Letters: HS2 debate; Labour Party suspensions

Submitted by AWL on 26 February, 2020 - 12:18
HS2

While there is much to agree with in Simon Nelson’s article (Solidarity 534) I believe that Simon is wrong in opposing HS2.

If the line was just about allowing Northerners to get to London in a shorter time, maybe he would have a point. However probably the main reason for constructing HS2 is the limited capacity of the existing network.

There is a limit on how many more longer or more frequent services can be carried on the current network. HS2 (should we call it Congestion Line 1?) will take away large numbers of express trains from the current overcrowded lines, allowing more commuter and regional services to run across the Midlands and North West.

Poor Northern services are no reason to cancel HS2. Our response should be to call for a Congestion Line 2 (HS3) from Liverpool to Hull/ Newcastle, alongside the construction of HS2, and freeing up the existing network for more local services.

That should go along with removing current bottlenecks such as Manchester Piccadilly to Oxford Road, and recreating the broken links in the network like Skipton to Clitheroe, cut in the “Beeching” era.

It will massively help in decarbonising the transport economy and allow workers cut off in transport black spots to commute more easily to employment.

For many years improvements to railways have been done on a stop-start basis; teams of designers, engineers, and construction workers are brought together, trained and then sacked at the end of the project.

While the cost of HS2 and HS3 and the other necessary rail projects would be large, rolling programmes, with skilled teams moving from project to project, would help in reducing costs and keep large numbers of workers in employment.

The inflation in the costs on current rail projects is in large part construction companies being told to include Treasury (government) contingency costs in their budgeting. In the case of HS2 that increased the initial cost of £32 billion to £44 billion. The bill may increase to £106 billion (contingencies on top of contingencies, and guesses at inflation).

The construction companies have no incentive to reduce costs, but they pocket any savings that come their way. Nationalised Network Rail should control new rail construction, with an incentive to reduce costs.

We need a long-term new railways national rail infrastructure plan for Nationalised Network Rail. This plan would incorporate rolling electrification across the network, linked to massive capacity improvements on the existing network and the reopening of the many closed “Beeching” lines now desperately needed.

Any such plan by necessity needs to link into local and regional transport plans. More Rail: yes! HS2 and HS3: yes!

Mark Catterall, Todmorden

Mehmood Mirza, front-runner in the nominations for the BAME seat on the National Executive in the Labour Party elections now underway, has been suspended from membership and thus disqualified.

Four other candidates for the BAME or constituency seats on the National Executive have also been suspended since nominations started in January: Jo Bird, Mohammed Azam, Graham Durham, and Keith Hussein. Jo Bird has since been reinstated.

According to the Skwawkbox website, friendly to Mirza: “Mehmood Mirza... would be unable to publicise the nature of the complaint because of Labour’s confidentiality requirements”.

No charges have been made public in any of the other four cases either, whether by the Labour Party machine or by the candidates.

We know of no rule that Labour members who are suspended cannot make public what the charges are against them. If there is one, then it is a scandal. If it has just become customary for those suspended, or expelled, not to reveal the charges, that is wrong too.

As has in many countries been considered for centuries to be essential to a civilised legal system, justice should be open. Charges, evidence, hearings, and verdicts should all be open to public scrutiny. Exceptions and protections are required (as in the bourgeois court system) in cases such as sexual misconduct. But there is no reason to suppose that the five suspensions fall in that ambit.

The rumour is that they are all to do with charges of antisemitism. The Labour Party should surely be cleansed of antisemitism. That will involve some expulsions, but is primarily a job of debate and education.

Suspiciously-timed suspensions, with no charges announced, no expeditious procedure, and warping effects on internal elections, are no way to develop a clean, democratic, and prejudice-marginalising party.

Colin Foster, London

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