HS2: Fiscal Irresponsibility? Political Avoidance
Questions tonight (23 August 2013) from Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News to the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin: If the cost [of HS2] continues to go up, do you pull the plug? (I think she asks 4 times.)
Now this is a Conservative Minister, from a party that believes in “living within your means” and sound money, so the answer has to be obvious:
Er, No. “We have set the budget” (or words to that effect – 4 times)
This is stupid. We all know that there has to be a cost beyond which the project would be cancelled. We won’t give Welfare a blank cheque, even the NHS is constrained, so do we really believe that HS2 will get a blank cheque?
“We have set a budget” means “I have learnt my lines. I have been told that I must hold the line – there is not a scintilla of doubt that this project will happen”.
Why can’t he say something along the lines of, “We remain committed to this project, obviously it does not get a blank cheque and the project team knows that there will be a limit beyond which the project will collapse. We have set a budget with sizeable contingencies – when these are no longer sufficient, it is obvious that the project will have to be re-evaluated.” I would be seriously worried if this was not the “real line”.
Sticking to a political line – which does not answer the question – just makes this politician look stupid and brings politics into disrepute. Actually I take that back; it leaves politics in disrepute because an opportunity to elevate the reputation of politics has been squandered. The comment about the politician can stand.