Thursday, 2 April 2015

The forward march of idiocy halted: HS2, Kippers and a reality check

In 2010, a political party was so disturbed by the lack of ambition in Britain's proposals for high-speed rail construction that many more routes were needed, and quickly.  In 2015, the same party has one transport policy - to stop HS2, Phase 1 of which is now wending its way through the Parliamentary process, with multi-party backing.  Unsurprisingly, the intellectually-challenged and hypocrites of UKIP see no problem in this U-turn.

The Kippers may have been taken in by the grandiose and mendacious anti-HS2 campaign.  In the best tradition of astroturf lobby groups, to adopt the US definition, these are bloated by their own self-importance.  As Paul Bigland demonstrates in his excellent blog these are penny numbers, and hardly likely to swing many seats towards Mr Farage's diminishing band of lunatic racists, homophobes, misogynists and other throwbacks to the 1950s.

Never trust groups who make claims for representative legitimacy, especially when they are self-serving oligarchies run by sociopaths.  Threatening behaviour and refusals of accountability go alongside a toy-pram separation scenario - witness the response of the Taxpayer's Alliance (apostrophe deliberate) whenever it is canvassed for its legitimacy.

The problem for anyone other than the Kippers and their monomaniac fellow-travellers is that the HS2 case is nuanced.  This is also a problem for those who support the concept of additional railway capacity, as part of a modernisation of Britain's infrastructure and as a part of social and economic regeneration of anywhere other than the South-East of England.  Because HS2 is not perfect, and not comprehensive, it cannot be a good idea, or at least the knuckle-draggers would have us believe.  Instead of suggesting how it can be improved, or how the additional transport needs could be delivered, it is merely stigmatised as a waste of money.

The sort of people who adopt this approach disapprove of any spending that doesn't benefit them directly.  Thatcher's children have no conception of the difference between public and private benefits, let alone costs.  Instead it is a constant mantra that HS2 will crowd out schools, hospitals and such wonderful manifestations of social merit as Trident replacement, making out that the government will be forced to write a cheque for £50bn up front and hang the consequences.  A 20-year construction period shows quite how stupid such an analysis can be, let alone that there will be earnings from the route that will repay the costs of construction.

A more fruitful line of argument has been that it does not address every single transport need.  On that it is possible to agree.  Had HS2 been branded, as Network Rail pioneered in 2009, the "new North-South mainline" then that might have been a little easier to comprehend.  It is part of a long-term strategy that has increasingly embraced what Gideon sound-bites as the "Northern Powerhouse" and the need for better connections to the North-East and Scotland.  In isolation its benefits will be more restricted than as part of a national strategy.  By the time Phase 1 is due to open in 2026, Euston station in London will need rebuilding and expanding - you cannot ascribe all the need for this on the coming of a new railway.

However, the objectors are increasingly confined to the SUV-driving, I'm all right, Jack knuckleheads who would probably regard Jeremy Clarkson as a hero for abusing the servants.  They spit bile to each other while never engaging in detail.  They object to anything that might not benefit them immediately and which other people support, probably resenting those for whom walking and breathing simultaneously is not a supreme achievement.  The visceral, spittle-fuelled abuse is not that of a sceptic but a zealot, so it is hardly surprising that the Kippers and some sections of the Greens have embraced them.

Challenging and improving proposals is desirable - but to pump out unrepresentative rubbish year on year is not serving the cause.  For those of us who think that HS2 is, on balance, the right thing to do as part of a much wider strategy, the unworthiness of our opponents is a continuing reflection on the dumbing-down of politics and the destruction of public discourse.

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