For 22 months HS2 has been a massive issue in the areas it will go through. Not as pro-campaigners continuously try to assert because of ‘Nimby’ and ‘Luddite’ attitudes, but because people up and down the route have not only understood the plans and lack of any justification for them, but they have seen the cuts going on in their own communities.
This piece is being written in the Stop HS2 HQ in Kenilworth, a building which Warwickshire County Council were stuck with after the Government refused to fund the building for a train station in the town. They couldn’t sell the building as it is part of their long term plans and couldn’t let it out as they might get the money for the station any time, so apart from leaving it derelict, letting Stop HS2 use it was the only option. Kenilworth is a small town of less than 30,000 and in the last year we have had to fight to save the nursery school and the fire station, have lost the police station (and the Warwickshire Police HQ just outside town) and the youth centre will no longer get public funding and has been left to fend for itself as a charity. Going ahead with HS2 is an insult to every local authority making cuts and every local authority supporting HS2 is insulting the people who live there.
This is the familiar story repeated not only along the line of HS2, but everywhere throughout the country. So it was no surprise to anyone –apart it seems for pro-lobbyists and Government- that when HS2 finally became national news this week that the country reacted with the same thoughts pretty much across the board:
“HOW MUCH? For that? What £17.8 billion, BILLION, just for a train from London to Birmingham? You are kidding? Have you not looked around this country? Oh and big business want it, well what a surprise! What, and it’s not even good for the environment? Oh come on, really!”
There have of course been a few misguided souls such as union leaders who see people in The Chilterns protest about HS2 and automatically think this is a part of some class war without being realising that as ever if there is ‘Class War’, it is the ordinary people of this country against the business and political elite, and they are on the wrong side.
Having had the pro-HS2 strategy for the week leaked to us was quite an amazing thing. They had been worried that following the Transport Select Committee report a couple of months ago that “The HS2 opposition had dominated the press coverage and this must not be allowed to happen again”, so they had set in place a media programme that meant that wouldn’t happen. Of course, even before the announcement they scored a massive own-goal, and on FA Cup Third round day too. A conveniently timed Network Rail report, which incidentally undermined the consultation, had been produced and was top story last Saturday. But it was Saturday, and of course lobbyists, business leaders and MPs can’t be bothered on a Saturday. But we could. In all, there were five people interviewed against HS2 on the BBC News Channel before Maxine Mulwhinney said on introducing Deputy Shadow Transport Spokesman John Woodcock “We’ve had been trouble getting anyone to speak for HS2 today”. Woodcock then did his bit for us, being a bumbling ill-informed fool, before the BBC gave up and had no other option but to interview their own correspondent.
The day before the announcement then proved the point in Stop HS2 having an office, as the landline –we never actually publicise the number- didn’t stop ringing from the press. On the day of the announcement itself, the first press query came in at quarter to eight in the morning. There had been calls to activist from the media across the country and there was a wonderfully trained army ready to march into battle.
The first sign for most was Jerry Marshall leading the charge, on the sofa for BBC Breakfast as a shouty and ranty Pete Waterman was telling railway journalist and author of books on the history of railways Christian Wolmar that he knew nothing about trains. This outburst, much like when he was on Channel 4 News with me got ‘Pete Waterman’ trending on twitter, which was the first step to getting ‘HS2’ trending on twitter. Thanks again Pete!
Going back to that briefing, the Yes Campaign had planned to dig out their own historian to tour the studios, harking back to the industrial revolution and how railways fuelled it. Somehow they didn’t get one, maybe because the railways came about 100 years after the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Anyway, by now the whole thing was kicking off all over the place. Local radio stations were providing wall to wall coverage, but so were the nationals as the Radio 5 phone in started, where Mr Woodcock had been put up for another kicking. The thing was, although there were amassed ranks of supporters for the Stop HS2 campaign, they were not the ones on the radio, especially this station, it was the Great British public, from all over the nation. Besides the few who fell for the spin, the vast majority saw that HS2 is one of those projects, one of those political things that politicians do which doesn’t make sense and clearly isn’t going to fulfill it’s promises whilst coming with a massive price tag which will surely increase.
And that was the thing, the British public now knew about this thing, for so much money and for so little benefit at this time of cuts. The calls kept coming, social media went off the scale and the even the Daily Star had it’s fill of texts against HS2. The most telling that I encountered was BBC WM, which serves among other places, Birmingham. If there were any platform for public opinion which was expected to be all for HS2 it was that one. Well it wasn’t.
It wasn’t that there were significant questions during the hour phone in I was involved in, but driving that night to Central, the station was broadcasting live from Middleton Village Hall. The main thing that got me though wasn’t that, it was on the way back. They were on their regular programming, with the regular phone in contributors. They, the regulars on the Birmingham BBC radio station were making the points the Stop HS2 campaign has been making for two years. Even the woman who comes up with poems rang in, with a poem against HS2.
In many ways it was amazing the Government didn’t see what was surely a natural reaction coming. Controversy has always courted HS2 and now it is a national issue, it won’t go away, it will only get bigger. Unless HS2 gets cancelled of course. You were warned!