Can May last as PM?

 

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Theresa May faces hard questions. Source: Sky News

Incredible how one year makes a hell of a difference to a person, isn’t it? Theresa May’s sail to the Conservative leadership was on par with a luxury liner gliding the Greek coast. Less than 12 months later, her tenorship has a greater reminiscence of a tug boat in the stormy Irish sea.

When the former resident of 10 Downing Street (Mr Cameron) bailed out of the top job as a result of the EU Referendum, it was a certainty that Mrs May would win. Several years as the Home Secretary had given her good ground for understanding how top level government actually runs. Her supporters claimed she would be a strong leader with a different style to her predecessors – no backhand deals, no political favourites; instead a straight talking, no nonsense woman as leader of the United Kingdom government. She won by default; two candidates were eliminated in the leadership race and two others withdrew.

She boasted in parliament that the Conservative Party did a lot for women – ‘they just keep making us Prime Minister her words were’ to rapturous applause. At the time of her first PMQ’s session, there had been the turmoil in within the Labour Party surrounding Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership; Mrs May even ‘joked’ about Corbyn being an unscrupulous boss. The clearest of evidence of what would follow in the 2017 General Election campaign.

The latter half of 2016 was certainly strong for the ‘new iron lady’ – her posture, her body language, her speeches were all strong. The result? Her popularity soared. So what went wrong?

The first of the big U-turns was on the election itself. In the months before, she had continuously claimed an election was not needed. There would be no general election until the end of the parliament. 18th April 2017 – Mrs M stands outside 10 Downing Street and announces a snap general election to be held on June 8th. A clever decision at the time – Labour still in disarray, Theresa May’s popularity very high. It was hers to lose. And she did.

Calling the #GE2017 (at least the first of 2017) had critics frothing at the mouth, accusing her of backtracking and going against her previous promises. She had already vocally criticised the Scottish National Party (SNP) for seeking a second independence referendum, citing that it was not the right time given the brexit negotiations. Mrs May’s argument had weakened; yes, she was holding the election before June 19th when the talks formally begin, however, the SNP argued that the PM had insisted no talks on a new referendum for Scotland could begin until Britain had left the European Union. The air had already began to thicken with the smell of contradictions.

The biggest problem for the PM was the way she handled the campaign. Hers was a very personal affair – ‘me and my team’ was a frequent message. The snipes at Jeremy Corbyn and his team, as well as other political parties, showed how much she had misjudged the public mood to this election. The PM made it clear the election was about giving ‘her’  a mandate for the brexit talks and strengthening her hand by having a greater majority. All that despite already having a Conservative majority in the House of Commons. THere appeared to be a definite shift from the politics of bygone era which Theresa May was clinging on to; there was a feeling that political parties should work together on issues such as brexit, the health system, and infrastructure. Sadly for Mrs May she made the campaign about herself, badgering on about how strong a leader she is compared to others. She made the election result a judgement not on her party and government but on her personally. This clip from Channel 4 News gives a sense of the snipes made in the final week of #GE2017:

The facial expressions, the choice of language. It is all wrong. This is a Prime Minister acting like the school playground bully. The cavalry behind give her support with the boos and hisses.

The Labour Party campaign was far from perfect yet it was certainly more positive with lots of rallies and talk about their funded policies. Mr Corbyn turned the fortune of the party and the heads of his critics. He engaged voters, the young particularly. For the first time in many years, the Labour opposition seemed to be united behind a manifesto; yes, some of the things were eyebrow-raising such as the cost of scrapping tuition fees and funding the re-nationalisation of the railways. But was there slyness and witch-hunting that seemed to dominate the Conservative campaign?

Sure, there were other stumbles too. The U-turn on social care following a wild backlash. It’s claimed her two closest advisers took responsibility for the shambles. But there is only one person who gives the go ahead and chooses what words to speak – the PM. The responsibility falls with her.

She is not a naturally good speaker when it comes to interviews. Mrs May starts one sentence and usually ends with another, interluded by an awkward stumble of words.  When it became apparent that the PM isn’t as good as we may have thought when thrust in front of the cameras, many saw it as a weakness. ‘Ahh that’s the reason why she’s not doing the TV debates’ many will have thought. Coupled with the dredging out of tired soundbites such as “strong and stable”, certainly the attitude of simply repeating words without any real meaning or explanation grated on voters.

