HS2 – Labour’s flexible friend?


¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬†In the run up to the Labour conference I want to look at a few ideas that might be “game changers” for them. Today let us consider what might happen if they opposed HS2.

         At first sight this does not look likely or sensible. After all Labour started this project off when in government. They represent many of the northern city seats that are said to benefit from it. Traditionally Labour has been pro train and anti car. Their union backers tend to favour the railways, and the engineering unions like the idea of such a large project. Their Transport Shadow  Secretary soon got behind  the party line and has been a supporter.

          However, some of the Labour Big Beasts no longer back this scheme. Lord Mandelson has revealed that it was a  back of the envelope political calculation, partly to ensnare the Conservatives. Alistair Darling has looked again at the numbers and thinks that what might have been sensible at the old costings is unaffordable now the price has gone up so much. Maybe his old Treasury official contacts are also quietly lobbying him, as Treasury spending officials are clearly alarmed by the rise in prospective costs.

         Alistair Darling has some weight with the Miliband group. He has also proposed a neat way of u turning or climbing down. They can say that a project which made sense at £30bn does not make sense at £50bn or £73 bn. It could, they can argue, pre-empt too much of the budget.

          Mr Balls has always been sceptical about the costs. What better for him than to announce the cancellation or postponement of HS2 for the next Parliament. It would free a large sum of money which Labour could claim would pay for all the extra items they might wish to buy, without changing the spending totals from the Coalition plans.  HS2 could be a very flexible friend, the credit card that kept on giving, the source of funding for just about everything they might want to offer the electors at no extra tax or borrowing cost.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Some of this might be a sleight of hand. No doubt they could exaggerate the true costs¬†of HS2 next Parliament. But it would also make it more difficult for the Coalition, keen to keep Labour’s budgets tied to Coalition ideas¬†of affordable.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† It would still be¬†quite a ¬†u turn. It would still leave Labour with some very bruised supporters who love trains and like this particular train.¬† You cannot, however, entirely rule it out. The Coalition needs to be careful, as it would be vulnerable if it is left supporting such an expensive project at a time when Prudence is meant to be back in fashion. Labour could even use some¬†of the “savings” to offer a lower borrowing figure than the Coalition whilst being able to boost spending as well. That would be a cheeky move.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Politicians often worry too much about u turns. U turns in opposition are exactly what the public wants, as they rejected the Opposition party’s approach at a previous election. Even in government ¬†U turns ¬†are no bad thing if you turn away from a very unpopular or unwise policy.


  1. colliemum
    August 24, 2013

    I find it astonishing that this government went with the HS2 proposal at all – not because it was a Labour proposal, but because of its being senseless at any price. How is it possible that both governments were so blinded by the glitz of this project that the actual, practical use (who will use it and why) was never properly analysed. And that’s even before the destruction of the countryside is taken into account.
    One would have thought that Labour, that this government, would think of spending such amounts of money where it gave the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people, and not on a project of benefit for only a few who have nice big expense accounts.

    So if I were you, John, I wouldn’t crow about Labour doing a u-turn or having to do one, because this government will have to scrap the HS2 project as well.

    1. lifelogic
      August 24, 2013

      Everyone sensible surely now knows that HS2 is economic nonsense (just as they know that quack renewable energy, the dis-functional NHS, Olympics, the pointless wars, and the insane climate change act are). This of course will not stop Cameron types who trusts PR over everything. Now however HS2 is becoming a PR & political disaster too. It is already causing huge damage, blighting areas, businesses and many lives worse still even some of my properties. It has wasted many millions already in addition to this pointless damage.

      The sooner HS2 is killed the better it surely will be, (before they do get rid of high redundancy payment for the state sector as why should the people working on and pushing this expensive nonsense be paid off at all?).

      Three cheers for Alistair Darling he is starting to sound quite statesman like finally.

      With regards to Cameron I am reminded of the quote by the Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman, after the USA had blown up seven people in the Challenger disaster in relation to the politics of the report on the matter. Itself a PR inspired project with teachers put on board.

      “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

      It surely applies to economics too. Governments should start with the science, logic and economics and work any PR and politics round them. Not Cameron style which is clearly the exact reverse.

      1. Bob
        August 24, 2013


        “start with the science, logic and economics and work any PR and politics round them”

        Don’t forget equality.

        The government have scrapped the increase of motorway speed limits because “it fears it will alienate women voters”.

        1. Lifelogic
          August 24, 2013

          Indeed all will be equal by goverment decree, so no one will have any incentives to do anything at all one assumes. All will become feckless and live of the magic money tree.

          1. Bazman
            August 24, 2013

            Nature cannot be fooled? You think it can be saying that putting millions of tonnes of CO” and pollutants from burning fossil fuels will have no effect. Will we be fooling nature then or will the gasses and particles just be absorbed by dogma and fantasy just like poverty should be?

          2. Hope
            August 24, 2013

            It is an EU project that the liblabCon will blindly follow at any price.

          3. lifelogic
            August 25, 2013

            @Bazman, of course it has an effect as does thousands of other factors. The question is will it be the disaster/hell on earth that the green priests, state sector & “charity” doom mongers are pushing – for religious or personal interest reasons?

