Oh no it isn’t, oh yes it is! HS2 axed

The Conservative Party Conference in Manchester has surfaced yet again all of the divisions and lurches to the right that characterise Rishi Sunak’s government.

The PM himself has engaged in a strange kind of political pantomime over HS2. This High Speed Rail Link, originally intended to link London with Leeds and Manchester via Birmingham, was Europe’s biggest infrastructure project and promised greater capacity and speed of travel between the North and the capital. First the eastern leg to Leeds was axed in 2021. Then a question mark appeared over the link from Birmingham to Manchester. This week it has been widely trailed that this leg of the route would be cut too. The Tory Party engaged in a weird charade in which a mantra of ‘no final decision had been taken’. Then today Rishi Sunak pulled the plug on HS2.

Writing on Facebook Kim McGuinness,  Labour’s Candidate for North East Mayor, described this decision as a ‘shambles’. Labour’s Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, quoted by the BBC, summed up what we all were thinking:

It always seems that people here where I live and where I kind of represent can be treated as second class citizens when it comes to transport. It just proves there’s still so many people in politics, many of them in the Tory party, that think they can treat the north of England differently to the way they treat other parts of the country it’s just so wrong.”

Across our constituency, whether that be in Hexham, Prudhoe, Ponteland, Callerton, Haltwhistle or somewhere else, we might be forgiven for wondering what HS2 had to do with us. Yet HS2 was an investment in the North of England. It promised to connect our region, people, businesses and opportunities, with the capital and parts in between. It wasn’t about speed but capacity and was an investment in a greener future, ten, twenty, fifty and a hundred years from now. Without it we’re left with a Victorian railway infrastructure and some Tory promises (for what they’re worth) of investment in regional rail and roads.

It’s a stupendous U-Turn. Time and time again our MP Guy Opperman has repeatedly voted in favour of HS2: in 2019, in 2018, in 2014, and in 2013. Now he and his party are backtracking, betraying the people of the North of England and demonstrating how shallow their promises of ‘levelling up’ really are.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh observed:

“The Conservatives promised Northern Powerhouse Rail sixty times and in three consecutive Conservative manifestos. After this Tory fiasco, why should anyone believe the Tories can deliver anything they say?

Rishi Sunak the man who like to backtrack

Rishi Sunak the man who likes to backtrack

And a few gimmicks

The Tory conference also gave us a few gimmicks. The Education Secretary promised to ban phones in classrooms. A curious decision given that most schools already do this and the policy was first suggested in 2021. Elsewhere Rishi Sunak has decided to meddle in education too. In keeping with his decision to axe HS2, he’s also decided to scrap A Levels and the Tory’s new T Levels. In their place will be a new qualification requiring our young people to take 5 subjects including Maths and English in their post-16 education. Given that there’s a severe recruitment and retention crisis in teaching quite where all the teachers to deliver this additional teaching will come from is unclear. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers noted that there had been “no meaningful engagement” with the educators ahead of the announcement.

Once again, there is a sense that ministers in Whitehall think they know better than the teachers and leaders working with pupils on a daily basis

Rather than making sweeping changes to our education system based on a whim, it would be better to invest in the schools and teachers that make a real difference in our children’s lives. The same schools and teachers that are struggling with the consequence of 13 years of under investment in education.

Join the Labour Party

Right across Hexham Constituency Labour Party members are working to Build a Better Britain and get Guy Opperman out after 13 disastrous years of Conservative government.

If you’d like to get involved please consider joining the party or making a donation.

Photo of railway by nate williams on Unsplash

Rishi Sunak portrait by Simon Walker / No 10 Downing Street, OGL 3, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=132830566