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