Monday, 23 September 2013

Why Ed Needs To Listen To Mother

Sir Richard Leese, Labour Leader of Manchester City Council since 1996, sees the benefit a High Speed Rail link will bring to the North, and specifically the City he leads.
So no doubt a frank piece of his mind, directed at his own party’s Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, displays in no uncertain terms, irritation at comments made at this week’s Labour Conference.
Balls was commenting on the HS2 proposals – a challenging but genuinely exciting project first hatched by the Labour Party – which has that rarest of statuses: cross party support.
But is Balls, and Labour, getting cold feet? Or were comments made today an attempt to measure what votes might be gained in taking a somewhat “populist” stance of distancing themselves from the plans?
The Shadow Chancellor stated that he continued to back the plans, but seemingly attempted to dip his toe in the water of discontent, asking whether £50bn on HS2 was the best way to spend the money. His number 2, Rachel Reeves, appeared to go further, saying that the party would cancel it “if we don’t think it’s good value for money and costs continue to rise”.
Leese, clearly frustrated at such comments, accused Balls of a “cheap shot”;
“there are better ways for the Shadow Chancellor to demonstrate fiscal responsibility than take a cheap shot at HS2”
And he’s right.
HS2 has, in recent months, taken a battering from the antis. Highly inaccurate projections on costs have been doing the rounds, and some less than balanced reporting in the media has only added to the hype. For Balls to play with words in the search of potential votes is extremely disappointing. It is political gamesmanship of the worst kind, because he hasn’t come out against it – merely hinting that he “might”, depending on how the budget goes. Or possibly how the political ship is sailing as we head towards the altogether choppier waters of a general election, now probably a mere 20 months away.
It is this short-termism – a tendency for politicians to veer sharply from one side to the other – that is to this country’s detriment. We have this week seen the Germans once again put faith in Angela Merkel for a third term. “Mutti” – or “Mother” – is seen as an extremely safe pair of hands who guides Germany – and Europe – through the rockiest economic crisis we’ve seen in modern times. Not for her a lurch to the right or left in the short term. She’s in it for the long haul, and sticking to it.
What is the relevance between the German “Mutti” and High Speed 2 in Britain?
HS2 is not for tomorrow, or next week, or even next year. It is an investment in a much longer plan. It isn’t all about cutting 30 minutes off a suited toff’s trip to London. It is about connecting our country for real growth, opening up the South to the Midlands and North like we have never seen before. It is a continuation of a stalled plan started by the Victorians.
Anyone who has ever travelled across Europe by High Speed rail knows the difference it makes. Rail is our heritage but it is also very much our future.
By all means we need to continue investing in our existing network, and that is what we are doing - £37.5bn between 2014-2019 which will lead to significant electrification – 850 miles of it, new rolling stock, new lines, the list goes on.
That is only the next 5 years. What we REALLY need is to get a long-term grip on infrastructure in the UK.
This month’s Transport Times carries an interesting article regarding a report compiled by Sir John Armitt, who calls for a statutory body to set infrastructure priorities for the UK. And here’s the sense – it should look 25-30 years ahead.
It would carry out a national assessment every 10 years and have 10 year plans on how the projects would be delivered, voted on by Parliament.
Sir John comments;
“Over the last 40 years UK infrastructure has fallen behind the rest of the world and is increasingly struggling to cope with the demands we make of it”. Hear Hear.
Look at how London as a City has seen an explosion in its population, even over the last decade. Look at how the transport system has been bolstered to cope with the ever increasing demand. It has cost a lot of money, but it is simply needed to stop the City grinding to a halt. Sir Richard Leese in Manchester makes exactly the same point about HS2 being essential to stop the Midlands and North doing the same thing.
The Armitt report on long-term infrastructure planning was, interestingly, commissioned by the Labour Party.
What odds would you get on them implementing all of its recommendations if they seize power in 2015?

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