The day after a Conservative Home poll showed HS2 to be the least popular policy amongst their party members, Theresa May has rather unconvincingly justified the project, whilst the leaked Labour Manifesto contains a commitment to it.
Page 25 of the leaked draft Labour Manifesto says:
“A Labour government will complete the HS2 high speed rail line from London through Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, and then into Scotland, consulting with communities affected about the optimal route.”
“A Labour government will invest to regenerate the local and regional economies across the whole country, so that every area gets its fair share of transport investment. A Labour government will link HS2 with other new investments, such as Crossrail of the North.”
This argument is clearly schizophrenic, as ensuring every area gets its’ fair share of transport investment at the same time as blowing the entire DfT infrastructure budget on HS2 for decades seems impossible. The line that they will ‘consult local communities’ is clearly a sop to those Labour MPs in Yorkshire who have all of a sudden gone all nimby on the route changes, failing to see the pointlessness of the whole thing, and a commitment to get it to Scotland will send the cost of the project ever skyward.
At the same time that this document was being leaked, Theresa May was defending HS2 to an audience in Mansfield. We don’t know what the question was, but by the tone of the answer, it sounded very much like it went along the lines of “Why are you blowing so much on HS2 when the NHS and schools clearly need the money more?”
May answered (click for video):
“Government has to balance out what it’s doing. We are putting record levels of money into the NHS and record levels of funding in to schools, but we can only do that if we have a strong economy with businesses growing, creating the wealth that allows us to fund the NHS and schools.”
“In order to have that strong economy, we need to have the right infrastructure in place. Rail infrastructure is an important part of that and I think HS2 is important part in that. And of course HS2 is largely about increasing capacity on our rail system, so I think it is important, we are committed to it and it’s about an infrastructure that helps us to develop the economy that then enables us to provide a first class NHS and schooling.”
With this answer, it very much seemed that May had not got a grip on the HS2 brief as the justification seemed rather weak. It relies on the concept that HS2 will help develop the economy and provide tangible economic benefits beyond its’ costs, which is an exceptionally suspect concept, with it previous being stated by leading economists that the economic benefits of HS2 are “essentially made up”. This of course before you start to look at the ongoing subsidy that HS2 will need, as the passenger forecasts are similarly made up.