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 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.