June 9th. Theresa May’s snap election goes against her. Rather than retain the majority she already had, she lost it. Where Labour were already written off, they gained seats. The PM stood outside Downing Street and did not acknowledge the very personal failure she had just endured. Sweeping the issue under the carpet. Voters don’t forget. #GE2017 was overshadowed by the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. The mood turned from brexit to the home domestic issues such as security, policing, health services, and so on. Her time as Home Secretary led to the cuts in police forces we see today – Greater Manchester Police confirmed that they do need extra officers to keep the public safe. Voters don’t forget.

When Gordon Brown was PM in 2007, his popularity increased when he dealt with the terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport and the foiled attack in London. A matter of weeks in to the top job, there were calls for him to call a snap election and secure a Labour victory. The mood was different in this latest campaign. Three terrorist attacks in just a few months with Mrs May as leader and protector of British citizens. She came under fire for why these attacks could happen on her watch, and subsequently questions about whether her actions in the past had led to a less safe Britain. Voters do not forget.

The ‘coalition of chaos’ that May had warned about if SHE had lost her majority was now the problem on her plate. A strained Theresa May looked very different from the popular and powerful-looking leader who became PM in 2016. She gambled. She lost. Her calls of Corbyn being a puppet propped up by the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon had backfired. Her political attacks and misjudgment of the voter mood had backfired. Her credibility gone.

Within days, the terrible events of the Grenfell Tower fire has become her latest challenge. Forced to run to her car and avoiding questions from the crowd of residents of Kensington and Chelsea showed her weakness. The community affected by the fire, the charities, the victims, the families, the now homeless, they all needed their Prime Minister in a time of despair. Their Queen and Prince William spoke with those directly affected by the fire; the Prime Minister faced a backlash after meeting the emergency services. Only the day after meeting the emergency services did she visit the hospital where few of the victims were being treated.

In contrast, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan were on the scene, hugging victims and listening to what they had to say. This was about measuring the mood of an area that have had their voices unheard for too long. It is right that they want the questions of why this fire happened answered immediately. Their PM bundled away into a car, stern-faced and cold. Again, she misjudged the public mood and anger. They needed their PM to answer and assure them. She acted too late.

A Prime Minister who can misjudge the national feeling on several occasions is one in need of a dire cold shower. The landscape of politics has changed too. Voters are unengaged by political mud slinging and playground taunts. Theresa May had everything she needed on a plate – popularity, majority, credibility. Now, almost all of that had whimpered away. The scene is a Prime Minister who’s mistiming and irreversible mistakes have cost her big time. She could have gone down as one of the greatest PM’s in history if she had played her cards right. But ‘Play Your Cards Right’ is a gameshow and there is always a loser. Her political career will be tarnished by the events of 2017 and anything she does say and do will be judged and alluded to the mistakes she made.

 

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UKIP – Endangered Species?

Here is a controversial thought: The UK Independence Party serve no purpose and may as well use their manifesto booklet to create paper mache hat for Jean-Claude Juncker.

Here’s another: UKIP is proving itself to be a fighting force in the 2017 election and have every chance of securing a majority (or at least a couple of seats.)

Which is more true? As the election campaign 2017 (2K17 as the youthful Lib Dems may say) has shown, there can be ups and lots of downs. The class clown and the butt (or Abut) of jokes has been Diane Abbott. The wishful thinking Shadow Home Secretary showing how politics most definitely is not done.

Paul Nuttall, the leader of UKIP incase you were scratching your head, renamed the Plaid Cymru leader Natalie in a bizarre election debate (her real name being Leanne). Perhaps it demonstrates the far cry the party of purple has come; from one of the most significant politicians in a generation to perhaps the most unprepared.

