Yesterday, the Sunday Telegraph carried their latest anti HS2 nonsense when they reported that “Dozens of MPs” had signed a letter opposing HS2. There was only one problem, it was complete nonsense and a classic of the Sub-Editor’s art where the headline bears no relation to what’s in the article. Why? Because the letter was actually signed by less than two dozen MPs. In fact, only 21 had signed it.
Even the increasingly down – market Telegraph realised that this fiction was a bridge to far for many of its readers to swallow and soon dropped the ‘dozens’ claim from its website, but not before the tiny bunch of people still opposing HS2 has worked themselves up into a frenzy, sharing the original tweet. Here’s an example.
Here’s part of the Tel’s article, which reveals that things are not exactly as was claimed.
“New” group? No. it’s an old one resurrected, as the actual letter from the 21 makes clear.
Unsurprisingly, the letter also reveals that the majority of these MPs are from constituencies on the route of HS2. It also reveals they’re nearly all of a particular dogmatic wing of the Tory party, the Brexity section that’s allied with the political lobbyists ensconced in 55 Tufton St, in other words, the ‘Taxpayers Alliance’ (who never reveal who funds them, or how much UK tax they actually pay – if any) and their fellow travellers the IEA.
The idea that they’re somehow growing political force that threatens HS2 is what they’d like you to believe. The truth is rather different, for several reasons. Firstly, the newly MPs who oppose HS2 don’t make up for the numbers of anti HS2 MPs who’ve left Parliament such as Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Dennis Skinner, Frank Field or Madeline Moon. They (mostly) just represent a different party. Let’s crunch some numbers. A total of 41 MPs voted against Phase 1 of HS2 back in 2014. Only 20 of them are still MPs. Several of the 20 that are left from the original 41 such as Hollobone, Fabricant and Davis, have signed this letter.
But…Of the 20 remaining opposers of Phase 1, seven did a volte-face to back building Phase 2a. leaving a grand total of just 15 MPs objecting, showing that they’re hardly a united or coherent front. We can expect this to happen again when the Phase 2b bill passes through Parliament.
The letter also exposes the fact these MPs really don’t have a clue what to do about HS2, hence the mixed messages about it. No doubt some would like to see it stopped, others are aware that campaigning against it would leave them with a battle on their hands as they’d face stiff opposition from local business groups like LEPs, Chambers of Commerce, transport groups and elected Mayors.
Whichever way you cut the numbers it’s clear that the opposition to HS2 in Parliament hasn’t grown, it’s mostly just changed party. This leaves Labour in an interesting position. Keeping their strong support for HS2 could well help them win votes back in the North as the limited real opposition to HS2 remains concentrated in the Tory shires and the Chilterns which they’ll never win anyway. It also leaves Johnson in a position that if he wants to hold onto the North he has to deliver on his promises to ‘rebalance’ the economy and invest in infrastructure and cancelling HS2 would send entirely the wrong message. Also, Phase 1 is a done deal as it has Royal Assent, there’s nothing the Chiltern/phase 1 Tory MPs can do other than posture as there’s no more votes in Parliament in regard to that phase, which leaves them in a bit of a bind. Voting against Phase 2b won’t stop Phase 1, but it could lead to some interesting conversations for ‘newbie’ MPs with the whips office, conversations ambitious new MPs may not want to have. Why provoke the ire of your party bosses over something you can’t win?
Whatever happens, don’t expect a resurrected “HS2 Review Group” have any more success in stopping HS2 than its previous incarnation.
UPDATE. 25th January 2020.
To say this tiny group of Tory MPs opposing HS2 haven’t been getting their own way wold be an understatement, despite the attempts of one or two of their new number to raise their profiles by sounding off about HS2, far more Tory MPs have written to the Prime Minister in SUPPORT of building HS2 – as this article in the Guardian reveals.