For centuries MPs have been commendably obedient to WC Fields’ advice: “Never work with animals or children.” But there’s a first for everything.
On a normal Monday afternoon, Alex Rukin, nine, would be in class at Kenilworth’s Clinton Primary school. But on Monday, neatly attired in a Cub Scout uniform with an impressive array of badges from traffic awareness to lighting a campfire, he appeared before the Commons HS2 Committee – or those of its members who made it in time – to tell them what a “stupid” idea the project was.
The youngest person ever to petition the House of Commons had been forthright, writing that “Your Petitioner is worried that HS2 will cost lots more than the people are saying.” He continued: “Your Petitioner thinks it is unfair that he and his friends will have to pay more money forever for something they think isn’t needed.“
By an astonishing co-incidence Alex is the son of Joe Rukin, director of the national anti-HS2 campaign. Mr Rukin took him through what at times sounded like a cross between an oral arithmetic test, (Alex, a Year Five, came first in class in his last maths test with 93 per cent) and a secular catechism. As in, homing in on an apparent discrepancy in HS2 figures: “Alex: what is £21.4bn minus £14.4bn?” “£7bn.” “That’s not the same as £15.7bn?” “No.” So HS2 costs were £8.7bn out. Now, Alex. what do you think of that?” “They really REALLY need my help with maths.”
Despite Alex’s concerns for the tax burden on future generations, including his, some of his objections were more personal. He stays with each divorced parent – or as the Department of Transport’s QC James Strachan put it with due formality “he has an interest in two properties.” Journeys between them – and to his tennis club – would be “messed up”. Reading his notes, he said he was “really worried” about losing sleep. If HS2 had to go ahead it should be tunnelled under the A46 “so they don’t mess anything up for me.”
Mr Strachan was admirably un-twee in his response. He politely declined the offer of help with the maths. The discrepancy in figures was because the quoted contingency budget covered both phases of HS2. “A noise model” suggested there was no cause for alarm.
Mr Rukin, meanwhile, was “really proud” of his son – not to mention, perhaps, his own publicity coup. He would be taking Alex to the Hogwarts studio as a reward. (You have to hope that doesn’t fall foul of rules on bribing witnesses)
Alex later suggested that the Palace of Westminster itself looks a “lot like Hogwarts.” Though not, perhaps, as exciting.Reuse content