Nigel Farage was a character. He’s not dead but he very nearly was killed before the polls had even closed at the 2010 general election. Flying a plane with a tail banner, reserved only for the most enthusiastic football fans, which suddenly became caught in the engine, sending the then UKIP leader and his plane down to the ground. Somehow, Theresa May  donning the brown leathers for a trip in the sky is unlikely to appear this time around, however satisfying I think it may be. The message really is about how charismatic Nigel Farage was as a leader of something he passionately believed in.

Whether that something was right or wrong is a matter of opinion. There are those who call UKIP a racist, homophobic, out-of-touch party, and those who say that the party is standing up for the interests of the United Kingdom. Fair enough on both sides. What differs is the type of person who leads that party.

When Farage announced he was stepping down as its leader, following the 2016 EU Referendum, there was a sense of sadness. Never before have I been amused when watching the ten o’clock news, but when Mr Farage turned up, the news turned into a comedy performance. From his facial expressions to his drinking a pint with the crosshatch coat brigade, he was the politician and leader who stood out from the rest.  Though he had fans and his enemies, UKIP sparked debate and conversation about politics.

For UKIP-ers in 2017, the story is bleak. Their only MP decided to sit as an independent MP rather than represent the party. Its current leader (Paul Nuttall incase you’re still scratching that head) lacks that personality and performance that Farage gave when talking about politics. When Mr F got himself into a hole, and there were many, he managed to somehow squirm his way out with a few potent hand gestures and a couple of big words from the Dictionary of the European Commission.

On the other hand, Paul Nuttall’s recent downhill tumble seemed to begin with Hillsborough. A sensitive topic, particularly on his home turf of Merseyside. His claims about being caught up in the disaster were found to be untrue. When a colleague of his said they were responsible for the message about the incident being posted, it was clear that although Nuttall was apologetic he was perhaps an untrustworthy leader.

The issue for me is about passion for politics. There is no doubt that the current UKIP main man has an impressive CV of political involvement. However, watching the interviews, the debates, the talking heads, there is no sense of passion. Where Farage could draw a crowd and speak truly of what he believed in, Nuttall’s polar opposition to the old dog is not engaging. He may not be the greatest public speaker, nor the greatest person to remember names, but the flare and enthusiasm that UKIP and its supporters had during previous campaigns seems to have fizzled away.

Will UKIP become extinct? It could be argued the party had risen from extinct-ness in the latter half of the 2000s. Though the party has been around 1993, its purpose and pledges to create an independent United Kingdom seemed to speak reason to British people by 2010 onwards. Their target? The traditional Labour red seats. And although the land hadn’t been turned purple at the last election, there is no doubt that a successful campaign of taking controls of local councils helped in creating a new political landscape which targeted issues that many traditional Labour voters felt had been ignored – that of immigration. It seemed to be their only pledge, or at least the only one which was reported, and still the other leaders in the 2017 campaign accuse UKIP of using immigration to solve the array of issues in the UK.

The country is at its limit. Once proud, green space is now occupied by new homes. There are still fears, from UKIP’s 55+ demographic (according to YouGov), that immigration is the crippling issue affecting our services. However, immigration is being tackled by the big parties – Labour saying freedom of movement will end once the UK leaves the European Union but still no concrete target on those numbers; the Conservatives also have an immigration pledge but according to one of their senior figures they don’t know when it will be achieved nor how much it will cost.

So, the issue returns back to passion. UKIP’s previous role was to demand an EU Referendum. That has now happened. Supporters appear to have moved on from the UKIP days and its clear their passion was for Nigel Farage and the supposed holy path he walked along. Those actively involved in the campaign remain passionate but from television news reports, there is an element of fear tingling in their eyes.  Mr Nuttall just doesn’t seem to do the job of Farage; he’ll say he’s not a Farage puppet but instead his own man. Yet his messages don’t seem to be sparking the debate that Farage’s once did.

UKIP has been accused of racism and all kinds; something which the party and its former leader say is untrue and a fabrication of media representation. Politics is about voting for policy but also placing faith and trust in the leader who makes those pledges. Sadly for UKIP, the passion once owned by Farage and his fans has dwindled. They may still have a purpose but just to be on the safe side, a purchase of shares in a paper mache company may be advisable.

