JUST as Camden’s Labour Party begin to play a bit of toughball over High Speed 2, the plan for a London to Birmingham thunderbolt rail link which promises to blow a hole in Euston and potentially disrupt life in Primrose Hill, its leader Nash Ali has been advised that its better to keep his public comments on this simmering issue to a minimum. Legal bods at the Town Hall are concerned that because he has relatives in one of the council estate blocks affected (read: demolished) just up from Euston, he should tread carefully about what he says.
That’s punctured the hopes of some Camden Labour members hoping for a far stiffer response to the plans from the group’s senior faces. In fact, HS2 has, the flies on the wall at some group meetings have it, become an increasingly divisive issue.
Angela Mason and Sarah Hayward are said to have been cautious about an all out rejection of the idea, while in contrast the likes of Abdul Hai and Julian Fulbrook have wanted the group to take the strong arm response that MP Frank Dobson has taken, appearing on the TV and in newspapers condemning the likely affects on Camden. Last week’s ‘opposition’ statement was as such carefully worded.
Civil servants minding the response at Camden HQ, I’m told, are pretty resistant to the idea of the council being at the centre of some sort of rebellion to a Teflon government project seemingly capable of avoiding all government cuts. There has apparently been some doomsaying about where it might all end up from advisers. Sources who tell me this won’t name names, grrrr. If I ever have that sit down interview with chief executive Moira Gibb, like the one Jo Johnson’s journalist wife Amelia Gentleman from The Guardian got, I’d love to ask her what she thinks of the whole HS2 affair.
As Labour has discussed tactics to all of this since the start of the year, perhaps caught by surprise the level of public interest and worry at open meetings in recent weeks, it has been easy for opponents to cast them as ditherers. One man’s careful consideration, is another’s panicking uncertainty. The response to this post will, if past form is to go by, a claim that it’s all a bit mischief bit but there is certainly a clutch of backbenchers (and maybe a couple of cabinet members) who wanted more visible leadership on HS2. Maybe Sue Vincent, who was left standing there telling audiences that she herself was against the scheme but couldn’t speak for the cabinet collectively, might have welcomed the same thing.
Yet, in the back of more than a few minds is the idea that whatever Camden says and does, it might not be able to stop the project. If the government is determined enough, it will get its way in the end (even if Primrose Hill hates them for it – it’s not as if there is a parliamentary election to win there). In that case, officers and councillors want to be in a position to negotiate the best deal for the borough. The umming and ahing is about how that’s best approached.
I’m not saying there’s a bloody battle inside the Labour party which will rip the group apart, far from it. No swearing on this one. But there is a bit of irritation here, a bit of frustration there. With internal debates over the wisdom of a new ‘free’ school south of the Euston Road still, dare I use the word, raging and lingering snapping about whether the move to new council headquarters might yet blow up in the group’s face (there’s a private meeting on the buildings that will be sold to make that happen tonight), there’s suddenly a bit of sorting out to do out front.