          4. Bazman
            August 25, 2013

            Who are the feckless I ask you again? If you cannot answer then this is wishy washy non specific, scientific money tree thinking and propaganda repeated as Orwellian announcements and you should not write about ‘the feckless’ again Unless this is you intention.

      2. colliemum
        August 24, 2013

        Extra kudos for that quote by Richard Feynman!

        It would profit many of our politicians to get acquainted with certain of his speeches about science.

        1. Mark
          August 24, 2013

          They probably think of him as a (drums ed) player.

          I still have my copy of his three volume Lectures in Physics – one of the most engagingly written textbooks I ever came across.

      3. eric
        August 25, 2013

        HS2 is part of an EU plan to create fast pan-European travel networks, someone referenced the relevant document here some time ago. We have no say in it.

        Reply We can cancel it tomorrow if we wish.It is an EU preference, not a requirement.

        1. lifelogic
          August 25, 2013

          Another case where Cameron could take the anti EU line, yet chooses to just waste the £Billions on HS2 instead.

    2. Mark B
      August 24, 2013

      How is it possible that both governments were so blinded by the glitz of this project ……..”

      Because it is NOT their money and they can take however much they like from us because we effectively have no say.

      If this project, or indeed any project over a certain amount was to come before ‘us’ the people in a form of a referendum, they would think more clearly on such things.

      1. Lifelogic
        August 30, 2013

        Indeed they would.

  2. Sue Jameson
    August 24, 2013

    It’s a ridiculous project that is being built at the behest of the EU’s Transport Policy (http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/transport/rail_transport/tr0041_en.htm) for those not familiar with it.

    It really just looks to me like you’re “following orders” yet again. Its probably going to be built with British Taxpayers money by a foreign company with foreign workers and the increasingly frustrated commuter will be yet again “stitched up” with high prices and no alternatives for travel to and from London.
    Birmingham is hardly a popular destination for London Office Workers. Improving what we already have seems sensible rather than destroying more of our countryside and more of our increasingly disappearing heritage (or is that the idea?).

    If the Conservatives had half the brains they did in Mrs Thatchers time, they would cancel this “Labour Project”….. alas, your party has now been infiltrated with “progressive lefties” of which Mr Cameron is the real champ!

    Reply Not my project – I have advised against building this all the time the national accounts are so stretched.

    1. lifelogic
      August 24, 2013

      Even if the account were in surplus it would be a huge waste of money.

    2. Hope
      August 24, 2013

      Well said Sue. Perhaps it will bring a change to the scenery from wind machines that cost us all a fortune. It is becoming a Tory government theme: cheese off voters when their electric bills arrive, cheese them when they fill their cars, cheese them off with huge amounts of building on any land to support mass immigration, cheese them off with huge community charge bills, cheese them off with huge rises in food bills, cheese them off with 299 tax rises, cheese them off with no tax break for married couples, no change to IHT. On the other hand borrow money and give away to the EU, foreign aide, billions wasted on useless Middle East wars and squeeze every penny form any person or business for tax anywhere in the world because the Tory led government cannot stop spending or make spending cuts as promised.

    3. Bazman
      August 24, 2013

      Development of effective rail infrastructure.
      Establishment of an open rail market.
      Removal of administrative and technical barriers.
      To increase competiveness of the European rail sector, the Commission’s strategy consists of promoting the development of an effective rail infrastructure, establishing an open rail market, removing administrative and technical barriers, and ensuring a level playing field with other transport modes.
      Sound really bad. A transport nightmare.
      Ensuring a level playing field with other transport modes? How many are telling us trains should compete with other methods of transport such as the car?
      This is all a left wing idea with Orwellian overtones. Sound like a sensible thing and you know it. It sound like competition. Oh dear what will the train companies do when faced with this?

  3. margaret brandreth-j
    August 24, 2013

    Apart from the cost and the reality of what it means to pig headedly go along with an idea, even though we cannot afford it, there is an other problem. Most of the UK want to dissipate wealth and see the poorer towns and cities enjoy a better standard of living . By concentrating all the efforts on a line to cities which in comparison ‘ have made it’ reinforces the notion that only a few areas have the potential to grow and this is the way it is going to be for the next 50 years or so. These few important cities with HS2, will be able to whiz along by themselves and never mind the rest of the UK!

  4. David Hope
    August 24, 2013

    Totally agree there are many opportunities to score political points by dropping it. Almost a no brainer for labour.

    As far as labour voters in the north are concerned i never heard anyone say “i wish i could get to London 20 minutes faster”. But people do want less overcrowding (eg trains into leeds and manchester) on the way to work, better buses and cheaper transport. You could promise hs2 money to make this happen.

    HS2’s main achievement may be to widen the London commuter belt.

    As an aside i notice when you write about HS2 that many people reply blaming the EU. Let us be clear, this has nothing to do with the eu and people do euro scepticism no favours by blaming everything on it as it damages credibility. HS2 is partly a vanity project, but does have some good intentions. It is just too expensive.

    1. lifelogic
      August 24, 2013

      Well I do not know the level of EU involvement/encouragement but the EU certainly encourage trains and bikes over cars, they pretend high speed trains are “green”, subsidise them and push the quack climate alarmism at every opportunity.