 

 

Jeremy Clarkson ‘MP’ – Should stars be in the commons ?

At one time, politicians and Members of Parliament, were depicted as powerful, intelligent and passionate individuals, motivated to changing their constituencies and campaigning for the beliefs of their party manifestos. Today, it seems a generation of citizens relying so heavily on TV and celebrity culture are looking to support and vote for more familiar faces.

Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson declared his intention to stand as an Independent Candidate on Twitter, asking his followers to feedback on their thoughts. Clarkson wrote “I’m thinking I might stand in the next election as an independent for Doncaster North, which is where I’m from. Thoughts?”

Although it might not entirely be serious, it does bring about the question of whether the tide is shifting towards who voters want to stand and represent their views. Expenses scandals, wage increases and tough policies on budget cuts have led many to question who they want to lead the country and who they want to stand in their area. The rise of the UK Independence Party has shown how even a party with little funding can attract a keen following.

UKIP gained well in the 2013 local elections and has risen significantly in the polls. Policies which tackle immigration and the debate over Europe have gained support over the U-turns and dithering of the coalition government. However, to me, it seems that the success of UKIP is to be temporary rather than long-lasting. The current manifesto is a simple argument against government policies which have proven controversial which is why the party have become ever more popular in recent months. However, let me dig back to 2010 General Election. Third running horse Nick Clegg made a promise about university tuition fees. When arriving in Government that policy was comprehensively broken and so much of the hype and support that the Lib Dems had in 2010 has since been wiped away. The same, I fear, I will happen to UKIP.

So does this mean that all independent candidates should give up? Not necessarily. In Jeremy Clarkson’s case, he is a controversial figure. On the BBC’s Motoring show, Top Gear, the presenter is known for his outspoken comments about the Government and their actions; these are generally supported by the studio audience, a reflection of the millions who watch Top Gear around the globe. So certainly he is on some kind of level with the voter. As much as I enjoy Clarkson, it would be hard to see how he would create his own policies without reference to bigoted points such as “everybody who drives below 70mph will be blown up”. His controversy on Top Gear which make the weekly headlines is unlikely to make him a serious candidate, but some of his thoughts and interests do reflect the ‘national interest’.

Could we be seeing Jeremy Clarkson in the Commons ?

Could we be seeing Jeremy Clarkson in the Commons ?

An opinated figure, there have been previous campaigns for Jeremy Clarkson to be Prime Minister, thanks to his somewhat eccentric ideas yet the campaigns have been dismissed by Downing Street. However, the character of Clarkson would be ideal as a politician. He openly states that he “sits back” and waits for the criticisms of every Top Gear episode and he is certainly familiar to making the headlines. His hard faced and stubborn approach which has beckoned him a legion of fans make him suitable to the modern day politics of spin, controversy, blunders and media. But what about his thoughts? Although many sceptics dismiss him entirely, his thoughts expressed on Top Gear are often sensible. Ever since the first series of the motoring show, he has campaigned for the axing of the M4 Bus Lane. He has challenged former transport ministers about speeding on the roads, questioning whether it is just another way of taking money off motorists. His interview with John Prescott was intentionally a ridicule but the former Government minister was left trembling and dismayed by Clarkson and his audience.

Whilst the familiarity and persona of Clarkson may make a good MP, I’m not sure about his policies and manifesto. Of course, there have been celebrity culture links to modern day politics. Former GMTV presenter Gloria De Piero switched from sofa to backbench, joining the Labour Party as the MP for Ashfield. There have also been many a celebrity endorsements. John Cleese, Daniel Radcliffe, David Tennant, Gary Barlow, Lord Sugar and more have all publicly supported a respected party, usually through public broadcasts. The idea is to create a profile and personality to a political party. If someone the voter follows on the television is suddenly supporting a party, the mass following can be convinced to vote. Vital when voting figures spiral down every election. Familiarity to the party is key and using famous faces is the way to do it.

