is not the only one interested in any news of progress on that very
expensive but largely forgotten project – HS2? You remember – the one
that was announced seven years ago …
there certainly seems to be few investigative souls pressing the
government and their contractors for any news of progress on the ground.
True there is a government paper – Overview of the HS2 project, setting out progress so far and next steps
– available on the official website. Unfortunately it does lack much
relevance to 2019 since it is dated March 2015. In other words it is
four years out of date!
month’s postings on the official site cover the designs for Old Oak
Common station and which construction teams have been selected for the
Euston and Old Oak Common contracts. But these official postings cover
little about the projected costs involved. However today’s press reports
putting the cost at £1,000 million – just at Old Oak Common – have not
it is hard for the general public to keep track of all the elements of
complex, extended projects – but just take a look back on this single
element; Old Oak Common station. In October 2014 this website pointed out the issues around this station.
Then London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, had ruled that an HS2-Crossrail
interchange station would not receive any extra funding – so Kensington
and Chelsea Council had underwritten the £33 million involved.
With the way that project costs are climbing that £33 million will
eventually pay for little more than the contractor’s tea breaks.
In 2014 politicians decried a proper interchange station at Old Oak Common – calling it Wormwood Scrubs International. But now comes the prediction that this critical hub will
serve 250,000 passengers a day – more than 90 million a year – when it
opens in 2026(!). It will replace London Victoria as the second-busiest
station in the UK, after Waterloo. If that is true then it will be much busier than Euston.
still claim that they are unfairly treated when their confident
pronouncements are dismissed as rubbish by a long-suffering electorate.
But it seems that lies about HS2 are just as common as those about our
relationship with Europe – and so many other things these days.
Events at the Scottish Government often seem to relate to either complaints about the British Government, promotion of Scottish independence or parochial matters like awards for the best chippie.
But now comes the news that the Scottish powers-that-be have decided to spend around £11 million of tax payers cash on overseas aid to Malawi. A surprising choice of priorities considering that Scotland is explicitly excluded from giving out overseas aid. It being the exclusive responsibility of the UK government. But since no one has yet taken issue with the Scottish minister authorising these payments – or the Scottish Government’s Malawi Development Programme – it looks like Westminster is turning a blind-eye to the offense. At least for now.
However the news did not go down well nearer home as critical postings were soon rolling in from irate Scottish tax payers. There were lots of comments with similar sentiments and these are just three examples –
That’s one big food parcel which is off remit for the Scottish Assembly but they do like to kid themselves they are an international body but in reality are a devolved region of the UK. Like many on this forum I have to question why any foreign aid is being handed out when taxes here have been increased and domestic public services are being trimmed in some cases like Health unacceptably. All this so Sturgeon can strut her big man stuff as an ‘international politician’ using our money incorrectly. And the Malawian president can say ‘cha-ching’ as he trousers the dough for another jet. Any word yet about how the money is to be spent or do we trust one of the most corrupt governments in Africa to account for it?
WTF are the lunatics in Holyrood doing? What has overseas aid got to do with Scotland.
Utterly outrageous ,surely this is a reserved matter ,and since when do we need an ‘International Development Minister’ This is just another example of the SNP trying to pretend they are something more than a devolved administration. £11M ffs could be better spent closer to home and leave International aid to the proper government. £1M involving the shambolic NHS Tayside you couldn’t make it up. We are funding these stunts so as to allow Sturgeon et al to kid themselves that they are something other than glorified councillors.
So while this may not make the news outside of Scotland it is one more example of how our politicians are ignoring the people they are paid to represent. An example that joins an ever-growing list. One day the people may demand more direct accountability .. and hopefully getting it will be a peaceful process.
The project that was too big to stop – the High Speed rail service between London and Birmingham (HS2) – received its final political approval today. Phase one of the £55,700 million scheme is scheduled to start construction within a few months and be open for fare-paying passengers in nine years time.
This will be followed by Phase 2a from the West Midlands to Crewe around a year later and Phase 2b from Crewe to Manchester and from the West Midlands to Leeds sometime in 2033 – if things go well.
The reasons why this approach to rail network improvement makes good economic sense when compared to the alternatives are hard to find or – more likely – non-existent. Simply following the example set by the motorways and upgrading existing routes to four track instead of two – while also doubling the production of conventional high speed trains – would have benefited so many more people for so much less expense.
However that would not have fitted in with the plans produced by Brussels (yes, them again) for their high-speed Euro rail network – all the way to Turkey (yes, I know that they are not a member but Brussels has big ideas). So it is a touch ironic that Britain will, in theory, have left the EU well before the UK part of the Euro rail plan reaches Birmingham. I wonder if Brussels had promised any funding before our vote to leave?
