Boris Johnson hunkered down for some more bad press yesterday. There was no shortage of outrage as ministers confirmed the scaling back of infrastructure spending in the integrated rail plan. The casualties of the rethink included Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), plans for which were downgraded, and the east Midlands to Leeds high-speed line. Jim McMahon, a northern Labour MP as well as Shadow Transport Secretary, accused ministers of having “completely sold us out” . Keir Starmer said Johnson had “betrayed” the North and argued that the government had failed the “first test of levelling up”.
Anger was not confined to Labour MPs. 30 mayors and council leaders from the North, including a Conservative, put their name to a joint letter saying that the rail plan is inadequate, that it could hold back the North and that MPs should be given a free vote on it. Tory MP Huw Merriman, chair of the transport select committee, told parliament that the announcement showed “the danger of selling perpetual sunlight and leaving it to others to explain the moonlight”. Other Conservative backbenchers added their voices. The frustration is understandable; as recently as last month, the Prime Minister told Tory conference that the government would build NPR.
Ministers have insisted the money-saving changes to the infrastructure plans – cutting around £14bn – will still slash journey times. There will be HS2 track from Crewe to Manchester, as promised, but instead of the eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds there will be a high-speed line established between Birmingham to the East Midlands. Transport for the North called the plan woefully inadequate, and you can see why: around £42bn of the £96bn outlined yesterday has already been committed to build the first phase of HS2 from London to Birmingham.
Disparity in spending between London and the rest of the country on transport is well documented, but it is worth a recap. Analysis from IPPR shows that the North received just £349 per person in transport spending over the past decade while the capital received £864 per head. Had the North been handed the same spending as London, it would have received £86bn more. People were already hungry for actual change, and it won’t be lost on anyone that Johnson has now been banging on about “levelling up” for over two years. Will they forget before the next election?
Starmer is trying to capitalise on a difficult week for Johnson. He has two op-eds out this morning. One in The Yorkshire Post, telling readers: “If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that for the Conservatives, words are cheap”. And another in The Mirror, where writes: “He’s admitted he crashed the car over sleaze. Now he’s derailed the trains. Under Boris Johnson, this country’s going nowhere.”
In Labour news, the party yesterday revealed to members the hopefuls standing to replace Dan Jarvis as the Labour South Yorkshire mayoral candidate. LabourList has the full list here. Nominations close on December 3rd before members start to cast their votes on January 5th.Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.