    2. Denis Cooper
      August 24, 2013

      “Let us be clear, this has nothing to do with the eu”

      You’ve missed out the usual word “whatsoever”:

      “Let us be clear, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the EU”

      would be correct formulation.

      Of course, nothing whatsoever has anything whatsoever to do with the EU, even when the EU’s own website carries information saying that it does.

  5. Nina Andreeva
    August 24, 2013

    Its stuff like this that makes me think that we actually have a continuity Nu Labour government. All of this money to get to Birmingham 20 mins earlier. NEST pensions is another Nu Lab bright idea that has come to fruition under Dave too. When people start to retire with these things and the trivial amount they receive is just enough to stop them getting a free state handout you know which party will be getting the blame.

    There was a nice little piece in the “Times” yesterday by someone called David Skelton of the “Renewal” group which is dedicated to broadening the appeal of the Conservatives. He was a candidate up in Durham in 2010. Labour do not have any “game changers” because the elite left hate with a vengeance the working class who actually vote for them. Dave wants to listen to Mr Skelton and adopt a few policies that are pro working class (and I mean here people who actually work for a living) and 2015 should not be a problem for him. Instead it appears he wishes to just handicap himself with turkeys like HS2

  6. A.Sedgwick
    August 24, 2013

    I think that this falls into the category – comrades we will be in Government within two years we had better get our act together. The Conservative Party are dead in the water under Cameron. He sadled the country with this undemocratic coalition and five year parliaments and his time is drawing to its close. HS2 and numerous other politically unfathomable Cameron policies combined with his supine approach with the Libdems from the initial negotiations, which should have failed, to their reneging on the constituency boundary changes will see the Conservative Party lose about 70 seats in 2015, some of course along the HS2 route. It is possible that he may be outed in 2014 after a further flood of EU negative resource migrants and the European elections but it is unlikely.

    1. lifelogic
      August 24, 2013


      1. Hope
        August 24, 2013

        Do not forget even the lib SMS could not believe the concessions promised by the Tory negotiating team if they went into coalition. This was more about changing the Tory party. Good luck, me and many others are off to UKIP.

    2. sjb
      August 25, 2013

      Evidence suggests EU migrants are net contributors to the UK’s public finances. [1] Even Migration Watch appear to agree to this when measured in the short-term.[2]

      [1] http://www.cream-migration.org/publ_uploads/CDP_18_09.pdf
      [2] http://news.migrationwatch.org.uk/2013/04/the-contribution-of-a8-migrants-to-the-uk-public-finances-some-further-comment.html

  7. Brian Tomkinson
    August 24, 2013

    It comes to something when Labour politicians are more concerned about obtaining value for money than your party. When they tell the voters in 2015 how Osborne has doubled the national debt and is still running a massive budget deficit what will that do for your electoral chances which is all any of you seem to care about? As far as I’m concerned none of the three main parties in parliament is worthy of office or electoral support. Tax, borrow, spend and waste is your shared manifesto but, irony of ironies, some in Labour are showing the courage to speak out against this profligate vanity project whilst you Conservatives will keep quiet and dance to Cameron’s tune.

    Reply What are you talking about? I have already explained why I would not undertake this project this Parliament or next!

    1. Brian Tomkinson
      August 24, 2013

      Reply to reply,
      Go public in a major way like Darling.

      Reply I have made my views public. Mr Darling got more publicity because he changed his view – I have kept the same view throughout – and because doubtless Labour’s spin machine wanted him to do this and backed him.

  8. Excalibur
    August 24, 2013

    I despair. HS2 “…a back of the envelope political calculation, partly to ensnare the Conservatives”. Is this how government conducts its business ? Apparently prepared to spend billions of taxpayer’s money to score political points. We need a reappraisal of the whole way in which we are governed.

    1. lifelogic
      August 24, 2013

      Indeed it is hard ever to be too cynical alas look at the 50% tax rate for example and the “today is a day to bury bad news email”.

      1. Bazman
        August 24, 2013

        The bedroom levy will of course be sensible and fair?

        1. lifelogic
          August 25, 2013

          It is not a levy it is a reduction in benefits which other pay for.

          1. Bazman
            August 26, 2013

            They are going to be paying even more when the tenants are evicted for none payments and has to be rehoused in B&B. Is that not ‘absurd’ and a complete waste of taxpayers money or should money be spent on this dogma? What would you be telling us if a tax on property cost more to enforce tan what it paid?

  9. Leslie Singleton
    August 24, 2013

    If the trains were one way, North, it might make more sense (!) but, as it is, it is just going to concentrate more in London and at huge cost not just in money. Simply not long enough to justify HS anyway and would be more like if went, effectively, from Dover to Edinburgh or even Inverness. And if as is constantly said it is capacity driving this I for one have never heard a peep against the cheap and cheerful but effective option of relaying the Great Central Railway in to Marylebone (preferably with steam trains!!) .

    1. Atlas
      August 24, 2013

      I second the point that if the issue is just capacity then the lines out of Marylebone could be used to a higher capacity than they are at present.

      I’m certain the cost of a Marlybone route upgrade would be a fraction of HS2, so it would be both affordable and productive – which is the state of affairs that I think John wishes for.

