The HS2 ‘War of Spin’ reaches new depths.

A version of this article was first published by The Information Daily.

Given that the only people called by the Transport Select Committee to give evidence to their new inquiry about HS2 were the authors of a report which KPMG got paid £242,000 for, and the people who commissioned that report which invented a brand new untested methodology to bolster the benefits of the project, it is no real surprise that the committee have now heavily endorsed HS2. Though the recommendations which effectively told the DfT to ‘spin harder’ to promote the project, by sticking with the policy of ditching standard project assessments, and to also ditch the official cost of the project for, not surprisingly, a much lower guestimate, may have been a step too far.

However, this political manoeuvring was nowhere near as unpalatable of what happened the day before the publication of that report, when a room booked in Field House for a tribunal hearing became unexpectedly unoccupied. Tthis was due to be the venue for an appeal from the Cabinet Office against the Information Commissioner, against a ruling which ordered the Government to publish a report from the Major Projects Authority into HS2 from November 2011.

The Major Projects Authority was set up by the coalition as part of the Cabinet Office to assess the viability of, you’ve guessed it, major projects, reporting every six months with the assurance that the reports would be published two years after production. Now you don’t have to be a maths genius to realise that more than two years have passed since November 2011, when HS2 was first rated ‘amber-red’, meaning “Successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible”.

Six months had passed since the Information Commissioner ruling, but at the last minute, with evidence due to be presented in an open court, Ministers decided it would be best if the real state of HS2 joined the Iraq War and the NHS risk register, in being noisily buried. Two days before the tribunal was due to happen, the Daily Mail got hold of an internal Government communication from Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude who wrote:

“Continuing with the appeal would create political and presentational difficulties at a crucial point in the HS2 project’s development. Counsel has advised that we are very likely to lose the appeal. Disclosure of such recent information would also have a chilling effect on assessments of other Government projects and, indeed, on advice prepared for Government ministers on many other subjects. Counsel has advised that it will be better to veto now rather than after an adverse tribunal decision.”

We then find out, that the case has been postponed the day before evidence was due to be heard in open court. The Government have tried to withdraw their appeal, whilst ‘considering’ using their veto. However, it is for the judge to decide whether the case can be withdrawn and s/he will hear arguments on both sides before deciding whether the case is withdrawn. The veto would not only block the November 2011 report, but the four subsequent ones. This is despite the fact that when launching the ‘Open Government Partnership’ six weeks ago, Francis Maude was keen to say:

“Transparency is an idea whose time has come – and the clock cannot be turned back. The best way to demonstrate the power of transparency is by making it real for everyone.” 

Whilst the reality of his policy is one as transparent as a lump of coal, Maude himself is transparent, in that you can see right through him. Yet again we see grade-one hypocrisy in politics, with claims of aspiration to a lofty and laudable goal, backed up by the reality of doing exactly the opposite.

And herein is the real scandal, not just with the ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ attitude, and not even because the documents will not be released to the public, but because the Government is deliberately trying to keep the MPs they hope to vote for the HS2 Hybrid Bill in the New Year, completely in the dark. Irrespective of your position on HS2, it has to be accepted that MPs being asked to approve its’ colossal expenditure should have the full facts at their disposal. But like we have seen before, Government has realised that knowing the facts will inform the debate, and inform it the wrong way. So the intention is that the Transport Select Committee can provide their version of the ‘dodgy dossier’, while the actual facts are under lock and key because they are too sensitive to see the light of day.

3 comments to “The HS2 ‘War of Spin’ reaches new depths.”
  1. Once I made a Christmas cake,
    But burnt its upper crust,
    So I covered it up with marzipan,
    Thick icing was a must,

    I thought my friends won’t notice,
    The cover up looked good,
    But when they took a mouthful,
    It didn’t taste so good!

    The HS2 fiasco,
    Has been layered nice and thick,
    But come the day of reckoning,
    This train won’t do the trick.

    It’ll never be a bargain,
    Drain the pennies from our purse,
    And our poor great British countryside,
    Will be suffering the worst

  2. If you want spin (don’t expect poetry), take a look at HS2’s latest ‘potential’ “ruse”:

    a liddle bit o’ HS2 in the middle
    a liddle bit of IEPs in the East
    some more IEPs in the West
    and DMUs everywhere else:
    with HS2s all night long
    this has to be our number one song.

