Labour’s support for the controversial HS2 link from London to Birmingham means that today’s expected rebellion against the project by Conservative MPs is not going to leave the station.
But even if the scale of the revolt against the £50bn project is less than it might otherwise have been if there were a chance of victory, the naysayers must not be ignored. With surging support for Ukip, David Cameron must be mindful that it is opposition in the Tory heartlands which is massing against HS2.
Away from the political debate, what is true is that Britain desperately needs new infrastructure to replace crumbling road and rail networks. Even if the economic recovery appears to be taking hold, the associated building work is valuable in creating jobs and boosting investment.
Where the Government has failed is by choosing HS2 as the spur for numerous other projects. Without setting out clearly the economic benefit of such a scheme, it has become a cause célèbre for all those intent on protecting the local communities along the proposed line from disruption.
There must be another way. Network Rail’s electrification of lines running out of Manchester to make journeys faster and quieter across the North of England is likely to be completed without fuss or fevered objections. It should be a blueprint for upgrading the rail network in other parts of the country – without starting from a blank sheet of paper.
Then there might even be funds freed up to divert into crucial house-building schemes. If the Government wants to channel billions of pounds into new transport links, it should do so by rapidly solving the crisis in aviation in the South-east of England. It is airport capacity that will drive the economy over the next two decades, not a single, contested rail link.