      1. boffin
        August 24, 2013

        You are so right!
        (q.v. my detailed post down below).

      2. Leslie Singleton
        August 25, 2013

        Atlas–Thanks for that, but may I suggest that “affordable” is too mild a word in comparison with the gigantic, indeed literally immeasurable, costs of HS2? The trackbed of the old main line in to Marylebone is of course already there (!!!) so no major earth works needed so no lorries running around ruining the Cotswolds or anywhere else. Not to mention the bridges and tunnels, all of which are to the larger loading gauge which presumably means double decker trains are possible. I have just finished reading a book on a (closed) local railway line (Bishop’s Stortford to Maldon in Essex) and (before this subject came up) I was surprised to learn how apparently easily and often the lines were lifted and re-laid (re-layed?) for various reasons–and readers will know that the rails were lifted and re-laid by GWR overnight (!!!),when the gauge was changed from 6ft to present standard gauge and that was when it was all done by hand. Heaven forbid we should do something easy and cheap and quick and effective–not prestigious enough for politicians (I hope not John) I gather.

    2. lifelogic
      August 24, 2013

      In the age of personal motorised mobility, the digital communications age and cheap flights our potty leaders want to go back to windmills, bikes, daft train lines and canals!

      1. Mark
        August 24, 2013

        Disused track beds and canal towpaths make for pleasant country walks. The tracks could also provide space for all those would-be Victoria Pendletons to practise instead of blocking the roads.

        1. Leslie Singleton
          August 24, 2013

          Mark–It is not as if you lack disused track beds for walking and just one such (which I believe was called the Great Central) re-layed in to Marylebone at next to no cost would make all the difference. Apparently it has some bends that are not ideal–Big deal–so straighten them.

      2. Bazman
        August 24, 2013

        How is it possible to commute by driving for more than 2 hours? A simple question that show the limitations of the car and how is heavy freight to be carried? On the roads when you are driving your four hour commute?
        Lets get rid of all ‘absurd’ nuclear regulations and get these power stations built everywhere including London by ‘sensible’ private companies and insurance companies and make getting on a plane like getting on a bus with none of this pointless security and aviation safety laws. That add more time and cost than the flight. Any airline that had a high rate of crashes or terrorist incidents would soon be out of business especially if one came down in central London. The chances of it hitting you would be on par with a bus and if you thought that you would never leave the house. And so on.. Feel free to add you own right wing nonsense to this. Drink drive laws, crime, lunchtime drinking, smoking and the decline of the pub trade. Ever since these and wife beating laws have been enacted pubs have got worse and crime has risen. Leading to todays recession housing shortage and unemployment. Its ‘logical’.

        1. Edward2
          August 25, 2013

          I’m puzzled by your post Baz, who has been calling for all these strange things you mentioned ?
          All Lifelogic said originally and correctly in my opinion was that the HS2 project was spending a huge sum of borrowed money on an old fashioned form of travel which is unlikely ever to be viable.

          1. Bazman
            August 26, 2013

            He questions the point of the railway system and puts forward the roads as enough if more money was spent on them instead of the railways. It’s like saying everyone should be given a tax break to buy a generator and bottles water. The money spent on subsidising these utilities could then be put to better use.Regressive retarded right wing fantasy that when questioned has no answers, but continues to spout it anyway

    3. Filboid Studge
      October 28, 2013

      Amazing, some of these ideas for using the former Great Central route seem quite sensible; most of the route’s earthworks still exist and tunnels were built to a large gauge so it can take continental vehicles. Not only that, Brackley, Lutterworth would be restored to the rail network, Leicester Sheffield and Nottingham would have far more trains and Manchester would no longer be held to ransom by Virgin trains. I think it should be possible to put in a link to Birmingham / Coventry if desired.
      The only problem I see is what you do with a preservation society occupying 9 miles of the former route?

  10. James Matthews
    August 24, 2013

    Labour should be encouraged to withdraw support for HS2. The Conservatives will then have the perfect alibi for doing likewise “this is not a U-turn, a long term project like this is not viable without cross-party agreement”

  11. ian wragg
    August 24, 2013

    Just another vote loser by Cameroon, desperate to avoid a majority government. The project will no doubt be cancelled but not until he has wasted £millions and inflicted untold misery on the population.

  12. Mike Wilson
    August 24, 2013

    Even in government U turns are no bad thing if you turn away from a very unpopular or unwise policy.

    Incoherent Green Energy Policies

    HS2 and Fracking will probably cost you 30 seats at the next election unless U-turns occur.

    1. Lifelogic
      August 24, 2013

      As most policies of the coalition are 180 degrees out U turns on all of them would be good.

    2. libertarian
      August 24, 2013

      Nothing wrong with fracking unless your are a naive gullible luddite who believes nonsense in the popular media

      1. Bazman
        August 24, 2013

        Legitimate concerns within the M25. Count on it. I wonder how many gullible Luddites now exist in Japan after the media and internet caused the nuclear panic?

      2. lifelogic
        August 24, 2013

        “A naive gullible luddite who believes nonsense in the popular media”

        Well not so much the “popular media” as the state funded media as the BBC, certain “charities” and the very low circulation Guardian types of publication.

