It is so undignified that it should be on GB News. The dreadful spectacle of a British prime minister being forced to twist and spin in the wind during every media interview. Trying to avoid answering the obvious question “will HS2 ever make it to Manchester?” by talking about potholes. This link will take you to a particularly cringeworthy performance by Rishi Sunak, the man of iron at No. 10.
The PM’s shyness is obviously down to the fact that if he is going to stop HS2 reaching Manchester, he doesn’t want to do it before the end of the Tory party conference in – yes, you guessed it – Manchester. Either that or he is planning to make a shock announcement that HS2 will indeed make it to Manchester, and then try to claim that keeping his word is some huge victory for the north.
But let us just assume for a second that Sunak is a coward and too embarrassed to admit the truth. Because this mess will have terrible consequences – HS2 was not just a fast line between London and the north, it was many other things as well and all of them come tumbling down the second it is destroyed.
For a start, levelling-up and the Northern Powerhouse both die the second HS2 stops at Birmingham. The spur line to Yorkshire has already been cancelled, so this is the final nail in the coffin.
The government will try to sugar the pill by promising to divert some of the money to other transport schemes in the North of England but one of the major points of HS2 was to link up with those better transport links, not to create them in isolation.
Secondly, as transport experts will tell you, another major reason for HS2 was that the current NW rail link is falling to pieces, is constantly closing at weekends for repairs and will need a permanent upgrade itself very soon. While journey times to Birmingham are unlikely to improve as the HS2 line stops in north London and the outskirts of Brum.
The inability of the UK to build a railway that links just two of its principal cities is not only an embarrassing farce, but also a real problem for Manchester and other places which have been encouraged to spend a small fortune promoting themselves as an investment destination with new improved transport links just round the corner.
Much of that time, money and effort has now been wasted. Apparently, the London government doesn’t care enough to invest in Manchester, so why should anyone else?
If all that were not bad enough, look at the international comparisons and the situation gets even worse. Who on earth is going to think that the UK is a trustworthy, advanced and efficient economy when it cannot master 19th-century technology, when it cannot build things on time and to budget and when it walks away from commitments that have been decades in the making?
But don’t worry Rishi Sunak is a man of principle and has his finger on the pulse of the nation. So, he is going to fix those pesky potholes for you.
He can’t build a railway, has betrayed the north, constructed a multi-billion pound white elephant and hasn’t the courage to announce his decision before leaving Manchester; but he might just manage to fill a hole in the road.
Nice to see a PM at last who only promises what he knows he is capable of delivering: next to nothing.
Read more from Jonty Bloom on Substack