I’m returning to an old topic to take a look at the state of play with the campaign to stop HS2. The Government’s announcement that HS2 was going ahead in its entirety and the obvious commitment and enthusiasm for the project from Prime Minister Johnson has really knocked the remaining wind out of the sails of those opposed to HS2.
The sole remaining national group (StopHs2) which in reality is just two people (Joe Rukin in Kenilworth and Penny Gaines in Bournemouth) is to all intent and purpose redundant. There’s no point to a political campaign to stop HS2 anymore as it’s painfully obvious there’s no support, exactly the opposite. Many of those who’ve opposed HS2 in the past have accepted the futility of continuing their opposition. A good example is former Minister Andrea Leadsom, the MP for South Northamptonshire, who recently Tweeted a video where she said her focus now is on getting the best deals for her constituents from HS2 Ltd.
With the collapse of the political element StopHs2 have sod all to report as they’re not actually doing anything themselves. Both they and what’s left of the ‘action group’ network are redundant. Many ‘action’ group members were elderly, middle-class homeowners worried about their house prices. They’re the last people you’re going to catch traipsing around muddy fields or chaining themselves to bulldozers. A few of them are still fulminating about HS2 on social media, but there’s been a noticeable drop-off there too.
Apart from tedious tweets about every time HS2 is (or isn’t) mentioned on ‘BBC Question Time’ or sending a stream of pointless commentary and spin about someone being questioned about HS2 in a Parliamentary Ctte Penny Gaines might as well not exist. Joe Rukin isn’t much better. His only usefulness now is in throwing his weight (resist the puns, Ed) behind those protesting on the ground at one of the handful of protest camps on Phase 1 although even those appearances are becoming fewer. It can’t be long now before StopHs2 finally folds as it’s completely redundant.
Nowadays most of the real running against HS2 is made by the mixed bag of people who gather under the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ banner and occasionally attend one of the protest camps on the Phase 1 route. These can be divided into three categories.
1. The ‘hardliners’: Those who spend their time living at one of the camps for at least several days. Most are self-employed. They return home every so often to do some work to top up their money supply. They fit the image of the ‘eco-warrior’ of old. Those of us who’re old enough and remember the days of the free-festivals and the ‘convoy’ will know exactly the type of people I mean. You have to admire their commitment but they are woefully misinformed about the issues. There’s a sociological study for someone’s PhD to be had here – and it would make really interesting reading!
2. Route Dwellers: Those who live on the route who have the time and inclination to protest and will turn up when they can. The vast majority seem to be middle-class women. Many seem to be using ‘green’ issues as a fig-leaf for Nimbyism. Most will have absolutely no history of concern for environmental issues before HS2 came along.
3. The ‘good timers’: These are a mix of people who’ll turn up to an organised event, especially if there’s a celebrity name behind it like Chris Packham, or those who’d turn up to the Harvil Rd camp of a weekend to party and get pissed/stoned before going home again. Both are equally useless at stopping HS2 as they don’t actually disrupt any construction activity. There’s one such event this weekend and it’ll be very interesting to see how many actually bother turning up.
What has been obvious from social media is that people haven’t exactly been queuing up to go as this shows.
Quite what this little gathering will achieve is open to question. They’ll have their little ramble, then go away – then HS2 will move in soon afterwards to begin work. Any protesters who remain in the area will be removed as HS2 has applied for a court order which will be heard next week on the 17th March. It names two people, Joe Rukin and Matthew Bishop, plus ‘persons unknown’. The order is to restrain future trespass, effectively making the named areas no-go areas to protesters and nipping any more protests in the bud as such actions will be illegal. This injunction will form a legal template for other areas.
Few of the protesters are willing to risk criminal convictions, so the injunctions will act as a huge deterrent, leaving the hardliners out on a limb. That number’s dwindling already as one of them, a woman called Sarah Green, has been noticeably absent from events of late. The number of people who fit into this group is less than a couple of dozen. Most noticeable are serially failed Green Party Candidate Mark Keir. Alan Woodward, Matthew Bishop, Elizabeth Cairns and Sarah Snooks.
They’re all fighting a rearguard action as it is because their numbers are so small. They’re an inconvenience to HS2 rather than a credible threat. This fact is borne out by all the videos they post on their various Facbook pages or YouTube sites. I’ve never quite understood how a video showing a single protester utterly failing to stop any work at all is meant to act as an encouragement to anyone! Here’s an example from Alan ‘Budgee’ Woodward on YouTube.
A cynic might wonder how many of these videos serve any other purpose than narcissism. Even some of the protesters seem to be realising that it’s all very well providing hours of voyeuristic material for your Farcebook ‘friends’ or YouTube followers but their support very rarely materialises in the real world. It may give you a feeling of self-importance, but they don’t matter a damn when it comes to actually trying to stop Hs2. It’s the same when it comes to raising money, as this appeal shows.
Whichever metric you look at it’s clear the campaign’s collapsing. Here’s today’s numbers for their latest petition on the Government’s website.
Notice that only HS2 phase 1 features on the petition? Contrast that to this map of their 2017 petition when they had over 26,000 signatures.
The phase 2 routes are conspicuous by their absence! Rother Valley, the only phase 2 constituency that got into four figures has only got 28 signatures so far this time.
So, politically their campaign’s dead. It’s also hopeless on the ground as the numbers turning up are tiny and ineffective which only leaves the legal angle and antis have pinned their hopes on Celebrity environmentalist Chris Packham’s legal case. But there’s one rather large problem. Packham hasn’t even got permission to proceed with it. Before he does he needs to convince a judge that his argument has merit and there’s a case to answer. If he falls at that hurdle, it’s toast. Even if a judge does let him proceed it won’t stop Hs2 in the slightest as the process HS2 went through to get approval is very different to the legal argument over Heathrow. Watch this case go nowhere…
So, how did today’s token demonstration in Kenilworth go? Badly, although those who took part try and pretend otherwise! Looking at the videos from the event (and being generous) I’d say that around 250 turned up to posture and parade. They weren’t actually stopping anything of course. It was purely symbolic. The problem? Over 2.5 million folk live on phase 1 of HS2, so 250 is politically and statistically insignificant. The only message it sends is – “is that it?”
Roll on Tuesday…