the anti hs2 campaign’s skint.

Another oddball that’s tried to stand on a StopHs2 ticket is Nicholas Ward whom I blogged about here. He stood in Westminster North in 2015 and got 63 votes, then again in David Cameron’s old constituency of Witney in 2016 when he got 92 votes (0.2%)! It’s unknown if he’s going to throw away another deposit by standing again in this election.

Apart from solo players the only political parties that oppose Hs2 on the national stage are the Green Party and UKIP. The Greens claim to support the ‘principle’ of high-speed rail but then wrung their hands and bottled out of it when it actually came to doing so. Mind you, their rail and Hs2 policy is a dishonest mess. I dissected it previously in this blog. The Greens are currently standing at 3-4% in the polls. They have 1 MP and aren’t likely to achieve anything in June.

That leaves UKIP, who’re in such a political and financial mess nowadays it’s unlikely they’ll be fielding many candidates. Their new leader, Paul Nuttall, is such a Walter Mitty character he’d fit right in with the remaining anti Hs2 Nimbys. Despite proposing not one but THREE high-speed rail lines in their bonkers 2010 manifesto, UKIP flipped when they fell for Stophs2 campaign claims that there were plenty of votes to be had in areas like the Chilterns if they opposed Hs2. The problem was – it was a lie. I crunched the numbers in this blog. UKIP famously blustered they’d stop Hs2 with stuff like this:

UKIP Chilterns

UKIP managed to get 2nd place in Aylesbury Vale in the 2015 general election (partly on the back of Hs2) but came nowhere near beating the Tories, who had a majority of 17158, or 31% compared to UKIP’s 19.7%. Since then it’s all been downhill. A by-election was held this month following the resignation of UKIP District Councillor for Elmhurst, Andrew Hetherington. UKIP lost the seat to the Lib-Dems, which suggests Brexit’s more important than Hs2 nowadays. UKIP have lost their solitary MP and the party is in such a mess it’s not going to have any impact on Hs2.

What all these votes have demonstrated is that hs2 is only ever a Nimby issue. The only time it’s had any impact on elections is actually on the route of the line. Even then, it’s never been enough to upset the applecart. Of course, since 2015 things have moved on. Hs2 phase 1 has gained Royal Assent and the ‘national’ Stophs2 campaign’s fallen apart – as well as the Phase 1 campaign.

Now the focus has shifted to Phase 2, where the StopHs2 campaign is hopelessly disorganised, skint and without a coherent strategy. All it does is re-run the failed tactics used by Phase 1 Nimbys. To make matters worse, it has negligible political support. Only 2 out of Yorkshires 51 MPs opposed Hs2 and that figure hasn’t changed. If Labour do badly in the North and lose seats to the Tories, it’ll change nothing as Teresa May has made it plain she’ll build Hs2 (as have the Lib-Dems).

Could a change of Labour leadership after a June bloodbath change anything? No. Because the heartlands labour are likely to be reduced to (the metropolitan areas, like London, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and Sheffield) are exactly the cities that Hs2 will serve! They’ll be pushing for Hs2, not to Stop Hs2.

If the remaining Hs2 antis think the general election will somehow stop Hs2, they’re in for a yet another disappointment. Just like they were in 2010, and 2015.

The starting gun’s been fired for a general election

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I was going to blog about something entirely different today. However, the immortal words of Harold McMillan (“events dear boy, events”) have got in the way with Prime Minister Teresa May calling a snap general election for June 8th.

Over Easter, May was claiming that the country was ‘coming together’ after the Brexit referendum. The general election is about to prove how hollow that claim was.

If I was a Labour MP, right now I’d be updating my CV, because there’s little doubt the party is facing a bloodbath on June 8th. I can’t help thinking that recent polls showing that support for Labour has reached record lows have had an influence on the Prime Minister’s decision – as well as the way many people treat her ‘coming together’ claims with such derision.

 

There’s no doubt that the Conservatives will win on June 8th, but will this bring the ‘unity’ May talks about? Of course not.

Brexit is the fly in the ointment. Every day that passes it becomes clearer what an utter disaster it is for the UK – and how the country is throwing away much of its influence because of it. One only has to look at the way other nations (including the Europeans) are talking about us – or rebuffing our political and economic overtures.

Whatever way you look at it, I can’t see much good coming out of the election. It will hasten the destruction of the Labour party and see the back of Jeremy Corbyn, but I’m not sure the party is strong enough to rebuild and return to the centre ground. I’ve a nasty feeling the hard-left grip is too strong and they’ll ensure Corbyn’s successor is cut from the same cloth. May’s position may well be strengthened, but a weakened Labour party will be an even more feeble opposition than it is now. This election is like the Brexit referendum. It’s not about the good of the country, it’s about the internal politics of the Conservative party.