  3. Spin and Censorship aka Propaganda and Social Control
    Gags and Scapegoats.
    The Government strengthening itself against elected representatives and electoral criticism.

    I fear an occult Neo-Fascist ( def. F= A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition) revival based on “national need’ ………..the same rationale used in the 1920s.
    My view is that Democracy of opinion (with evidence based opinion as opposed to dogma) and Free Speech is essential for a healthy nation and we are losing these very British freedoms rapidly. Mine is a view forged as being first generation Immigrant, political victims of Facsim, who emigrated for political freedom to UK via Switzerland and I acknowledge that may carry experiential baggage, but the signs are evidence is disconcerting.

    Deliberately socially divisive propaganda is particularly pernicious especially when used to support politically biased policies over which there is only a public minority agreement and where said policies have victims and their treatment is unfair as to be unlawful, let alone immoral or unethical.
    The level of hate posts against HS2 and other environmental protesters in the social media is of concern. The level, number of operatives (and indeed some of the comments) of the HS2 ltd team is clearly indicates that HS2 relies on a propaganda machine that is paid for by the Govt. The Govt ultimately must remain responsible for the content and nature of their creation even if it is seemingly as “hands off” as Pontius Pilate. It remains an instrument of the State. As we have seen with MPs pay a seemingly ‘good’ decision may not prove ethical or moral when actioned in context. The issues of the Ecological and Human victims of infrastructure is far more complex as HS2, Heathrow, Fracking and Housiing will reveal.
    Instead of developing an ecologically sound and human rights approach to these problems the Govt has seemingly adopted the quick fix of trying to suppress contrary voices or to perjoratively scapegoat dissenters.

    We are at risk of losing honest debate and Freedom of Thought. The debate if Gagging Bill and Local Audit and Accountability bill seems to be a move to exert central political central control.
    HS2 and attitudes to protest against it is a symptom and allows a microcosmic platform for an analysis.
    Other Govt ‘infrastructure’ policies including airport expansion and housing are likely to raise similar issues.
    The pejortization of rightful opposition through scape-goating propaganda campaigns such as “Nimby’ Rich Lawns v Jobs, South v North, Traitors to National Growth etc are based on American PR refinements of propaganda techniques that had their origins in Futurism and Italio-Germanic fascism.
    What is concerning is that the Govt are now seeking to change the legal framework of the space in which contrary voices can enter dialogue. This move aims to restrict not increase freedom of opinion and the dissemination of information whilst pretending that it is to address undue influence on politics.

    Some histroical Voices in the discussion:

    All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”
    “Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy.”

    “Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”
    Naom Chomsky

    “where one burns books, one soon burns people.
    Heinrich Heine

    Along with the Gagging Bill the Govt seemingly seek to gag local authorities and make them instruments of political propaganda. From the Guardian:

    “Hidden within the government’s local audit and accountability bill is a clause that will give Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, powers to dictate when and how councils can publish communications to local citizens. Even more of a concern is the fact that Pickles is taking a power of censorship to direct what issues and information councils can talk about and what language and phraseology will be allowed.

    Ministers have made clear that their intention is to prevent councils from sharing information or commenting on the impact of government policy if they disapprove of the message. Examples given by ministers include not allowing elected leaders of a local authority to publish a comment on the effect of central government funding changes, so furious are they that councils are letting their residents know the scale of cuts they are facing.

    Under these new powers, the secretary of state could also force councils to use pro-government terminology, such as the benign sounding “spare room subsidy” rather than the unpopular and unfair “bedroom tax”. Legal advice to the Local Government Association says the censorship laws will prevent local councils from publishing information on issues such as HS2 or health service reconfigurations.”

    A law imposing criminal penalties on protected speech is a stark example of speech suppression.
    Anthony Kennedy
    Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.
    John Milton
    That Men ought to speak well of their Governours is true, while their Governours, deserve to be well spoken of, but to do publick Mischief, without hearing of it, is only the Prerogative and Felicity of Tyranny: A free People will be shewing that they are so, by their Freedom of Speech.

    Misrepressentation of publick Measures is easily overthrown, by representing publick Measures truly; when they are honest, they ought to be publickly known, that they may be publickly commended, but if they are knavish or pernicious, they ought to be publickly exposed, in order to be pubickly detested.
    Cato’s Letters, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon

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