'We need HS2': Aslef boss Mick Whelan defies Labour by backing high-speed rail link

 

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have been challenged by one of Labour’s most loyal union leaders to stop treating the proposed HS2 rail scheme as a “political football” and to give Labour’s unambiguous backing to the £42bn project.

Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, said he was dismayed at the conflicting signals from the Labour leadership over the need for a new high-speed link between London, the Midlands and the north of England.

He said he feared a Miliband-led administration would repeat Labour’s mistakes in the 1970s, when it cancelled construction of the Channel Tunnel and Maplin airport in Essex by failing to press ahead with major building schemes.

In an interview with The Independent, he also put himself at odds with Mr Miliband by calling for the renationalisation of the rail network to raise standards of service and end profiteering by private firms.

His comments come as commuters face an average increase of more than 3 per cent in season ticket prices. They will concern Labour as Aslef, which represents train drivers, is regarded as among the unions most faithful to the party.

Labour’s previous support for HS2 was thrown in doubt last September when Mr Balls, the shadow Chancellor, promised that an incoming Labour government would review the scheme, insisting he would not give it a “blank cheque”.

But Mr Whelan said: “We need HS2. We need it for the right reasons, the economic and business reasons and the socio-economic reasons that are going to drive growth for the next 20 or 30 years.”

He said he supported Prime Minister David Cameron, who is facing strong opposition from many Tory MPs in the Home Counties, over the importance of HS2 and believed the Opposition should lend its full support.

Mr Whelan pointed out that Labour drew up the original HS2 proposals and that conference delegates last year gave a standing ovation to a call to press ahead with the scheme.

Asked about Labour’s current attitude to the project, he replied: “I’m worried about it because I don’t want to see it become a political football. We either need the infrastructure or we don’t.”

He added: “We believe ‘I won’t be here’ when most of these projects come to fruition, but we should be looking to our grandchildren, our great grandchildren, we should be leaving them a legacy.”

Mr Whelan, a former train driver who has headed the union since October 2011, accused the Coalition of “pure dogma” over moves to re-let several rail franchises and to return the troubled East Coast mainline to the private sector.

But he risked a clash with Labour leadership by advocating taking the entire system back into public hands.

“We would like to see [the rail companies] come back under public control, it’s that simple. If we are putting this massive amount of investment in, then the returns should come back to the Treasury, whether it’s for re-investment in transport, social housing, hospitals or whatever.”

 

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions