Generally, as my regular readers will be aware, I am not a fan of the Tories. But, if you aspire to be a credible political commentator, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. For that reason, may I take this opportunity to salute the economic vision of David Cameron and George Osborne – the Batman and Robin of politics.
And what has made me take this extraordinary step? Why am I suddenly a fan of the caped Old Etonian crusader and his boy wonder Chancellor?
The reason is their master plan to save the ailing British economy.
I’m talking, of course, about HS2 – the high speed rail link which will not only boost our economy but also finally heal the north south divide.
Typically there has been a lot of moaning from detractors about the costs and the benefits – but, as usual, neither criticism stands up to scrutiny.
The bargain cost of HS2 will be a paltry £32.7 billion for the 355 miles of track – less than £100 million a mile!
And when it’s finished in 2043 the high speed rail service will cut journey times on its longest trip – London to Edinburgh – from the current tortoise like pace of 4 hours to the hare like time of only 3 hours 39 minutes – a saving of 21 minutes at a cost of only £16 billion per minute saved. Who but the most miserable Luddite can argue with that?
There have been complaints that HS2 will only benefit the 9 cities it passes through (London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh) but nothing could be further from the truth. Every constituency in the nation will have a stake in HS2 – with them all having to pay £51 million each to finance it. So, when the profits start to roll in, they’ll all make out like bandits!
Typically, there is the usual collection of bleating NIMBY’s who take a selfish approach, bemoaning the alleged negative effect HS2 will have on them personally and ignoring the benefits to the wider public.
Their first complaint is the noise they will suffer from hundreds of trains rushing past their houses every day. What they fail to mention is that, as the trains will be travelling at over 200 miles an hour, the noise will only last for a nano-second.
And they fail to mention the joy HS2 will bring to millions of trainspotters. Granted, they may have some difficulties in jotting down the serial numbers of the fast moving trains, but with hundreds passing by every day their notebooks will be full in no time.
The second complaint is that property prices will allegedly plummet for those whose homes are close to the track. An example given is the case of Elfrida Harper-Tarr, a lady aged 97 who lives in the village of Turweston in Bucks. Her house was valued just before the HS2 route was announced at £275,000. She put it on the market and a young couple made an offer at the asking price which was accepted. A few days later it was announced that HS2 would run through her back garden and the buyers had it re-valued by a local estate agent so they could obtain a mortgage. The new valuation was £0 – absolutely nothing at all!
That is, of course, nonsense. The house can’t be completely worthless. Elfrida bought the house 65 years ago and I’ll bet that, when it’s finally sold, she’ll get at least as much as she paid for it in 1948 – she won’t end up out of pocket.
I heard Cameron being interviewed about HS2 by a typically belligerent John Humphries on Radio 4 recently.
“So what are the benefits of HS2 for those who live in the shadow of the track?” Humphries badgered him.
“More to the point,” the Prime Minister played him at his own game, “what are the downsides?”
“Well,” said Humphries, “what about the fall in property prices?”
“That’s just scaremongering,” Cameron replied, “we don’t anticipate any real fall in property prices.”
“So how do you explain the case of 97 year old Elfrida Harper-Tarr,” Humphries was relentless, “her house was valued at £275,000 before the HS2 route was decided on. But, after it was announced that HS2 would go through her back garden the value fell to £0.”
“For years people who live in rural communities have been complaining that property prices are out of the reach of their children,” Cameron replied, “they have been begging me to provide more affordable housing so that their children can afford to live in villages near their parents and not have to move to distant towns.”
“And have you done that?”
“Absolutely, thanks to HS2 their children will be able to buy houses in rural villages along the route for little more than the price of a pint.”
“You’ve also claimed that HS2 will be good for the environment?”
“And it will be.”
“How?” Humphries tore into him. “You’ll be ripping up 355 miles of countryside and, with all the carbon energy needed for the entire construction project, it will raise global warming by several degrees.”
“That is a good point John, but we’ll be balancing that out by putting small wind turbines on the top of each carriage, a little bit like the one on top of my house in Notting Hill. Those trains will be travelling at over 200 miles an hour. Can you imagine how much energy will be provided by the wind at that speed? Probably enough to meet the whole of Britain’s needs, if not the whole of Europe’s.”
“So,” Humphries moved on, “apart from wind power and affordable housing are there any other benefits of HS2?”
“Employment,” Cameron was masterful,” HS2 will create 10,000 jobs.”
“But as the route is mostly through Britain’s rural heartland,” Humphries refused to let go, “won’t there be a massive shortage of accommodation for the 10,000 strong workforce?”
“They’ll stay in temporary accommodation,” the Prime Minister replied, “caravans to be precise.”
“So at least that will be good news for caravan manufacturers,” Humphries grudgingly conceded.
“Not really no,” said the Prime Minister, “we’ve already offered all 10,000 jobs to the Romanian gypsies who are expected to arrive in the UK later this year when the European Free Movement Charter extends to them. And they’ve already got their own caravans.”
“Prime Minister you’ve put forward a good case, but in spite of all the benefits you’ve outlined, opinion polls show that the vast majority of people in the country are against spending £32.7 billion on developing HS2,” Humphries turned up the heat, “what is your message to the British people who oppose HS2?”
“We need to modernize if we are to compete with the rest of the world,” the Prime Minister made an impassioned plea to the nation. “The last mainline railway built in Britain was over a hundred years ago. Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, Bulgaria and Norway finished building their high speed rail networks in 2012, Uzbekistan finished theirs in 2011, Spain in 2006 and Germany in 1991. France built their TGV high speed rail network in 1981.”
“And were France the first country to get high speed rail?” asked Humphries.
“No,” said the Prime Minister, “Japan began construction of their high speed rail network, the Bullet train, in 1959 and it opened 5 years later in 1964. They now have 1,500 miles of high speed rail track with trains capable of speeds of 361 miles per hour.”
“And you think we can compete with Japan do you?” Humphries sneered.
“Absolutely,” the Prime Minister replied triumphantly, “we can beat them at their own game. When this £32.7 billion HS2 project is completed in 30 years time, I will take immense pride in the fact that by, 2043, I will have dragged a reluctant Britain, kicking and screaming, into 1964.”