Of course there have been attempts to bring politics into the celebrity culture. Nadine Dorries MP used the “I’m a Celebrity…” programme to raise her profile and supposedly raise interest in politics through the TV medium. Of course the moments when she did speak about her political beliefs were edited out. The result was a humiliation. Figures such as Lord Sugar blend their political roles and celebrity lives seamlessly, whilst some MP’s become renowned for their reputation. During the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in 2012, Chancellor George Osborne was unceremoniously ‘booed’ by the strong crowd.

It is probably very easy to gain a reputation in politics. Doing one thing alone can last a lifetime. John Prescott’s punch on a voter for instance. Today, as generations and the population grow, so does the interest in celebrity lifestyle, showbiz and gossip. Little consideration for the politics of Westminster and local government. It’s a shame. The suggestion by Top Gear’s infamous host will be supported by his strong following because of their interests and desire. It will probably never happen. But it does bring a very good question about the familiarity of our representatives. Despite the scandal and sleaze, not all of our MP’s should be tarred with the same brush, but if Jeremy Clarkson can intend to run as a Member of Parliament, who else can. Raising their profile, connections and general familiarity is key ahead of the next election for the members.

Gove out of touch ?

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Less than 24 hours after criticising teachers for planned strikes, Education Secretary Michael Gove has put his foot in the deepening hole again. This time he has suggested that children need their own bedroom to study, despite a controversial government policy that effectively forces children to share bedrooms in the so called “bedroom tax”.

Mr Gove defended comments by minister Nick Bole saying people need a “room of one’s own” adding that “There are children, poor children, who do not have a room of their own in which to do their homework, in which to read, in which to fulfil their potential.” Today, the minister has come under fire again for his comments which have been described by some critics as being “hypocritical”.

The government’s highly divisive Bedroom Tax expects that children in council or housing association accommodation should share a room and that same-sex children should only have their own room when 16 years old. If the rules of the policy are broken then the family household is deemed to have a spare bedroom and benefits to the family can be cut by up to 14%.

So it’s a question of who the government ministers actually want to support? There is much speculation from voters that those represent the country are out of touch and surely the latest gaffe from Gove is a clear indication of unprofessionalism toward working class families. Essentially, if Mr Gove wants children to develop, read and remain enthusiastic about education, then these taxes and funding cuts hanging over the heads of working class families are going to need to be abolished. The comments from what appears to be a deluded Education Secretary are very much out of touch and look to favour those of middle and higher social classes. For those children fortunate to have a bedroom each, there is a sense of development and freedom, but the comments are ill-timed given financial situations, economic and infrastructure issues and negative representations toward certain sectors of society.

It isn’t the first time Mr Gove has been left red faced and embarrassed. His U-turns on his own education policies including the scrapping of a new GCSE format, the English Baccalaureate and homework guidelines. Headteachers have called for a calm as the new school term begins, suggesting that too many shake ups and U-turns on the curriculum have left students the victim of uncertainty and confusion, inevitably reflective in this year’s national exam results. The latest comments suggesting teachers should “see the error of their ways” in the wake of an announcement of strike action before Christmas have certainly sparked anger from teachers and unions across the land. The contradictory words about the need for one bedroom per child is certainly downgrading toward struggling families and complete ignorance toward his government policies.

It has been an uncertain time for the PM and his ministers over the weeks. Recently losing out the vote on military action in Syria led to suggestions the government was ill informed and quick to make hasty decisions. With no backing from MP’s the vote has been deemed a landmark for UK politics. As the uncertainty continues and a general election looming in 2015, what Michael Gove has done is send the current coalition further into a deep grave.

All aboard for HS2 ?

A few months back I posted about the confusion of the franchising in the rail industry, with some lines being privatised, others returning to public ownership and some which are in complete limbo. But that led me to the ongoing debate about the new high-speed rail link project (HS2). The facts are great: cutting journey times, creating jobs and boosting business. However, what about the actual reality of the project. Will it actually work?

The project leaders are very good at persuading ordinary rail users into thinking the new line is a good move. HS1 is already in action. It links London with the South of England and to the Channel Tunnel. The new HS2 line will link London and Birmingham and then join the West Coast Mainline north of Lichfield for journeys to Manchester and Leeds. The HS2 website, a modern and rather contemporary document, outlines the main problems with the current running of trains, such as overcrowding, delays and the need for more freight. It further adds that the new project will create a “connected Britain” with railways of a “worldwide standard.”