        1. Bazman
          August 26, 2013

          Would that include other news channels. newspapers and internet sites as well as many technical arguments of its viability or just your bias and bigotry?

          Reply I post sites I know reasonably well and think I can rely on without checking. It would include, for example, automatic posting of an official EU website, which can scarcely be said to be a result of my prejudice or bias!

  13. alan jutson
    August 24, 2013

    Labour do not have a problem, the Conservatives and the Coalition do.

    Yes, I have absolutely no doubt that the original figures were either a guess, an estimate, a back of an envelope calculation, or simply a lie.

    We all know that almost every government project always seems to cost at least double the original estimate, and therein is the problem, it was an ESTIMATE NOT A QUOTATION.

    Anyone who has been in business will tell you that an estimate is a ball park guess.

    A Quotation is what it says.
    A Quotation is a cost for completing work, after a specification has been agreed.

    I think Mr Darling has summed it up quite nicely, the problem is the Coalition are too pig headed to change.
    After so many other “U” turns that is surprising.

    Just think about what you have posted John.

    This railway would be of benefit to the Labour heartlands (eventually, if they can afford to use it), it will decimate and blight the Conservative heartlands for a decade or more.

    Labour are against it, but the Conservatives are for it.

    I know you should put Party politics to one side in the National cause, but when we have no money, are deep in debt, do we really need this chaos for just a few minutes saving on a journey, which can already be made by an established route.

    Yesterday I took my Daughter and Son in Law to the Heathrow so that they could have a short break abroad, had I needed to go to Gatwick instead, I would have been caught up in the 12 mile tailback on the M25 due to one simple incident.

    Spend the money on upgrading the roads, and existing stations and tracks.

    I see we also had the usual tailback past Stonehenge again.
    For 30 years this has been a bottle neck with only one lane in each direction.
    Still it is causing chaos, still we have procrastination about a solution.

    Just make it dual carraigway, like so many other needy areas and pinch points.

    It is so bloody simple.

    Reply You talk to me as if I were a supporter of HS2, which you should know I am not.

    1. Mike Wilson
      August 24, 2013

      Indeed. The dual carriageway throughout most of Devon and Cornwall – the A30 – is a delight to drive on these days. I go to Cornwall regularly – once you get off the bloody M4/M5 past Exeter and on to the A30 – it is a delight. Apart from the few remaining places where it goes down to single carriageway.

      Coming home, if one can’t face the M4/M5 nightmare – and the real possibility that if some idiot has a crash you will be left to fester in your car for half a day while the police investigate – one comes up the A303.

      For heaven’s sake, Mr. Redwood, if you have some money spare – upgrade the A303 to dual carriageway all the way. This will benefit hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, all the time, year in, year out. Instead of a bloody railway that only businessmen will use.

      There can’t be that much demand for high speed to Birmingham. The M40 is a relatively quiet motorway.

      Reply I agree about the A 303 upgrade. I have written before on the need to complete our motorway and dual trunk network – A 303, A/M27 south coast, A1 (M), trunks to Felixstowe etc and to provide more Mway capacity on major routes. At least the Coalition government is open to persuasion about road capacity, and is putting some road schemes back into project lists after a roads drought.

    2. alan jutson
      August 25, 2013


      Very well aware that you are not a supporter of HS2.


      The Government is (by recent actions, words, and deeds) and your Party forms the major part of this Coalition Government.

  14. Mike Wilson
    August 24, 2013

    Yes, you can hear it now … ‘We are going to reduce borrowing by ¬£50 billion and still spend more on hospitals, schools and elderly care’.

    And the half-witted British public will believe them. The fact that it is ALL borrowed money seems to elude people.

    1. behindthefrogs
      August 24, 2013

      Don’t ignore the fact that borrowed money has to be repaid together with any interest. If you look at the government’s current deficit problems you will find that it all comes down to repaying loans and the interest involved.

      Meanwhile the government has removed one of its cheapest sources of borrowing by allowing NS&I to cancel its easy access savings account instead of promoting its expansion. Thus at the same time removing another source of income from the post office. We need the government to look at savings by the general public as a source of capital instead of further increasing taxes.

      1. Denis Cooper
        August 24, 2013

        Well, it was Brown who told National Savings that their job was only to borrow money for him as cheaply as possible, and it was not part of their job to encourage the British people to save.

        Somewhere I still have a letter from the Director explaining that, in reply to a letter I sent asking why they weren’t doing more to promote the “savings culture” that the Labour government had said it wanted, and especially why they weren’t making better use of the post office network to do that.

        It seems Brown preferred wholesale borrowing through gilts, and indeed it may be that he was able to borrow at lower interest by that route.

        But as a chunk of the borrowing was from foreign sources that part of the interest he paid would leave the country, rather than being recycled into the economy; and of course there was always a greater risk that foreign lenders with no patriotic interest in the country might decide to pull the plug, which eventually happened.

    2. libertarian
      August 24, 2013

      Mike whilst I agree with your sentiment it is entirely possible to reduce borrowing whilst spending more on selected targets. We all do that in our own small way when balancing household budgets as well as being standard practice in private business

  15. Alte Fritz
    August 24, 2013

    These vanity projects take on a life f their own. Mr Redwood’s political calculation looks accurate. It is time for some Tory beasts to roar.

