I’ve long suspected that Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn would prove to be hopeless on understanding detailed issues. His tone is that of a man who likes broad brushstrokes & airy rhetoric, but doesn’t really understand the rest of the country outside his constituency in North London. I used to live in an adjacent constituency to his (Hornsey & Wood Green) where his reputation was similar. He’d been a Haringay Councillor there between 1974-1983. Jeremy has never bothered himself with having to make hard, practical decisions. He’s the perpetual backbencher. As far as I’m aware, in all that time he’s only ever chaired one real Committee, the rest are all talking shops like the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Chagos Islands (where? Ed.)
So, it was no surprise when the Guardian reported on Corbyn’s pitch to the North & ‘response’ to the Governments ‘Northern Powerhouse’ plans. In it, Corbyn comes out with classic soundbites on the railways, London and Hs2:
As the Guardian reported. Corbyn will also raise a question over the government’s plans to build the HS2 high-speed railway line to the north, on the grounds that it will drain other lines of investment and turn northern cities into “dormitories for London businesses”.
Apparently, his document says: “The Conservative government has torn schools away from the support networks of local authorities, regardless of the wishes of teachers and parents, and made them accountable directly to Whitehall, bypassing parents and local communities. They have suspended the much needed investment in rail infrastructure in the north to fund HS2, a project with the aim of turning our great regional cities into dormitories for London businesses.”
Apart from the obvious factual error that rail investment in the North hasn’t been ‘suspended’ (yes, one scheme, trans-Pennine electrification has been paused, but that’s so the scheme can be rescoped to include the extra work the local train operators have been pressing for) Corbyn clearly has no idea about what’s going on with the railways – or Hs2. Also, money hasn’t been diverted from funding rail investment in the North to Hs2 – they’re completely separate budgets & Network Rail’s money is intact – as the Transport Minister has made clear. Either Corbyn has no idea how things are funded (likely) or he’s playing a dishonest political game (also likely). Another stupid soundbite is that Hs2 will turn Northern cities into “dormitories for London businesses”. He completely ignores the major regeneration schemes in Northern cities that are being driven by Hs2. One only has to look at the plans for Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Manchester Airport to see how out of touch with reality Corbyn is – and that’s before we look at plans that are yet to be finalised for regeneration for the Hs2 Phase 2 sites at Toton and Sheffield Meadowhall – and Crewe. Let’s be clear, all these schemes hang on Hs2, cancel it and you can kiss goodbye to them – and the 10s of thousands of jobs they’ll create and thousands of homes they’ll provide.
Something else Corbyn’s rhetoric ignores is the thousands of skilled apprenticeships that Hs2 is creating in the North. The Hs2 training college is due to open on two sites in Birmingham and Doncaster . These will be a keystone in training our rail engineers of the future & helping to create a skilled workforce. Kiss Hs2 goodbye & you can kiss these opportunities goodbye too..
Clearly, this is a view of the world as seen from Islington. It has nothing to do with anything based in reality on the ground,or in the North.
I’ve little doubt that the alarm bells will be sounding in the Labour held cities of the North which are staunch supporters of Hs2. We could be seeing the start of a North-South divide within the Labour party here if Corbyn persists with this nonsense or, (heaven forbid) gets elected as the next Labour Leader. If that happens, he’s handing the next election to the Tories on a plate as he’ll have walked headlong straight into Chancellor George Osborne’s trap. The Tories will be able to show that they’re getting on with regenerating the North whilst a Corbyn led Labour party would pull the plug on Hs2 & the huge regeneration schemes coming in on the back of it. Caught in the middle would be the Labour held authorities in the North who’ve worked so hard to get the benefits for their areas. So, we’d end up with A London-centric Labour leader at loggerheads with the Labour heartlands of the North – and Osborne laughing on the sidelines!
Needless to say. I won’t be voting for Corbyn as Labour leader, he’d be a disaster for the North and the Labour party. One can only hope that the other Labour leadership contenders like Andy Burnham see the opportunity this offers them & decide to stand up for the North.
UPDATE: It wasn’t long before a response came from the North care of Manchester’s leader, Sir Richard Leese, who tweeted this riposte;
What I predicted is already coming to pass…
Interestingly, all reference to Hs2 has been dropped from Corbyn’s Northern Future paper, which can be found here