My only hope is that enough people rally around the anti-brexit banner. The local elections on May 5th will be a test of that. If the Tory majority is increased in such a way it allows the Brexit fundamentalists influence to be watered down, we may yet see an outbreak of common-sense within the Tories – something that’s been completely lacking recently.

Could we see the Lib-Dems make a political comeback as the only party that opposes Brexit? I sincerely hope so. Right now, we’re entering yet another period of political uncertainty, the ‘interesting times’ of the apocryphal Chinese curse…

Catching up…

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– just not with blogging I’m afraid! I’ve had a busy month working from home. It’s left me little time to write or compose my thoughts but that should change now.

It’s not as if there’s nothing going on. As each day goes by Brexit becomes more and more of a shambles. For example, today, the Guardian highlights a survey of UK retirees who’re now less keen to spend their golden years abroad in the sun. They cite concerns about medical care after the UK leaves the EU. I have to say, this is a bit of a ‘No, shit, Sherlock!’ moment – especially when you consider the fact that it was a majority of elderly people who voted for Brexit! So, as well as crashing the value of their currency, they’ve potentially deprived themselves of access to reciprocal medical care abroad. Of course, for the UK, this is a double whammy. As well as losing economically active EU residents (who’re deserting the NHS in droves) we find they’ll be replaced by the economically inactive who’ll be putting extra strain on the NHS! – and that’s before we take into account the 100s of thousands of pensioners who’re already living abroad and who may be forced to return to the UK.

Meanwhile a House of Commons committee has been rather scathing about the referendum itself – and also alluded to foreign involvement in trying to influence the result. It’s deeply ironic about the ‘patriots’ who’ve been trying to take us out of the EU. The trouble with such ‘patriots’ is they’re so easy to manipulate. All you have to do is pander to their prejudices, wave a flag, tell them they’re patriotic, wind them up and let them go. Most are too blind to see that their ‘patriotism’ hasn’t served the UK or Europe’s interests – just the Russians…

I expect this story to keep running. No-one who was involved in the referendum campaign on the Remain side will be surprised. The huge number of foreign ‘tweetbots’ & fake profiles involved was obvious.

Away from politics, expect to see a blog to appear telling the story of my recent travels around South-East Asia, I’m writing up my trip from Singapore, through Malaysia up to Bangkok in my spare time.

 

Bonkers, truly bonkers!

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If I didn’t know better I’d suggest someone has been spiking the Houses of Parliament’s water supply. Maybe the Russians infiltrated the pipes years ago? How else can you explain the surreal stupidity coming from some of our politicians nowadays.

As if the Gibralter debacle wasn’t enough we now have Teresa may adding to the farce. Remember that May refused to condemn Michael Howard’s threat to declare war on Spain. Instead, she’s found time in her hectic schedule of sucking up to the Saudi’s to condemn something far more important…

The National Trust’s Easter egg hunt…

Showing her usual grasp of the facts, she condemns the trust for ‘dropping’ the word ‘Easter’ from the event. There’s only one teeny-weeny problem. It’s not true – as a few minutes browsing the National Trust’s website would have demonstrated.  Amongst several pages of different events (all featuring the word ‘Easter’) There’s also this full page ad,

NT easter

This is basic level PR fact-checking. OK, OK – I know facts have fallen out of favour in this era of fake news, but come on! I can’t help but wonder how many EU countries are looking at this stuff and wetting themselves laughing at the ridiculous state of UK political posturing at the moment.

It’s bad enough that this is the annual staple of the far-right who trot the ‘Easter has been banned so as not to offend the Muslims’ every year. But this is the Prime Minister jumping on the bandwagon.

The philosopher Joseph de Maistre once said that “every nation gets the government it deserves”. So what they hell have we done that this bunch of useless incompetents is our just reward? And, yes, I’m looking at you too Corbyn…

FOOTNOTE.

This whole furore is put into perspective when one remembers that the founder of Cadbury’s – Richard Cadbury was a Quaker – and Quakers didn’t celebrate Easter – or Xmas. (see link)

 

Brexit: The wheels start to come off…

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After the our Government presented the article 50 letter to the EU, announcing the UK’s intention to leave Brexit fans were cock a hoop. It didn’t take long for cold hard reality to bite. Within a couple of days the EU’s response poured cold water on the UKs ambitions, but also contained a surprise (well, to Brexit fans anyways) which has since broken out and shown just how mad Brexit is.