On a journey between Warrington and London, I compiled a few thoughts.

Current Capacity

It is a clear fact that the railways are running at near full capacity. Ministers behind HS2 estimate that “by 2020 a further 400 million journeys will be made” on top of the 1.46 billion made last year. So it certainly makes sense to have a new rail route in order to ease overcrowding and congestion on other lines.

In 2009/2010, 59 percent of all train journeys started or ended in the London region, according to the Department of Transport. Business and management professionals are amongst those who make regular trips to the capital, the majority of whom travel from other regions. But for ordinary day-trip visitors, commuters and tourists, overcrowding is serious.

A recent BBC documentary, Railways: Keeping Britain On Track, highlighted the daily troubles that travellers face at peak times. Passengers on the East Coast Mainline were seen being crammed into carriages at near-bursting point, many commuters making their feelings known. It is impossible to determine where each single passenger would travel to but certainly the majority interviewed on TV were travelling to the suburbs of London and major towns on the outskirts of the capital. On this basis, ordinary commuters won’t benefit as much from a high-speed link between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, apart from a slight ease on crowded coaches. But surely the point is contradicted by the desire of the long-distance traveller. Like me, on my first visit to the capital, I paid to go First Class. This was mainly because it was a long distance and a reasonable deal. For business class and regular first-class passengers they will always remain in the privileged carriages which are less crowded and more comfortable. So it seems the next direction would be to make trains more focussed on the average commuter not the first class buyer.

A commuters nightmare

A commuters nightmare


Current Trains

Like the last point mentions, there are more people crammed into standard class carriages than those who used first and business class. So whilst the few may pay more, the majority will still use trains at the same time and use the same standard class everyday. This brings me to the question of whether money should be spent on the trains themselves and not a new railway line.

A recent Inside Out investigation revealed how fleets of trains operated by Northern Rail had been questioned over safety. Operating in regions across the North of England, the Pacer train, effectively a bus chassis on rails, has proved unpopular with commuters, unsuitable for disabled passengers and unsafe on the rail network. BBC Yorkshire’s Alan Whitehouse outlined how the trains had first come into operation in the 1980’s as a cheap build and a life span of no more than 20 years. Almost thirty years later, these fleets still operate on the Northern Rail network; The rail regulator has now questioned whether the trains should continue to be used. By 2019, Pacers will have to be withdrawn from the rails because of new legislation ensuring that people with disabilities can gain easy access on public transport. The Pacers do not meet the intended guidelines. Northern Rail has accepted that the trains are old and need replacing. However, they insist that passenger numbers are rising meaning the trains need to fulfil extra demand and that there are questions over how to afford replacements.

That word “afford” is crucial in this debate, as the government announced the HS2 project will go beyond budget and cost in excess of £40bn. A lot of money indeed. For the ordinary commuter whose journey takes them between towns and cities they will still use the shorter, suburban lines. So perhaps the billions of pounds worth of investment into a single new line should instead help towards replacing tired trains, not capable of driving the demands of the modern-day.

The Pacer has been brought into question over safety.

The Pacer has been brought into question over safety.

The Commuter

The person who uses the train to get to and from work, college, shops, university, meetings, holidays and visiting family will feel an impact. Why? Because the money for the new high-speed link on top of the improvements needed on existing networks will come from ticket prices. 2013 saw another consecutive hike in rail prices. The Campaign for Better Transport and Railfuture have calculated that over the ten consecutive years, rail passengers’ fares have increased by over 50 percent, whilst some areas of the UK have seen increases in fares above the national average.

I have rarely had a problem with the rail network. Even on my journey to London, the price was reasonable compared to taking a car for instance and the train was plush and comfortable. But I do understand the gripe of travellers who use the network everyday. The age-old problem of leaves on the track, crew member not available and signal problems have all added to frequent delays up and down the country. When the train eventually arrives, disgruntled passengers find carriages like a tin of sardines: uncomfortable, unpleasant and below par. One must wonder as to why an individual would dip into so much money for such a poor service. The fact is there is no other solution. The cost of living has rocketed, along with the cost of owning, insuring and running a car. Whilst public transport has seen major hikes, it is one area that can actually help someone save money.

