The HS2 bill survived its second reading last week despite a small yet vocal fight back led by Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan, who’s Chesham and Amersham constituency is on the proposed route of the high speed rail line. 34 Conservative MPs went against the government and voted in favor of Cheryl Gillan’s amendment to the Bill which stated that HS2 should be scrapped.
Although pro-Russian opposition action in Eastern Ukraine meant that the HS2 vote had to be pushed back an hour in order for Foreign Secretary William Hague to make a statement, the opposition action in the House of Commons (i.e. Gillan’s amendment) was quickly thrown out and the Bill passed its second reading with 452 to 41 votes.
David Cameron will be on shaky ground with Conservative back and front benchers over this issue and Minister David Liddington has even threatened to resign if the planned rail line goes ahead without major changes being made. Liddington was not present for the vote as he was on official government business in Estonia, which meant a total of 47 Conservative MPs missed the vote, including, funnily enough, David Cameron himself. David Cameron’s reason for missing the vote are unclear, there has been speculation that he had an important date with Mrs. Cameron, but whatever the reason he needs to make sure that he is seen to be proactively supporting the project if he is to minimize dissent in his party ranks.
Boris Johnson waded into the debate and attacked the rebel Conservatives, accusing them of using ecological arguments to mask their more self-interested objections. In an interview for Total Politics Magazine he called it “bollocks. They’re not campaigning for forests, they’re not campaigning for butterflies. They pretend to be, obviously, but what they’re really furious about is that their house prices are getting it.”
Despite Ed Balls questioning whether or not it was “the best way to spend £50bn”, HS2 has enjoyed broad support from Labour with transport spokesman Mary Creagh arguing that “it will cut congestion on the railways, better connect our major cities and help deliver a one-nation economic recovery”.
The question is, what will the next stage of debate look like? As the bill moves forward to the committee stage, at a date yet to be announced, David Cameron needs to be careful as he is likely to come under a lot of criticism related to hammering out the details of the bill, most of this will be from his own backbenchers many of whom represent constituencies located on the proposed route. Although he will have the support of Labour it is unlikely that is a position that Cameron will enjoy being in.
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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