HS2 spells double trouble in next week's council poll

HS2 Will the proposed high-seed rail line affect next week's elections?

In theory, high-speed rail or HS2 has nothing to do with next week's county council elections. Neither do most of the debates which will, in practice, exert a heavy influence on the outcome.

Yet if there is one subject that is inflaming political debate in two of our major local authority areas where they're going to the polls next Thursday, it's HS2.

So far Warwickshire has generated most of the headlines, especially in the towns and villages on the line of the first phase between London and Birmingham.

But now that second-stage lines to the north have been proposed, the 'Y-shaped' pattern spells double-trouble for Staffordshire's politicians. Unlike Warwickshire, they have two proposed HS2 corridors: one would run close to the M6 past Stafford; the other would follow the Trent Valley route via Tamworth.

Just as in Warwickshire, the county's current Conservative leaders have parted company with their Westminster top brass by coming out against it. Both complain that without an HS2 station in either county it would be all pain and no gain: all the disruption and economic impacts without the benefits of direct access to high speed services.

'Campaigning event'

Last month, Staffordshire's county council incurred the wrath of HS2 supporters by organising a conference for local residents and business people. They said it was to explain the financial, economic and environmental implications of HS2 but their critics saw it as more akin to a campaigning event staged at public expense.

Will the ruling Tory group's opposition to HS2 be enough to avert a potential kicking by voters whose homes and livelihoods are in the front line? Remember the leadership of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats at Westminster support HS2 as strongly as the Prime Minister, so why should the Tories take the worst of it?

The two major parties which are entirely unambiguous in their opposition to HS2 are the Greens and the UK Independence Party: UKIP, currently riding high in the polls, are fielding more candidates in Staffordshire than the Liberal Democrats while the Greens are fielding more than the Lib Dems in Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

Factor-in the latest opinion polls suggesting a further turning-away from from the three biggest parties and you can see why UKIP and the Greens are being touted as the 'None of the Above' parties: the Liberal Democrats, so often beneficiaries of protest votes in the past, are now a party of government, so definitely 'One of the Above'!

You can see why HS2 adds yet another element of intrigue to the proceedings. Just like the proposed line itself we have never been this way before, with a genuine four- or even five-party showdown.

Next week's elections could help answer another of the big questions surrounding the politics of HS2: does it travel? Or is it really confined to that relatively small, if vocal, communities in direct line?

With one year to go until the European Elections and the General Election just 12 months beyond that, it will be fascinating to find out whether or not voters in our shire counties are ready to drive an express train through traditional party political loyalties.

Patrick Burns, Political editor, Midlands Article written by Patrick Burns Patrick Burns Political editor, Midlands

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