Whilst the cost to the commuter will increase next year and the year after that, I would question whether HS2 meets the need for the majority of paying travellers. As mentioned earlier, the majority of train journeys are suburban taking people from one town to another often within the same region. Yes, there is a clear demand for the passengers who travel long-distance, but many of these journeys are “one offs” or only on “occasion”. That was the view from some of the people I spoke to on my journey. The demand is where the lines are bursting at the seams. Liverpool – Manchester is one of those lines because the tracks visit towns and villages in-between the two cities. The areas where the commuters live. It can be quite hard to explain. People I spoke to onboard the London bound train made it known they did not want a new line and instead they wish current operations could benefit from the cash. And I agree. Because who exactly is the HS2 going to benefit?

The West Coast Mainline is popular with travellers.

The West Coast Mainline is popular with travellers.

HS2 Users

It is hard to see who HS2 will benefit. It’s certainly easy to see who will be at a disadvantage. Home owners forced out of their homes, tax payers who will see increase in payments because of the new infrastructure, rail passengers who will see increase in fares for similar reasons, people who don’t travel long distance. There are plenty of groups who will be against.

One of the biggest gripes I have with the new project is availability to users. HS2 will leave London bound for Birmingham and then on to Manchester and Leeds. It would be excellent if there were actually any stations to board. Considering where I live, Warrington, I wouldn’t be able to use the new line because it would cost more in money and time to actually get to a station where I could board. Similar situations in Widnes, Liverpool, Macclesfield, Runcorn, CREWE, Bury, Bolton and plenty more. Hundreds of rail passengers will stay in the same boat, or carriage, and use operators and routes they know best. Virgin Trains on the West Coast Mainline is one of the most respected rail operators in the country. Excellent service and trains are quick. Is there actually anybody who needs to get from the North to London any quicker than what is already offered? It took me less than two hours to get from Warrington to London. I’d say that was pretty quick. Granted, there will always be someone who wants to get to the Capital quicker, but for any average user, the train is quicker than flying (when you take into account check in etc) and certainly faster than driving.

And, furthermore, it will only be the people of these large cities who will benefit. Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham. That is where the stations will be based. There are no official confirmations if there will be stations in between, but if ministers are promising a quicker journey time, there will be no chance for trains to slow down and stop for several minutes.

Cost

£42 billion. Well over the original budget. It’s interesting to note that on the HS2 website there is little mention of how much the project will cost. There is much talk about “investment” and creating opportunities. But the simple fact is that the project is an unbelievable amount of money. All of which has to be repaid or at least be worthy of value for money. There is little more to say. The government would always get a harsh backlash whatever the cost would be. The fact that it is an extraordinary amount, in such hard economic times, seems to be a laugh in the face to ordinary families and workers. But will it be a good investment? The economic benefits seem very good indeed.

The Economy

Undoubtedly very positive. The official HS2 website offers some confirmation of job numbers and investment when it comes to the workforce who will create the new track, drive the trains and operate new stations. There will be 9,000 construction jobs for the first phase, 1,500 permanent jobs and a further 60,000 jobs when it comes to phase two. The website does offer a statement: “HS2 will generate £47 billion in user benefits to businesses when the entire network is completed, as well as between £6 billion and £12 billion is wider economic benefits.”

A rail network which connects Britain better than current connections is without doubt very good. Businesses will be able to communicate with suppliers and traders more efficiently. An increase in freight on the new line, alongside current operations on the West Coast and East Coast Mainline, will improve trade, imports and exports. Furthermore, HS2 planners confirm that more room is needed for freight. “By 2030, overall volumes are expected to be 120% of current levels.” The new line, campaigners suggest, will not hold back the UK economy. Growth and connections are needed.

An impression of what the HS2 trains could look like.

An impression of what the HS2 trains could look like.