But still we have not left yet. And in the 245 days that have passed since the historic EU vote no one has been able to send the official resignation letter – so we could be still in limbo when that first train sets out for Birmingham Curzon Street in 2026.
European governments have been aware of the problem for months, if not years, yet still seem to have been surprised and confused by the recent rapid increase in mass migration from the Middle East and Africa. The resulting chaotic scenes around the edges of the EU have prompted the politicians to take action; but with little co-ordination or clear objectives. It is hard to blame migrants for wanting to get to somewhere better; even if their expectations of what awaits them in Europe are unrealistic. Even Germany cannot provide them with everything they expect and need.
But with Europe’s current policies there seems to be no option other than simply accommodating whoever gets over one of its many porous borders. So the warnings made here last September are starting to come true even without Turkey joining the EU. In response Germany and France have apparently decided to assign migrant quotas to each country in an attempt to spread the financial burden. They claim this will protect one of the EU’s key objectives – free movement. But sending, say, 5,000 migrants to Luxembourg when they really want to go to Germany will simply mean that the 5,000 stay the minimum possible time there and then use this free movement policy to relocate to Germany anyway. Without border controls what is there to stop them?
How different for any Grandad that wants to move closer to family members or simply retire in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, etc. But then the UK does to suffer from any large scale civil conflicts .. well not yet.
It is nothing new to say that the current crop of British politicians lack strategic vision. But with a relatively stable and peaceful domestic situation they – and their unelected advisors – can bumble along in their fantasy world without doing too much damage to the average UK citizen. True they can waste billions of our taxes on infrastructure liabilities and public service mis-administration. But that is only money. If Crossrail and HS2 never make a profit, if smart meters fail to cut energy consumption and if wind turbines prove to be no help to the National Grid then they are all just a waste of time, effort and cash. Probably no one died.
But once the politicians turn their dubious skills to international issues then things get a lot more serious – and potentially dangerous. Take Afghanistan. In 2001 British politicians decided to send in our troops – to solve the country’s problems. Thirteen years, 453 UK service personnel deaths and countless millions of pounds later that country is still beset by problems. And it will not take much, once the foreign troops leave, for Afghanistan to fall back to where it was before.
But Afghanistan is just one example. Removing Saddam Hussein got rid of a dangerous and brutal tyrant but has left Iraq in even worse turmoil than before – despite six years of British military help. Intervening in the Libyan civil war deposed another dangerous and brutal tyrant – Colonel Gaddafi. But that country has now fallen into chaos and conflict. Our political leaders have looked for ways to remove Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria. But may have become vaguely aware that there is little public support for more gunboat diplomacy. However this may be just be temporary and reflect concerns about their jobs – given that there is an election next year.
But so far British meddling in foreign conflicts has been at a safe distance from home. This could soon change and bring unforeseen dangers closer to our doorstep. Take, for example, Ukraine and Turkey. In the first our political leaders – via NATO and the EU – could put us in direct conflict with Russia. Not a trivial issue. And in the second Britain’s support for Turkey having EU membership could mean that our borders move all the way east to reach Syria, Iraq and Iran. Then the EU would become responsible for millions of refugees fleeing conflicts and for defending a huge land frontier against an assortment of unpredictable military factions. A time for some basic geography lessons for the Cabinet – before we all get burnt?
According to a report today on Politics.co.uk China is showing a leadership on climate change which the UK is lacking. This comes from MP Joan Walley (Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North) who chairs the Environmental Audit committee. She is quoted as saying that the Chinese government had a set of plans and the ability to deliver them in contrast to the UK government simply paying lip service to the decarbonisation agenda.
The implication is that China has done more than the UK to clean up its pollution and reduce its impact on the world’s climate. Yet simple observation does not support this politically inspired theory. Any Grandad who remembers British cities – like Stoke on Trent – in the 1950’s will know how much less pollution there is today. And any Grandad who has friends or relatives working in China now will have heard first hand reports on just how bad most Chinese cities are.
Just leaving a window open overnight results in a layer of black dust over everything by morning. Main roads need to be hosed down daily – even in mid winter – to reduce pollution build-up. Government inspectors are charged with checking factory discharges – but only work office hours so factories churn out their worst pollution over night. City pollution levels reach 10’s or even 100’s of times the recommended safe limits. And yet this exemplary Chinese government has plans for 22 additional coal-fired power stations in Guangdong alone. The emissions from which are predicted to cause as many as 16,000 additional deaths in the next 40 years [South China Morning Post].
