‘No one disagrees with what the government is trying to do but what they do worry about, is the capacity of the state to deliver it’, one Tory grandee tells me. As I wrote in the Sun, the concern is that the government sees infrastructure as the way to boost Britain’s growth rate, but these projects tend to come in late and over budget in this country. The danger for the Tories is that at the next election in 2024, they may have little more than plans to show for their efforts.
Downing Street is acutely aware of this risk, hence their focus on ‘delivery’ and change that people can feel in their daily lives. They know that getting those who voted Tory for the first time to stick with them will not be easy. ‘If these people sense that we are not delivering for them, they’ll desert us in droves’, warns one key Boris Johnson ally.
The most obvious example of an infrastructure project being late and over budget is HS2. Its price tag may well break the £100 billion mark soon and it is running a decade late.
Birmingham Tories are keen to save the scheme, though. They believe it to be key to the re-election prospects of their West Midland Mayor Andy Street. One argument they are deploying is that going ahead with HS2 would make it easier for the government to scrap the third runway at Heathrow. They point out that when Cameron backed the scheme in opposition it was, in part, as an alternative to Heathrow expansion.
Given that Boris Johnson has said he would lie down in front of the bulldozers before he allowed a third runway to be built, it would be extremely embarrassing for him if the project proceeded on his watch. But for a Prime Minister who boasts of his commitment to infrastructure to scrap two of the biggest transport projects in the country would be politically difficult. This might well be what saves HS2, in some form.