It has to be admitted that a new rail line is needed. The West Coast Mainline is already severely congested and if a new line isn’t created within a generation then commuters and the economy will be at risk. It’s a brutal fact. For me, I won’t benefit entirely from a new line, in fact I’d guess I would very very rarely use it as I am closer to the West Coast Mainline. Further consultations are needed. It’s a fact. Routes and lines do need to be altered. To destroy villages and houses is unnecessary and a sad consequence.

The whole idea is about improving Britain’s rail network. A new link should, say the government, take pressure off existing lines. It’s high-speed because trains will be quicker but they won’t stop at large towns outside the terminal cities. Furthermore, what about the far North of England? Cumbria, the North East and Scotland. Numerous points have been made about the economic benefits to an already struggling North. Why can’t the line go further than Manchester?

The plan is probably quite good on paper. I am not entirely convinced by the idea and nor are many others. I see the benefits but also see through to the problems that will be encountered. High-Speed 2 will be “high-speed” but perhaps more thinking about the execution of the project and current state of the rail network is needed.

For more information visit http://www.hs2.org.uk

Budget 2013 – political sense or Whitehall washout ?

Smiling...for now. The Chancellor sets out his Budget aims.

Smiling…for now. The Chancellor sets out his budget aims.

UK Chancellor George Osborne virtually pleaded with the nation today to stay with him despite the economic gloom. And you can stay with him on Twitter as he started tweeting today; One thought he may have tweeted the budget rather than in person. In his fourth budget, Osborne declared that the UK would avoid a “triple dip” recession, despite slow sales on high streets across the UK.

The Chancellor aimed the budget at people who wanted to “work and get on”. In other words, those people who earn the money, pay tax and can afford to cope with the new budget aims.

In a range of measures announced at Westminster, Mr Osborne announced there would be more help for first time homebuyers. Taxpayers will foot the bill for the new scheme, Help to Buy, allowing buyers to put down a 5% deposit on a newly built house. 20% of the payment for the house will be through a “shared equity” loan which means the government will effectively take a “stake” in the property; The loan will need to be repaid by the borrower before the house is sold. You may ask at this point how the economy will benefit. Because of the type of loan, if the price of the home has doubled at the time of selling, then so will the loan and indeed the buyer repaying will have a larger bill to foot. However, the risk being made by the government is not knowing how many home valuations will actually decrease or stay the same rather than increase.

In other announcements, a number of mispredictions have been put right…for now. Osborne made a U-Turn on his prediction of growth in the economy. Four months ago, he stated that growth will be of 1.2% avoiding a “triple dip” recession. Today that figure was revised to 0.6%. In another misprediction, Chancellor Osborne declared that the national debt of the UK will continue to increase and not start to come down until at least 2017 – two years more than the coalition’s original estimate.

Much of the budget announcement seemed to be like a U-Turn or a road diversion, taking away emphasis of the gloom of the economy onto the positives the government see themselves as doing. The dithering on fuel duty tax came to an end at lunchtime when Osborne announced that the planned increase on the tax would be cancelled altogether. Instead the current 57.95p per litre will stay in force for two years. To put it into perspective, Osborne, who travels in government vehicles and first class with Virgin, used ordinary cars such as the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra to connect with the ordinary voter. The good news is that if you do own a smaller engine car, the driver will be paying around £7 less. So what about the government Range Rovers and Jaguars?

Cuts to Whitehall departments will save £2.5bn which will be used for new infrastructure projects, whilst a cut to the amount of National Insurance employers pay per employee will be decreased allowing more money to be spent on providing more jobs for the 2.52 million people currently out of work.

It appears that the Chancellor has put a positive light on himself and the government, helping homebuyers, motorists and business’, however the fact still remains that the UK economy is in a very dire place. There is limited money to spend and economic predictions appear to have been miscalculated…by the man in charge of the country’s finances.

Whitehall does take the brunt of the cuts and perhaps in some areas of todays speech, there is some political sense. The leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, made it clear that the Chancellor had promised a return to “good times” three years ago. Three years on and those promises still have not come true. But despite the misery, gloom and slow growth, there is at least some light in your local pub – George Osborne announced a 1p cut from the cost of a pint of beer this lunchtime. That’ll be 1p less on tonight’s House of Commons bar bill.