  16. Anonymous
    August 24, 2013

    How many wind turbines will it take to power HS2 ?

    1. Mark
      August 24, 2013

      Someone had a go at answering your question:


      I think they probably under-estimated for a variety of reasons. Of course, the trains wouldn’t run at all for days on end if they depended on wind power. High speed train? Faster by canal boat up the Grand Union.

  17. A different Simon
    August 24, 2013

    Take a look at all the planning applications which have gone in since HS2 was announced in an effort to maximise compensation .

    It’s just another wheeze for the usual crowd to help themselves to more taxpayer money .

    Crony business rather than real business .

  18. Neil Craig
    August 24, 2013

    One of the problems with government compared to business is that the latter can be forced to change direction by losing money (or ultimately bankruptcy) whereas politics is often about the triumph of the will over mere facts.

    However I think you are right about opposition being the time to change direction and certainly showing they are less willing to blow £80 billion than the Tories would encourage the view, probably wrongly, that they might not be more wasteful.

    1. uanime5
      August 24, 2013

      Losing money often doesn’t force businesses to change direction. For example if a film company spend $200 million making a movie but only make $40 million from it there’s nothing the business can do to stop itself losing money.

      1. Edward2
        August 26, 2013

        I would like to see you trying to raise money for future projects after your example of disaster for investors money is on your CV
        The careers of all involved would be blighted.
        A useful way of encouraging good commercial behaviour from les autres.

  19. Bill
    August 24, 2013

    Thanks for these insights into political and economic calculations.

    If the planned HS2 is at the behest of the EU, as is claimed by Sue Jameson, how could Labour or the Lib Dems, who are ultra pro-EU, cancel it?

    Reply The Uk is free to cancel it anytime

  20. Martin
    August 24, 2013

    A new bridge over the railway in Wokingham instead of HS2.

    There are countless other rail projects like that up and down the country that would improve the network.

    Of course HS2 does show the real problem with Britain – 5 years of chit chat and nothing much happening except chit chat merchants kept in a job. Not unlike a certain ever delayed runway.

    1. Mike Wilson
      August 24, 2013

      @Martin A new bridge over the railway in Wokingham instead of HS2.

      But, of course, that would not ‘improve the network’. The train has priority over the car so a road bridge over the railway, instead of a level crossing, is of no benefit to the train.

      On that subject, could someone not have a word in the ear of whoever is responsible for the level crossing on the Easthampstead Road which goes down a full 3 or 4 minutes before a train arrives. Madness. If the level crossings in South West London – on the lines approaching Waterloo – worked like that, in the rush hours they would be permanently down. As it is they, perfectly safely, go down about a minute before a train arrives.

      Reply I have lost that argument so far – they claim safety requires it. All part of the unhelpful approach of Network Rail.

    2. Chris S
      August 24, 2013

      Martin : the endless chit chat over airport capacity, nuclear power, renewable energy and everything else remotely controversial is caused by a spineless PM prepared to allow a minor player like Clegg to set at least 50% of the Government’s program when he has barely 20% of the number of PMs in the coalition.

      It’s rather like England’s relationships with Scotland, Wales, ethnic minorities etc etc. All have far more influence on the national life than their numbers should dictate.

      You never saw Margaret Thatcher failing to take and implement a decision that needed to be got on with.

  21. Mark
    August 24, 2013

    There is a reshuffle coming up. The present transport minister seems to have been appointed to follow the agenda of his civil servants – lowering road speed limits and promoting railways. We will get a signal of intent if he is replaced. The project is at risk of becoming a SPAD (signal passed at danger).

    Given Osborne’s apparent preference for boosting property prices, he seems to be missing a trick: house prices along the HS2 route should experience a rebound if the project is cancelled and they are no longer subject to blight. And it won’t cost a penny on his budget. In fact, he’d be able to present it as “cuts”. Surely it’s better than a 10-20 year wait to build a fast train that passes close to Tatton?

  22. Romsey
    August 24, 2013

    HS2 is the original white elephant. People rightly obsess about the capital cost but seem to forget all about the enormous operating subsidies that will still be required once it becomes operational. There is no viable business case. When Euro-Tunnel was at a similar stage, Mrs Thatcher had the good sense to ensure that it received no state funding. The only proponent still fighting for HS2 seems to be Andrew Adonis on the grounds of future capacity needs. How can you take a view though on what capacity will be required if you don’t first put your existing rail & infrastructure into proper working order. That was how the US came out of the financial crash – fixing its roads first. It would be a good model to follow.

    Reply Yes, I strongly advised Mrs T to allow no public subsidy to the cross Channel railway, and pleasantly surprised when shareholders decided to subsidise instead.

  23. Tad Davison
    August 24, 2013

    ‘Even in government U turns are no bad thing if you turn away from a very unpopular or unwise policy.’

    I can think of quite a few policies this government ought to reverse! Policies that are either having a crippling effect on some of our poorest and most vulnerable people like the effects of the bedroom tax on the disabled, or are so fanciful and whimsical, they’ll hardly benefit anybody. Policies that no sensible Tory would ever have anything to do with, which is why I keep saying Mr Cameron should come out and state quite clearly, what he would do differently if he were Prime Minister in his own right, and not propped up by the airy fairy liberals.