The Spanish lobbied to get a mention of Gibralter in the EUs reply and managed to bushwack the Brexit camp . The inserted text reads.

Gib

As the implications of this began to dawn on Quitters, all hell broke loose in the media. Despite sovereignty not being mentioned at all in the text, some people (including many who should have known better) began to fulminate. Comparisons were immediately drawn with the Falkland Islands and former Home Secretary Michael “something of the night” Howard gave the most ridiculous interview in which he essentially threatened Spain with war. Needless to say, the other pro Brexit newspapers ramped up the rhetoric. This is how utterly bonkers (and a diplomatic disaster) Brexit has become in the space of 4 days. We’ve actually had a ‘serious’ newspaper discussing the idea that the British Navy could ‘cripple’ one of our NATO allies (whom NATO would automatically defend, so – do we fight ourselves then?) – and rabid Quitters have joined in.

Dickson falklands

Remember, this sabre-rattling is directed at one of our European partners. One in which rather a lot of British citizens have chosen to reside.  One which will have a veto over any deal with try and do with the EU, whether it’s the ‘divorce settlement’ or a new trade and access deal. This is what passes for diplomacy in Brexit Britain.

What’s so stupid about this is that Quitters are surprised at this turn of events. No-one else is. Brexit has  handed the Spanish a golden  opportunity to make Gibralter an issue – as many diplomats and other mentioned before the referendum. As usual, quitters stuck their fingers in their ears (just as they did over the border question with Ireland) and ploughed on regardless.  Now it’s come back to bite them it’s obvious they haven’t got a clue what to do – hence this ridiculous sabre-rattling. The Leave slogan ‘take back control’ looks more and more hollow as it’s painfully obvious that we’ve done exactly the opposite!

To make matters worse, one of the people who’s expected to sort all this out is the buffoon and inveterate liar, Boris Johnson. He’s also been in the news this weekend, condemning the introduction of the new Vnuk tax on off-road vehicles in the Times whilst saying that it made him “glad Britain had voted for Brexit”

boris

This is a classic example of Boris’ intelligence insulting soundbites and disinformation. For a start, we didn’t have to leave the UK to stop this. We could’ve simply voted against it. I mean, we did, didn’t we? Err, no. The UK voted FOR this law.

vote

Once again Johnson proves how duplicitous he is. These are the type of people who’re leading us into the Brexit disaster – and this is only the first week! I wonder which of our allies we’ll threaten next week? This is the madness and depths of stupidity the UK has sunk to now – and this is why we’ve got to continue to fight against it.

With Howard back in the fray Brexit more and more feels like ‘when dinosaurs roamed the earth’ and a ludicrous column from Simon Heffer in the Telegraph adds to that feeling. I won’t give the Tel anymore free links, so here’s the opening piece of Heffer’s idiotic claim.

Heffer

Brexit Britain sounds more and more like an octogenarians theme park. One where they’re desperate to turn the clock back to the ‘good old’ days of Empire. There was a very good reason we dumped imperial measures. They’re neither logical or practical (so, a perfect fit with Brexit then). Only one other country still hangs on to pounds and miles – America. Not only that, but we started to go metric way back in 1965 – long before the EU came along. In fact, we first started talking about metrication in 1818 and UK scientists developed some of the earlier electrical measurement in – metric! Here, in a nutshell, is why it’s madness to ditch metric.

Metric

Can you imagine the effect on the sciences, business and international trade if we went back. It’s utterly stupid – but it’s a classic example of the mindset we’re seeing from the Brexit fan club. The sooner these dinosaurs are extinct, the better…

The Brexit stormclouds gather…

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Well, that was predictable. Yesterday Teresa May sent her formal letter to the EU invoking article 50. Apart from flowery words it also contained threats. May tried to play hardball, threatening the EU that Britain would be less co-operative on security issues if May didn’t get simultaneous talks on the exit settlement and new trade arrangements. Needless to say, the threat  impressed no-one. Within a few hours she’d got a ‘Nein’ from Angela Merkel and ‘Non’ from François Hollande which exposed just how hollow and stupid the Brexit slogan of ‘take back control’ really was. We’ve not taken control, we’ve thrown it away. Now the negotiations start in earnest and it’s becoming painfully obvious who holds all the cards – and it ain’t us – although (with typical English arrogance), Brexit fans think it is. When the truth can no longer be blocked out, it’s going to hit some people very hard.

This was all so predictable. But would the Quitlings listen?  We are in for some very, very difficult times in the next two years.

