Labour’s HS2 divisions rise to the surface again, as Burnham suggests he could rebel…

12th February, 2014 3:42 pm

Update: A spokesperson for Ed Miliband contacts us to say:

“Andy Burnham supports Labour’s collective position supporting HS2. He was making the case about local issues in his constituency like many other MPs. He did not use the words attributed to him in the headline.”
That certainly comes across as a slap down of Burnham from an unhappy leader’s office…

Just when you thought Labour’s position on HS2 was becoming settled, suddenly it seems the internal rows over the high speed network have returned to the surface. After Ed Balls flirted with opposing HS2 during conference season last year, the party quickly clarified that Labour would be backing HS2 – led by Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh.


Yet recently rumours have resurfaced that there are disagreements within the Shadow Cabinet over HS2, casting doubt on Labour’s position once again. Now the row is out in the open, as Andy Burnham appears to be suggesting that he might rebel – or attempt to see collective responsibility suspended – over HS2. Here’s what he told the New Statesman:

“I’ve given no guarantees about supporting it. I’m not talking as a frontbencher here, I’m talking as the MP for Leigh. I will not let my constituents carry on paying through their taxes for the rail network when they don’t have reasonable access to it. It’s as simple as that. If the government’s going to lay new railtrack in my constituency, it can bloody well give us a station.”

“If they don’t look again at the depot, I’d have to say to my own whips: ‘everyone’s constituency is going to be affected differently and everyone’s going to have to account. You can’t have a blanket position because it doesn’t affect everybody equally does it?'”

It seems unlikely that Labour would allow a free vote on a huge issue like HS2, but it also seems unlikely that Miliband would want to lose his Shadow Health Secretary over this. Burnham is popular in the party, but he’s by no means the only member of the Shadow Cabinet who has such misgivings.

It looks like Labour’s position on HS2 may require clarification all over again…

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  • David Levene

    While it’s nice to see that Burnham’s decided to have a backbone this Parliament, he can resign or fall in line. National policy shouldn’t be set by one OIMBY (Only In My Back Yard) throwing his toys out of his pram

    • honukokua

      You may be unaware that Leigh is the largest town in England without a railway station at all. Yet we once had three until 1969 and were at the heart of the railway revolution in the mid nineteenth century. It’s a sore point with Leythers that this has been allowed to continue and Andy is well aware of the major local campaign about remedying this – a campaign that preceded talk of HS2. We now face this high-speed line being ‘rail-roaded’ through the constituency, tearing up roads and residences, when we have no train station at all. So it’s hardly Nimbyist to object.

      Apart from which there are many (not just Andy) that have real doubts that we should be spending £50-£80 billion on HS2 anyway, with its limited catchment. Improve and restore the railways to public control via social enterprise and price controls, stop our crazy overcrowded trains that have too few carriages: that’s not just a Southern problem. But that will cost and HS2 may mean that that objective is put out of reach.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        HS2 is hardly going to be high speed if it keeps stopping at every town. Slowing down for many stops would I imagine completely defeat the economic test of increased value (and to be clear, I am neither for or against the idea, but if there is an economic test, it should be consistently applied).

        Your thoughts are interesting. Leigh has a population of 46,000, and within 10 miles over 12 railway stations. The Cambridgeshire constituency I live in has a population of 89,000, and no railway stations, the nearest being in Peterborough, Huntingdon, and Cambridge, of which the closest to my house is 15 miles. Many of my neighbours do work in London, a single journey from house door to office door is about 2 1/2 hours, and the fares very high: £5,000 a year for the season ticket, of which a further £1,000 on top for car petrol and parking and Oyster card. So perhaps in Leigh you are not uniquely disadvantaged.

        The best thing I think for HS2 would be to build it from the north downwards, connecting the great cities of the north and enjoying the fruits that brings in the earlier years. If ultimately the “nimbys” of Buckinghamshire do not want it, they will be faced by the Londoners who do want to connect with the north.

      • David Levene

        I am aware of that, as well as the objections to HS2 (though I disagree with them).

