Whilst we keep being told there is a massed hoard of Conservative ‘entryists’ suddenly supporting the Labour Party for the express purpose of voting for Jeremy Corbyn, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin clearly isn’t one of them. Writing in The Telegraph this week, he went so far to describe him and fellow leadership candidates Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper as ‘anti-north’, seeming not to notice the later pair have constituencies around Wigan and Wakefield.
The reason for this bizarre statement is that they don’t appear totally convinced in the merits of his pet project, HS2. Showing they have actually been paying attention to the progress of the project, Burnham thinks “the top transport priority for our country is east-west links rather than north-south”, Corbyn said it risked “turning our great regional cities into dormitories for London businesses”, while a spokesman for Cooper chipped in that there were “questions to be asked about value for money”.
Whilst this trio clearly know what they are talking about, McLoughlins’ article displayed a disappointing disconnect with reality. In a forlorn attempt to display an understanding of, economics, he tried to claim that if alive today, Adam Smith would be on his side, claiming he taught us that without transport, “Every farmer must be butcher, baker and brewer”.
Well no actually Patrick, whilst talking about the isolated communities in the Scottish Highlands, Adam was trying to say that large markets breed specialists, whilst small markets breed generalists. And as you clearly missed them, the points Smith made about transport all concerned freight, which of course HS2 will not carry. In the 18th Century, pretty much the only people who did not live where they worked were MPs. So that’s something else we can thank our politicians for inventing, the concept of commuting, and creating more commuters who would travel even greater distances is what HS2 is all about.
Most of the rest of what McLoughlin had to say, equally aimed to rewrite history. He lamented that “Investment in northern transport declined and the North declined with it.”, forgetting that the over-reliance of regions on the specialised industries which Smith advocated left them vulnerable, as the rest of the world industrialised. The fact the first section of UK motorway was the Preston stretch of the M6 was lost on him, as clearly is the existence of the M62 and the like.
Perhaps the worst comment, an oft repeated catchphrase of the bloke who is in charge of our transport network was that “By 2010 no new railway had been built north of Birmingham for over 100 years”. Given that HS2 is meant to be all about ‘The North’, but only gets as far as Manchester and Leeds, the Tyne and Wear Metro which has been extended several times since inception in the 1970s is obviously too far North for him. Whilst the Welsh Valley lines reopened under Labour are indeed south of Birmingham, the various new railways in Scotland built this century are not. In total, between 1995 and 2009, 27 new lines comprising 199 miles of track and 68 stations were opened in the UK.
Finally, to prove he hasn’t got a clue about the project he is charge of, McLoughlin tried to make out HS2 would ‘join up’ Leeds and Manchester. Well, yes, but only if people want to change at a station a couple of miles from Birmingham Airport to get between the two.
There can only be one way to describe McLoughlins’ need to speak up at this point: Running scared from people who’ve clearly got a greater grasp of what HS2 represents than he does. Opposing HS2 would help restore faith in Labours’ economic competence. No wonder the government is panicking.