In an interview with The Spectator this week, the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin admits that HS2 will not have been approved by parliament before the next election. This invites the question, will HS2 become an election issue?
Both Ed Balls and Andy Burnham have made forays against HS2 in recent months. But both have been slapped down by Ed Miliband’s office. His allies believe that Labour can’t run on a platform of rebuilding Britain while simultaneously promising to put a stop to the biggest infrastructure project in decades.
But one wonders if this Labour position will hold. The Tory election campaign will claim repeatedly that Labour’s sums don’t add up, they’ll constantly accuse Labour of planning to raise taxes or borrowing. Stopping HS2 would give Labour more than £10 billion pounds to play with. Set against this is that Labour council leaders in the Midlands and the North would undoubtedly condemn the decision. But these places aren’t likely to vote anything other than Labour at the next election. There’s also the fact that pledging to stop HS2 might help Labour in marginal seats along the route such as Corby.
I suspect that Miliband’s personal commitment to HS2 means that Labour will continue to support it. But there’s no doubt that the Labour leadership would find it easier to make its tax and spending plans add up without this project.