        But that’s not the point. The point is that if he doesn’t feel he can represent his constituents while on the front bench, he should bloody well resign rather than try and bully and embarrass the party into a position through the national press. Someone clearly hasn’t quite figured out what “collective responsibility” means

  • AB

    After Miliband’s speech on public service reform seemed to state that Clinical Commissioning Groups would remain part of the NHS (and so call into question Labour’s and in particular Burnham’s commitment to repealing the Health and Social Care Act rather than merely remove the role of competition law) perhaps he’s wondering whether he actually will have a front bench career in a Miliband government…

    • treborc1

      It’s looking more and more like the NHS worked wonders on New Labour and resuscitated it, it now seems to be getting stronger and stronger by the week.

  • charles.ward

    Shouldn’t Mr Burnham be concentrating on finding evidence of the A&E crisis he predicted.

    • Doug Smith

      No. Burnham should represent his constituency on all matters of concern.

      However, the leadership will bend over backwards to keep Burnham on board, simply because of his fan-base in the Party.

      The last thing Miliband wants is the development of a centre of influence opposing his Blairite ambitions.

  • leslie48

    Every time I hear an opponent from Labour on HS2 ; I think…Little Englander . But let’s remind ourselves railways are definitely environmental, less carbon, less traffic congestion on bursting point M1/M6/A1M etc., , less accident risk, far, far cleaner, great for for students and loved ones , quicker for families,tourists, foreign business persons travelling away from London , and of course all business communication. It address the North South Divide.

    Its key transport infrastructure, it brings UK up to date with the continent, it provides high value jobs galore and takes our engineering skills base on high speed trains to the level of our competitors such as France, Germany, Spain or Japan or China. OK they have them we do not – but oh no not little inward Englanders who do not realise that most European regions gain from these fast hour or so connections.

    And who originates a lot of this opposition the voters of Bucks one of the most Tory, wealthy and inward/selfish regions in England packed with Home counties privilege massive advantages in state schools and university destination , private schools galore ,very, very expensive property, big 4*4 BMWs and access to wealthy London jobs by metropolitan line etc. The idea of any Labour person opposing HS2 in the mid-21st century fills some of us with dread.

    • johnerskine

      I support HS2, but I think that the Shadow treasury and transport teams need to focus relentlessly on driving down the gold-plating that’s being added to the scheme in Buckinghamshire and Warwickshire to assuage Tory-voting NIMBY vermin. So no tunnels, simple cut and fill through the Chilterns, and steps to maximise the revenue from ancillary activities.

      Wakefield Council in Yorkshire helped fund the Normanton by-pass through open-casting coal along the line of the new route. Many other Labour local authorities have funded vital infrastructure in the same way. A similar approach needs to be taken with HS2, extracting gravel and other aggregates along the route, as well opening up Buckinghamshire and rural South Warwickshire to unlimited new housebuilding, especially on Government-owned sites. These people don’t elect Labour MP’s. Labour voters don’t matter to them, so in my opinion, they shouldn’t matter to us.

    • AB

      “Bucks one of the most Tory, wealthy and inward/selfish regions in England packed with Home counties privilege massive advantages in state schools and university destination ”

      Hurrah for One Nation Labour and its grand unifying message. Regarding Buckinghamshire’s “massive advantages in state schools”, perhaps Labour shouldn’t have shut down all those grammar schools and been a bit more like Tory Buckinghamshire…

      • leslie48

        HS2 is ‘one-nation’ Britain for reasons already given above. Like all the centre: the Tories, Lib Dem & Labour we see the 11+ as ‘social aparthied’ by any other name and we believe local high schools should reflect opportunities .for all. Bucks like the other home counties does well because they are affluent and more middle class and children are advantaged by such social origins; we are a meritocracy – the division of kids at 10 by tests is early 20th century and backward.

    • honukokua

      I was raised in Bucks but have lived in the ‘frozen North’ for decades since. And support Labour. You clearly have a stereotype of the south that is deeply flawed. You also stereotype HS2 as bringing all those benefits mentioned in the first few lines. HS2 will benefit your business class, not your regular second-class passenger public. Dare I say it – might it benefit most those wealthy Bucks Tories you witter about?

      • leslie48

        Maybe I am guilty of some sociological ‘essentialism’ on the good people of Bucks. But I live in the SE and Bucks like Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire and other Home counties- socio-economically- score very highly on most Social indicators and Life chances so I do not believe its a stereotype. Moreover their are constituencies like Beaconsfield which I recall have/had the highest Tory vote in the UK.