    But hang on, he had that chance in 2010, and had he taken it before the election, he wouldn’t be shackled by this shower now! Instead, and at a time when we needed a strong leader, he came across as just another green, pro-EU liberal, and lost out. Could it conceivably be, that is precisely what Mr Cameron is anyway?

    As for HS2 itself, we need extra rail capacity to cater for the ever-growing public, whose numbers successive governments have allowed to increase with their open doors immigration policies, but it is a network-wide need, and not confined to a single corridor. It seems to me that the money would be better spent elsewhere.

    We need to ask ourselves just how much time can HS2 save on comparatively short journeys, compared to the bigger distances on the continent, and is it worth it. Who could afford to use it, and how long before £80 billion becomes £100 billion, then £120 billion?

    I’m tempted to say, let’s ask the Chinese to build it. They’re awash with everyone else’s money right now, and at the present rate, it won’t be long before they own the planet anyway.

    Maybe if we could ship some people out instead of shipping them in, we wouldn’t need HS2 and all the other expensive infrastructure projects in the first place, and personally, I would like to begin with those from without, who wish to change this country to their model, from within.

    Tad Davison


    Reply The Chinese would b e happy to build it, but I doubt they would want to pay the full price for it as an investment, as the resulting railway will b e heavily loss making.

    1. James Matthews
      August 24, 2013

      Comment on reply. Absolutely right, which says everything anyone needs to know about the project.

  24. Chris S
    August 24, 2013

    At £40bn it makes no economic sense let alone £50bn, £60bn or any other number you care to pluck out of the air. On past performance it could certainly reach the recently quoted £80bn.

    But the basic objection is not just about the sheer expenditure : it’s the fact that it would directly benefit so few of the population : Nobody living far away from London, Birmingham or Manchester would ever use it : especially if their destination is away from these centres as well. it’s just too inconvenient to travel to one of the stations and then have no ongoing means of transport when you arrive.

    The result is that less than 2% of the population would ever think of using it.

    Compare this with the advantages of an improved road network and maybe some smaller railway projects that would benefit far more people.

    I can give a very simple example :

    Next Sunday I have to go from Ringwood to Exeter to pick up a vehicle.
    I can’t get there by bus and National Express coaches can only get me there via Bristol (!)
    Because the rail network stops at Dorchester I have to get a lift to Salisbury before I can get on a train. Of, course, there is no motorway and most of the route is single carriageway.

    1. Mark
      August 27, 2013

      Obviously you need a flying Axminster carpet!

      Google suggests a bus to Southampton, and then by train via Salisbury, taking 3 1/2 hours. The trains seem very slow.

  25. Bazman
    August 24, 2013

    Why do other countries successfully run and are extending their high sopped rail links whilst we do not have any? You are all very quick to tell us about other countries methods so do tell us about why their high speed rail systems are such a folly?

    1. Edward2
      August 25, 2013

      The French government as just one example spends a fortune every year subsidising their loss making TGV system just like we will our HS2

      1. Bazman
        August 26, 2013

        Does the TGV have no business or social benefits? I find my water bill produces a loss to every year too.

        1. Edward2
          August 26, 2013

          I’m surprised you don’t declare that all high speed lines are elitist rich people’s toys Baz, rather than saying they provide a social benefit.
          Will the ordinary citizen ever be able to afford to use HS2 when tickets will be even higher than current first class prices are now?
          HS2 will probably become the rail equivalent of the Zil lanes once kept exclusively for political leaders and their wealthy pals in USSR.

          1. Bazman
            August 27, 2013

            The railways are already a middle class transport system with return trips from Liverpool to London costing up to £300 for a family on the day, so I would expect this to be the case, but you can be sure that many of the opponents will be afraid of a drop in London house prices as a result of HS2 and the extension of the commuter range. Interesting to see what would happen to these prices if a 32 lane motorway was put in from south Wales into London or a cheap 1000mph underground train system from Edinburgh.

  26. boffin
    August 24, 2013

    All parties are in need of an elegant political escape route from their ill-considered HS2 bravado … try this for size …

    1) Scrap HS2 in favour of a line upgrade from the channel tunnel through to Merseyside/Holyhead enabling full-size (fatter, taller) continental rolling stock to use it. Claim European Infrastructure Funding by virtue of facilitating full-size freight traffic from central Europe through to the Irish Republic. Preferably, make use of the under-utilised wayleaves Birmingham-Marylebone and Ashford-Redhill. Throw in a couple of well-sited freight terminals and this will bring vastly more prosperity to the North than HS2 ever could … that’ll keep the unions happy.

    2) Take this opportunity to upgrade the Birmingham-Marylebone route and signalling for faster express passenger services, and tunnel the mere 2 miles to link Marylebone with the southern network via Victoria, connecting enroute with E-W Crossrail at the new Bond Street Crossrail/Tube station. This will improve rail connectivity for the travelling public tremendously at – relatively – small cost (cf HS2 shaving 20 min off the time between two logjams, at vast cost).

