I was rung early this morning by the Today programme and ended up doing a small turn as the warm-up to Theresa Villiers on a story which highlights the Tories’ disarray whenever their policies are seriously challenged. The Guardian’s front page this morning highlighted the fact that the Tories are refusing even to look at the Government’s HS2 report through fear that they would then be compromised over the route which the new high speed line will take.
On first reading, I thought this was a bit of a non-issue but actually Dan Milmo has got himself a good story – or rather I somewhat sense he got fed it from an office not very far from Marsham Street. Theresa Villiers has indeed refused to accept Lord Adonis’s invitation to have a preliminary look at the HS2 report in case this compromises the Tories with local voters who might be opposed to the line going anywhere near them.
This was hardly a tenable position and not surprisingly on the programme she struggled not to sound completely daft. She denied that this was the old narrow-minded politics but rather cleverly Adonis has pushed her into a corner and she could not summon up a good reason why she should not at least examine the report if given the chance to do so. It was was rather like the tale of the three monkeys.
Adonis is right that if a line is ever to get built – something I don’t believe will ever happen but the issue will certainly be in the political firmament for the next few years – it will need a long term cross party consensus. Having committed themselves to the line first, the Tories gained a political advantage but with performances like that of Villiers on the Today programme, that momentum has been all but lost.