So as little Britain tries to solve yet another worldwide problem many other countries pursue a self-interest agenda. Perhaps we should learn from them?
Back in October 2012 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the EU for creating peace in Europe. A prestigious accolade that somehow seemed to blank out the estimated 100,000 Europeans that died in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990’s.
Then in February 2014 the German Foreign Minister warned that the rise of Eurosceptic parties was a worrying development threatening the EU – an organisation that had helped keep peace for the past 50 years. He equated those against the gradual federation of Europe as supporters of the type of nationalism which caused the First World War. [A bit rich coming from Germany!]
Now we have the 70th anniversary of America and Britain risking all by fighting to free France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, etc from their German overlords. They fought and died to re-establish the freedom of the European nation states. And since 1945 well over a million British and American service personnel have kept serving in mainland Europe. Clearly they have provided the basis for peace in Europe for decades. Decades before the EU was even created. In fact it was only after the EU arrived, in 1992, that the mass slaughter in the former states of the Yugoslavia occurred. All observed but not prevented by a totally inept EU administration.
But the big problem is not so much that this EU spin is trying to re-write history but that is setting the direction of future policies and actions. If you believe the myth that the EU is the only guarantor of everlasting peace in Europe then you will act on it. Hence EU politicians are pushing ahead with plans to expand into Eastern Europe in order to bring their peace and prosperity to more countries. Yet this is the same line that was used in Third Reich propaganda to bring peace and prosperity to Europe in 1939.
Perhaps nationalism is not such a bad idea – given the alternative on offer.
To paraphrase an early item – after the age of empire it must be very easy for some Whitehall departments to forget that the British government is no longer … the world’s policeman. So today Whitehall is hyper-active over the latest barbarity in the Syrian civil war. It is so high on the agenda because it fits the myth that Britain still has a world role. The same world role it had back at start of the 20th century.
But in reality Britain’s political, financial and military capabilities have been eroded over the intervening decades. Two World Wars, colonial independence and the rise of new industrialised nations have all contributed to the substantial slide from power. But today’s politicians seem incapable of limiting their involvement to the much reduced parts of the world for which they remain legally responsible. And these days that’s not a lot. But still the Falklands, Gibraltar, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Pitcairn, Saint Helena etc form a wide enough geographic spread of responsibilities to keep our reduced military forces occupied – especially with our UN commitments. And that should be a big enough responsibility given our poor financial position.
So will Britain’s politicians tell the military to take action against the Syrian government? Who knows – the British people will have no say either way. And would these same politicians take the same actions if similar events took place in, say, Russia or China? I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
After the age of empire it must be very easy for some Whitehall departments to forget that the British government is no longer responsible for Nyasaland, Ceylon, Burma, Bechuanaland, India, etc. In reality all the self-sufficient regions of the former Empire demanded, and won, their independence decades ago.
And not only are these former colonies now independent nations but the British – and often locals with British origins – are largely excluded from any present day roles. Excluded except, it seems, for one specific area – the never-ending provision, by Britain, of aid.
Yesterday we had the UK’s International Development Secretary [Justine Greening] defending giving £300 million of taxpayers’ money to Nigeria. Yet acknowledging the fact that Nigeria is a country with huge oil-reserves. And one that is planning to spend some of its royalty revenue on a space programme rather than on the projects that are so important as to need aid from the UK.
This latest example seems remarkably similar to the case of Britain’s £280 million annual aid to India. A programme that had to be defended by UK’s previous International Development Secretary [Andrew Mitchell] when MPs complained. With India’s economy growing at 8.5 per cent a year and the Indian government spending big on defence and space programmes it seems self-evident that British aid is not required. So even though the MPs sited evidence of corruption and waste in the India aid programme it is to continue until 2015. The fact that India has, this week, launched its first aircraft carrier, to be followed by a nuclear submarine, has made the British position look even more ridiculous.
But the reason all this has been back in the media is not an attempt to bring common sense to bear on Whitehall’s massive over-spending but rather because a UKIP MEP [Godfrey Bloom] had said ‘How we can possibly be giving a billion pounds a month, when we’re in this sort of debt, to Bongo Bongo land is completely beyond me’. The Prime Minister then jumped in to condemn the term “Bongo Bongo land” as offensive and so divert the media onto a discussion about a politician’s choice of words – rather than the multi-billion pound elephant in the room.
Meanwhile many UK Grandads are left wondering how they can afford to pay for their latest round of household bills out of their declining net incomes. Perhaps Nigeria or India could help?