    3) Don’t waste that nice fast new Marylebone-Birmingham link – it goes straight by the end of a huge ready-built runway at former RAF Upper Heyford … and it takes less time to get there from Marylebone, even on the existing express service, than to Terminal 5 on the Tube from Town. There is scope to extend Heyford to a 2-runway hub-and-spoke operation to vie with Heathrow (but with only very sparse local population to upset) …. but the PTB have been too dim to notice it, yet.

    So many flies with one economical swat! – what do you think, Mr. Redwood? – I’d hate it if Labour saw the light first, and got the credit for it.

  27. margaret brandreth-j
    August 24, 2013

    I am not sure whether you are politically correct on this one John. People at least in my surrounding area are not as concerned with party politics, unless they are too extreme and opt for the most sensible decision. Whichever party this appears to come from they will vote for. The coalition government, I believe, was a united stand from the population who would rather have cooperation rather than continual tension and the divide in the house. Who ever says ‘it’, and ‘it’ is sensible and workable would get a vote.
    The media and politicians themselves play on difference for the sake of the fight and television/ news which is supposedly more alive where there is conflict.
    I don’t believe if labour backed down or tories’ on the whole changed their mind , it would direct a vote in one way or another. The crowds who do not particularise the policies simply follow tradition and see themselves as conservatives or labour voters. I believe in conservative socialism , but alas! there is not party to represent my views.

  28. Acorn
    August 24, 2013

    I would like to know who works out these costs and how they breakdown. I am reading that HS1 cost ¬£5.8 billion for 108 km. That’s ¬£53.7 million per km. LGV Est, going east out of Paris with 300 km of new track is costing ¬£15.7 million per km. The Channel Tunnel was about ¬£50 million a km two decades back. Crossrail comes in at ¬£160 million a km and is by far the biggest railway engineering challenge. Guesstimates for HS2 from ¬£106 million a km up to ¬£365 million a km, that is,¬£73 billion for circa 200 km, I think, but I am not sure if this price is phase 1 or 1 & 2?

    I find these numbers staggering. But, if we are going to have this thing, I would stick with tried and tested “off-the-shelf” French technology. Like it or not, the French build the best trains sets on the planet. This link will show you what I would buy. http://www.railway-technology.com/projects/alstom-euroduplex-france-high-speed/ .

    PS. It may have got moderated out yesterday or I may have had fat finger problems. A very clever guy wrote this in 1946. He was a FED governor, at a time when debt to GDP ratios were through the roof post WW2. Enjoy and absorb, I will be asking questions.
    http://home.hiwaay.net/~becraft/RUMLTAXES.html . I will convince you one day. ūüėČ .

  29. HJBbradders
    August 24, 2013

    It would be interesting to know how many bridges could be raised, how many tunnels modified and what double-decker rolling-stock purchased for £80 billion.
    Also, why on most trains travelling south to London, are there typically four Standard class and three First-class coaches. What is the ratio of Standard to First-class passengers?

  30. Richard1
    August 24, 2013

    Interviewers have gone very lightly on Mr Darling. A good question would have been why the last govt didn’t apply more rigorous scrutiny to the original costings. Mandelson’s revelation that the whole thing was a back of the envelope political trap for the Tories is just depressing. Just like the 50p tax rate – obviously absurd but perceived to be good politics. The govt needs to ditch HS2 or its going to look increasingly silly.

  31. Lindsay McDougall
    August 25, 2013

    The only reason that the Coalition are vulnerable on this one is that the pro EU MPs are reluctant to cancel HS2. Seeing the way that the wind is blowing, it is time for Conservative back benchers to inform the PM that if he won’t cancel HS2 they want a different leader.

    1. Leslie Singleton
      August 25, 2013

      Lindsay–Seconded–If we got rid of Cameron, it would soon be appreciated that the recent plus points in Tory fortunes had little to do with him whereas the minuses are all due to him. There are many of us who will under no circumstances whatsoever vote Conservative with him in charge. I have just read in the Telegraph that according to one of their political guru types UKIP “have a problem” in that many UKIP candidates do not support “recent social change” and want it reversed. That is a benefit not a problem, at least amongst anything resembling a true blue. One of us must be mad.

  32. Mark
    August 25, 2013

    Acording to this report to Parliament (page 14):


    the Minister has not provided any updated cost-benefit ratios consistent with the revised cost estimates. Perhaps this information ought to be updated before Parliament considers spending another penny on it. Since the CBR methodology bizarrely subtracts fares/revenues from the costs before comparing with the assumed other benefits, the gearing effect is substantial.

    It is surprising that no MP called the Minister to account for the lack of information.
    It is surprising that no MP called the MInis

    Reply I have in the past questioned Ministers on costs this Parliament in preparing for this project.I got a wrong answer, understating the figures, followed by an apology and higher figures.

  33. uanime5
    August 25, 2013

    It seems that Labour has said that they will cancel HS2 if it costs over £50 billion. So they have an easy way to cancel it.


    Also the Coalition has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds promoting HS2, including paying £86,000 for 2 short videos.


  34. Robert Taggart
    August 26, 2013

    NO2 HS2 – again !
    A flexible friend for Liebore ? – perhaps.
    A flexible friend for the ConDems ? – possibly – if they decide to ‘kick it into the long grass’ !

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