As expected, yesterday’s vote on the 2nd reading of the Hs2 Hybrid bill for phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe was (to put it mildly) a walkover. The bill passed with a crushing result of 295 Ayes and just 12 Noes. 12! Remember that 41 MPs voted against phase 1 of Hs2, which shows how much the anti campaign’s collapsed. Many of the usual suspects (Chery Gillan and Michael Fabricant being the most prominent) voted no but some familiar names abstained, including Labour’s Kelvin Hopkins, Barry Sheerman, Dennis Skinner and Kier Starmer. This was despite Sheerman speaking during the debate and saying how much he opposed Hs2 – but not enough to vote against it, which makes him as much use as a chocolate fireguard! What’s interesting is how all the usual Labour antis abstained this time but Sir Kevin Barron, the MP for Rother Valley voted (for the first time) against Hs2. This suggests to me that the Labour Party hierarchy gave him a free pass as his is the only constituency on the phase 2 route to Leeds that has any real opposition to Hs2. When I crunched the numbers this morning 1382 constituents had signed the Stop Hs2 petition. That’s still only 1.46% of course, but the nearest to it is Bolsover with a measly 0.43%!
In another twist, the antis favourite Tory leadership candidate (who was supposed to oppose Hs2), Jacob Rees Mogg actually voted for it! Not only Mogg did a volte face. So did seven other MPs from the 41 who’d voted against Phase 1. They were;
Steve Baker (High Wycombe)
Bob Blackman (Harrow Est)
Peter Bone (Wellingborough)
Chris Chope (Christchurch)
Mark Pawsey (Rugby)
Chris Pincher (Tamworth)
John Redwood (Wokingham)
What happened politically was the Labour party abstained, knowing full well the Tory’s had the numbers to carry the bill through with a large majority without them – although 13 Labour MPs (many of whom have held transport briefs) did support the bill. There were some interesting patterns too, all of the 13 MPs on the remaining Phase 2 route to Manchester abstained, as did 14 of the 22 on the phase 2 route to Leeds, whilst 6 voted yes and only 2 no.
Of course Stophs2 tried some desperate spin, whinging that over half of MPs were absent or abstained, but this ‘look over there’ tactic couldn’t hide the fact many of those abstaining were their suporters!
Worse was to come when it became evident that some MPs targeted by ‘action’ groups in Yorkshire & Derbyshire had voted to build the line. Broxtowe’s Anna Soubry and Erqewash’s Maggie Throup being examples! Whilst articulating their constituents concerns it was obvious neither MP was afraid of the tiny but noisy anti Hs2 ‘action’ groups in their constituencies. Both MPs know more constituents will benefit from the opportunities Hs2 will bring rather than suffer.
This leaves the Stop Hs2 campaign as dead as a dodo. Nationally, it’s disintegrated. Hs2 Action Alliance gave up years ago and the ‘Joe & Penny’ show (aka StopHs2) is a joke with Rukin increasingly absent. Essentially, it’s Penny whinging about Hs2 via the internet from her home in Bournemouth!
It’s obvious the local action groups attempts to frighten MPs into supporting them have either failed or backfired, which really does beg the question – what’s the point anymore?
Phase 2a is now a done deal. Nothing short of a miracle can stop its progress to Royal Assent despite the fantasy beliefs of of a few antis who don’t understand the Parliamentary process on Hybrid bills. What’s crystal clear is that cross party support for Hs2 is as stong as ever. Unless this breaks down…Another sign of their failure is the fact only 188 petitions have been received on Phase 2a. Contrast that with the 1,925 which were received in a futile attempt to bog down Phase 1. I’ve blogged about the 188 received here.
The only lobbying of MPs is being done by the local ‘action’ groups but tactically they’re inept. In many cases ‘lobbying’ means trying to throw their non-existant weight around and blustering rather than admitting that they can’t stop Hs2 & focussing on discussing compensation and mitigation instead.
From some of the posturing and levels of denial I’ve seen on Twitter today it’s clear the penny hasn’t dropped with some antis yet. For some it never will. This presents the remaining ‘action’ groups with a problem. Either they ditch these people or the ship goes down with all hands. Will there now be an outbreak of common-sense on the phase 2 route to Leeds (the only one left with active groups)?
Whatever way, it’s obvious the national StopHs2 campaign exists in name only.