Betrayal is a strong word. But it’s a word we hear a lot in the former Tory strongholds of Buckinghamshire over HS2. The strength of feeling amongst local people who would once have been proud to call themselves Conservatives is hardly surprising. The human cost of Mr Cameron’s absurd white elephant scheme can be measured in terms of unsaleable homes, blighted businesses and communities, devastated farms, retirement plans turned upside down, ill health and worse.
For over four long years, Mr Cameron and his Ministers have delighted in ramming their white elephant HS2 project down the throats of local people, including their party’s dwindling band of loyal supporters. Privately (and occasionally publicly) local Conservative councillors seethe and rage but to date and with two notable exceptions, they have largely stuck by their national party. After 28th April, it remains to be seen how many continue to have the stomach to tough it out in their pro HS2 party when the “let’s stay and fight from within” policy will have so demonstrably failed to stop HS2.
Nationally, the political calculation that the Tories can do literally anything to their core support in the Shire counties and it will have no impact on the General Election result is typical of the out of touch arrogance which has characterised the Conservative Party’s position on the HS2 project. They are in for a shock on 22nd May and again at the General Election next year.
From its earliest beginnings, Tory support for HS2 has always been politically calculated, linked cynically to the decision to drop support for a third runway at Heathrow and sold locally during the 2010 General Election on the basis that “Labour’s route” would be overturned once the Conservatives were returned to office. Instead, successive Conservative Secretaries of State have spent four years presiding over sham consultations, using war powers to block information, fiddling the figures, ignoring national public opinion and moving the policy goalposts (repeatedly).
And so on 28th April the HS2 hybrid bill will be debated in the House of Commons. Mr Cameron and his Ministers will lead the vast bulk of his party’s MPs through the Yes Lobby to vote for the second reading of the HS2 hybrid bill, ignoring public and expert opinion and committing the country to wasting £50 billion on the Prime Minister’s ultimate political folly. Loyal Ministers such as David Lidington MP who represent route seats will either be absent from the Commons away on “urgent business,” or else be unable to represent their constituents by voting against the bill since they share collective responsibility for the policy.
Anyone who cares about our democracy should be alarmed that on this issue, there is such a huge democratic deficit between the position of the “main” party front benches and national opinion, which remains overwhelmingly opposed to HS2. After 28th April, it is inevitable that the flow of resignations from the local Conservative party, which they themselves put down to HS2, will become a deluge. Last year saw the beginnings of the political earthquake predicted by Nigel Farage during his 2013 common-sense tour, with six Buckinghamshire county council seats falling to UKIP and Tory-UKIP swings of up to 29% in HS2 affected seats. Five of those gains were in the Aylesbury constituency held currently by Europe Minister David Lidington MP and where UKIP already has more members than the Conservative party. After 28th April, the Conservative betrayal will be almost complete. Aylesbury is going to be one to watch at next year’s General Election.
By Cllr Chris Adams (UKIP Parliamentary candidate Aylesbury) and Cllr Seb Berry (Independent Great Missenden)