By Natalie Bennett, Green Party leader.
You might call it a rare outbreak of truth-telling – David Cameron has admitted that the government has “failed to make the case” .
But at the same time – with something less than intellectual coherence — he’s also laying blame for the widespread rejection of the project elsewhere – with an “unholy alliance” that on his account includes UKIP, the Financial Times and Lord Mandelson.
Well he can add the Green Party to that claimed alliance – although I’d say we were the founders of it, the Green Party conference having recognised back in 2011 that the claims of this mega-project simply didn’t add up.
And as a representative of its “founders”, I can say that there hasn’t been a gathering in a smoke-filled room, or even on a Cheshire field – it is simply clear that on many levels, and for many reasons, that this project simply doesn’t make sense for Britain, and it is no surprise that a growing number of individuals and groups, coming from a wide range of political directions, are prepared to say that, when the facts are so obvious.
As I said back in July, HS2 is clearly never going to happen – and if Mr Cameron wants to throw even more political capital after it, well you’ve got to wonder at his judgement.
It is very clear that we need major investments in infrastructure in Britain. Among the areas that desperately need investment are transport and communications infrastructure, which in our age need to be considered together.
But what that transport needs to do is move people around their local areas and within their regions – between home/school/work/leisure. We need to get away from a long distance commuting structure, and invest in the many “Low Speed Ones” up and down the country that desperately need improvement.
We don’t need to focus people and investment even more on London – and even on HS2’s own figures, more than 70% of its users would be travelling TO London. Improving linkages cross-country, between Northern and Midlands cities and towns, not concentrating down on London, is what’s needed.
What’s clearly needed, what Mr Cameron should be doing, is stopping and reassessing what kind of transport and communications infrastructure Britain should be investing in. Shortly before Lord Mandelson made the astonishing admission that Labour hadn’t made such an assessment before opting for HS2, the New Economics Foundation set out its thoughts on how you could alternatively spend what was then £33bn. Starting from there, we could work out what we really should be investing in.
But perhaps Mr Cameron’s misjudgement on HS2 isn’t so surprising. This is after all the Prime Minister who’s been trying to tell us that fracking in Britain would provide cheap gas, a claim briskly dismissed last week by Lord Stern as “baseless economics”, and resolutely not backed by his own Department for Energy and Climate Change.
Add in Ian Duncan Smith ‘s detachment from reality on universal credit, and we have a government that seems to be displaying a Karl Rove-ish belief in their ability to create their own “reality”, a parallel universe detached from the evidence of the real world.
That is, to put it mildly, disturbing.
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