        My point was simple – we cannot allow a very privileged local part of the UK to block the economically important national development of our essential infrastructure. I dismiss your narrow view of railways and take both a broader environmental and Keynesian analysis which claims a national advantage for countries like our competitors in Europe all of whom are several decades ahead of us on transport.

  • RWP

    Labour needs to decide which camp it’s in on this one…the decision to do HS2 was made by a Labour government but EdM is within his rights to withdraw support as new facts emerge about the business/economic case.

    At the moment you feel that Labour is supporting this nominally but sniping and hedging, Getting ready to pull the plug as a populist move closer to the election..but this position means that Labour isn’t speaking with one voice, hence the need for an early, clear decision either way.

  • Colin McCulloch

    Luckily for Mr Burnham he’s very popular amongst the rank and file – previous members of the shadow cabinet have fallen on their swords for less.

    • RAnjeh

      Ed Balls beat him in the leadership contest. Many of his early supporters were ultra-Blairites who almost certainly won’t be supporting him anytime soon.

  • RAnjeh

    Ed Miliband is leader and he has made it clear (contrary to what others think is best) to support HS2. Andy Burnham has blatantly gone out his way to undermine the leader as part of his bid for the leadership should Ed fall on his sword. Contrary to what Mark said, he can’t be that popular or he would have got more than 4th place in 2010. If Andy Burnham wants to rebel over HS2, that’s good for him but he can do that on the backbenches. It seems like that’s where he is heading anyway:

  • HateHS2

    HS2 is very unpopular with Labour voters. The last Yougov poll had 60% against with only 28% for. Not surprising when the average user is predicted to be earning 70k plus (in HS2 ltd own documents).
    People would rather the money were spent on other more essential things especially when 13.5 million UK citizens live in Poverty.

    Time for Labour to reconnect with it’s voters, stop trying to be Tory lite and scrap HS2.

  • keith

    HS2 built on the backs of the workers for those business leaders to ride in comfort on, trains the same workers wont be able to afford to travel in, were is brother Bob Crow when you need him ( no jokes about Brazil), only £50 billion, wow what a rich country we are and then Ed says in the next breath we have to stick to the tory spending plans in the first couple of years of a labour government, so as the hospital waiting lists get longer in A+E, councils cant afford to build social housing, all stand up and cheer for those lucky few ( ed included) who will be able to afford to travel on the £50 billion train set, life’s grand.

  • Michael

    The original initiative to link the key cities of the Midlands and North to London by high speed rail was an opportunity to use the route, stations and time and capacity gains of that railway to lessen Britain’s North-South Divide. The scheme would need to better-connect regional city groups so they became an economic counter-attraction to the massive London economy to the south, with the inclusion of a stop at East Midlands Airport. The scheme would also need at least the first stage of construction to start in the North, to deliver the northern benefits of regional connectivity first. And it would need the construction of an express commuter link between Manchester and Leeds, to fast-connect the rail networks of Lancashire to those of Yorkshire: an east-west Northern Cities Crossrail.

    The HS2 route and stations scheme north of Birmingham does not do this. Worse, it will draw the commercial centre of Birmingham time-closer to central London, risking absorption by Big London: whoever wrote the original song-sheet for the HS2 team got that wrong, too.

    HS2 Plan B is my full-scheme alternative to HS2:


    Plan B includes a Northern Cities Crossrail, halving the train time between Leeds and Manchester. It has a main stop at East Midlands Airport and its route to Birmingham, Wolverhampton and beyond follows the M1 and M6 corridors from London. Critiques welcome.

  • Londonshaz

    Not everyone on the HS2 route in Bucks/Herts is a wealthy Tory, so I wish people would stop making out that the protest against the proposals is about ‘protecting my huge mansion’. I live in a flat on an ex-council estate VERY near the proposed route and really do believe that tickets to travel on this railway will only be afforded by politicians who are bulldozing it through as some sort of power play. How about some better links to Surrey, Sussex etc so that you don’t have to go into London and back out again…flood defences, more council house building, sort the hospitals out…


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