Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for September 28th, 2008

Tories plan £20bn 180mph rail link instead of Heathrow third runway

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This is really a stunning turn of events. They are, of course, talking about the British Tories. And that party was almost completely wiped out by Tony Blair. Britain has had a Labour Government since 1997 – and now it looks increasingly likely that they will not survive the next election. Something unimaginable only a few years ago.

Mrs Thatcher never once travelled on a train while she was Prime Minister. She regarded the then nationalised British Rail as an anathema, but she could also read a balance sheet. BR was actually doing quite well, and the civil servants at the Department of Transport convinced her that there was nothing to be gained by privatisation but a lot to lose. Mainly lives. So it fell to John Major, her successor, to press ahead with what was probably one of the worst transport policy decisions in Britain in my lifetime.

I have never managed to persuade any of my conservative acquaintances that there is a direct relationship between conservatism and conservation. That protecting the environment has a very close affinity with a lot of Tory values. Sadly the influence of the right wing “neoconservatives” overwhelmed the old decent instincts of the party of Disraeli. At one time it was so hard to tell the difference between mainstream Conservatism and Labour voters – and party policies designed to take over the centre of the political spectrum that term “Butskellism” was coined – and combination of the names of two leaders of political thought on either side of the house – Hugh Gaitskell and R A Butler (always known as “Rab” from his initials). Both moderates to a fault.

It is inconceivable that Stephen Harper could propose an investment in high speed rail between Toronto Ottawa and Montreal as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions – even though that is what it would achieve. For one thing, Canada has been busy blocking even the most moderate international proposals to agree on new limits. We are nowhere near our, very modest and inadequate, Kyoto goals.

I cannot say I like David Cameron, but he has certainly shown himself to be a smooth operator. And Gordon Brown must have really been caught off guard. The UK government has simply waffled about important railway questions, including the need to electrify the rest of the system and to build new high speed lines. And the Heathrow fracas has been as embarrassing as the Kingsnorth coal fired power station. Labour now has a very hard time looking progressive let alone green.

It would be nice if VIA Rail was even on the radar in our federal election.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 28, 2008 at 7:19 pm

Posted in Railway

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