The Guardian newspaper has taken the time to do what Brexit fans never do – listen to what Europe thinks. Here’s the view from various newspapers in EU countries. It makes interesting but depressing reading.

On the road again

I’m currently enjoying the hospitality of Grand Central trains as I’m on my way to London for a couple of days. I’ve a job photographing some new trains  on a franchise that was announced to be changing hands today! Stagecoach have run the SouthWest Trains franchise since February 1996, making it the longest running UK rail franchise. It’ll come to an end in August when a joint venture between First Group and MTR take over. The SWT franchise is a good indicator of how rail traffic has grown. When it started, their trains were carrying 108 million passengers a year. Today, that figure is over 230 million! As is common in new franchise deals nowadays lots of new trains are in the pipeline. This time it’s going to be 750 new vehicles (90 ten or five car trains.) as well as 18 refurbished and re-tractioned 5-car Class 442s for Portsmouth services.  I can’t help cracking a wry smile at the news. After all, those opposing Hs2 always insisted that the project was sucking up all the money from the existing network!

I saw further signs of that investment on the Journey from Halifax. There are grand plans to completely rebuild the station with an extra platform, demolish the existing station buildings and entrance and transform it into a major transport interchange. Meanwhile, Network Rail and its contractors have been busy trackside. Track’s been renewed at the West end of the station and there’s more evidence of progress on the resignalling scheme. New concrete cable troughing is appearing all over the place – along with a new trackside depot at Greetland Junction, complete with hardstands for RRV’s to access the track. Lineside trees have been cleared in many places, opening up a railway which was getting quite overgrown in some places.

I’ll look forward to reporting on progress over the next few months.

More on the Calder valley line

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As the weather was meant to be good yesterday I took a little trip down the Calder valley line to Mytholmroyd, one of the towns which was badly hit by the Boxing Day floods of 2015. Nearly 15 months later, Mytholmroyd is still struggling to recover from the devastation. Although both the pubs have reopened, they’re still showing the effects. The Shoulder of Mutton’s beer garden backs on to Cragg Brook which burst its banks that day, flooding the whole area under several feet of water. Here’s what the brook and beer garden look like today. Giant ‘Lego’ blocks act as a bulwark against the brook, but take up all the beer garden!

DG267761. Flood repairs. Mytholmroyd. W Yorks. 23.3.17

The Environment agency is currently working on strengthening the towns flood defences, so I’m hoping that this is only a temporary measure.

It’s not just businesses that suffered in the floods. I passed several homes along the brook which are still empty as the owners are waiting for them to be renovated or dry out. Whilst the floods no longer make the news it’s clear the effects linger, even if the TV cameras  don’t.

The reason for my visit  wasn’t to gawk at the damage caused by the floods, it was to have a look at another of the worksites on the railway West of the station as a follow up to my earlier blog on the Calder line modernisation. There’s several footbridges on this stretch. Most of them have been renewed over the past few years and replaced with high sided metal structures suitable for electrified lines. What they’re not good for is photography – unless you’re carrying a ladder. However, one stone arch bridge remains at the end of Erringden Rd. Wide enough for a road, it’s now just a footpath. It cuts right across what will be one of the sites for where track renewal will be taking this coming weekend (25-26th March) – as you can see from this shot.

DG267764. Preparing to relay the track. Mytholmroyd. W Yorks. 23.3.17

Looking back East towards Mytholmroyd station. The Up line on the right was renewed back in January 2014. Lights and matting have been left in the cess next to Down line which will be renewed this weekend. New rail has been dropped in the four-foot of the Up line. In the background is one of the new footbridges. The two signals seen here are controlled by Hebden Bridge signalbox, which will be abolished as part of the resignalling scheme. No new cable troughing has been laid in this area but the existing troughs have had broken or missing lids replaced.

For reference, this next view was taken back in January 2014, looking back to the bridge I was standing on today.

DG168579. Relaying the Up Main. Mytholmroyd. 19.1.14.

Renewal of the Up line in January 2014

Whilst I was in the area I had chance to get a shot of one of the new freight flows that use the line. Last summer, GBRf started hauling stone from Arcow quarry on the Settle-Carlisle line through to Bredbury or Pendleton in Manchester. The trains run as Q services (Q=as required) and have several different paths allocated for them to use in the timetable, so they’re a bit unpredictable. I only found this one was running a few hours before it did. Here’s 66725 hauling 6M38, the 11.25 Arcow quarry to Bredbury.

DG267801. 66725. 6M38. Arcow Quarry - Bredbury stone. Mytholmroyd. W Yorks. 23.3.17

If you want to see the location on google maps. Use this link.