Looking for a symbol of just how out of touch the Tories are with the reality of daily life for most in Britain? How about a proposal to splash a minimum of £40 billion on an ultra luxury bullet train? Imagine it, the privileged few sitting comfortably and gliding past the creaking classic trains that millions suffer on every day, whilst sipping their tea, or worse, cocktail, and reading the FT on their iPads.
And who foots the bill for this luxurious mode of travel? The very same commuters with their limbs squashed against perfect strangers. Welcome to the inevitable transport strategy of a Tory-led government – first, privatisation, now, two-tier railways.
Except that Labour is all for it. What on earth is going on? Philip Hammond unwittingly confirmed that ticket prices will be astronomical, by sneeringly telling the Transport Select Committee, ‘well, of course a factory worker from Manchester won’t take HS2’. Why didn’t Maria Eagle take the hint? The rest of us thought, Mate, factory workers will be paying to build HS2, wouldn’t be so quick to laugh at them. Yet Labour carried on promoting the Rich Man’s Toy.
Then came news that the business interests driving the scheme were, first and foremost, airports. Whatever green credentials might have spurred an ulterior motive for legitimate support were annihilated. Chief Execs were drooling over the long haul flights they could now imagine coming to their regional facilities. The irony was immediately clear – HS2, the project once touted as the replacement for the third runway and short haul flights, was actually designed to increase the southeast’s long haul capacity. Carbon 1, reduction, 0.
It gets worse, much worse. HS2 carries a massive opportunity cost, and one that will be felt, again, in all the wrong places. Around the world, HSR lines have hoovered up every last bit of transport funding, meaning that critical commuter and regional upgrades become a pipe dream from the moment construction starts. So everyday commuters will pay for HS2, won’t use it, and will be condemned to further deteriorations in their services because of it.
Next up is the Phase 2 impact of the Y route, which will see hundreds of communities bulldozed through, not in Tory shires, but in mining areas and underprivileged estates. Cities in the Midlands and the North not having a station bestowed upon them will learn that they will struggle to attract business, as companies will opt to set up or even relocate to be nearer the line.
The campaign against HS2 has been warning that it will be a disaster for Britain. Labour must figure out, and soon, that it will be disastrous for the party. Otherwise, come the Y route announcement, and the exposure the issue will have on a national stage, it will have alot of explaining to do.