Now the dust has settled on conference season, the journalists and hacks are figuring out what the last month has meant for the polls. But there is another question – have the conferences had any tangible impact on people’s lives? That’s where HS2 comes in. Decades of debate and indecision have led to the scrapping of the Northern leg, meaning the line will run from (maybe) Euston to Birmingham when all is said and done.
Not exactly levelling up of the North cry the opposition. Fear not, the Prime Minister with now an extra £36 billion in the piggybank has committed all of that funding to transport projects around the country. Multiple projects across the country, he claims, is better for future prosperity than one bigger, bloated project.
Not a single Conservative Minister resigned, and even the Chair of the Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs backed the new plans. Although not a huge surprise as many Conservatives never fully got behind HS2, especially those in rural constituencies where their constituents were affected by the new line.
But with them lagging in the polls so dearly, surely the public is the focus. So what’s the thinking here?
The vast majority of levelling up funding has been challenged through the Towns’ and Shared Prosperity Funds which sees direct investment in towns and cities – often Conservative held areas. These funding commitments are seen as a great local campaigning tool for local MPs, with them being able to point to a tangible way life is better under the Conservatives. So armed with new funding, the Government will be hoping if they pick their projects wisely that will result in many more reasons in local areas to vote Conservative.
Funding for a bypass in an area for example is more likely to please residents than a commitment to a larger project down the line – or at least that is what the Conservatives are banking on. However, there is also a trust factor – do the public really trust politicians will deliver these projects when so much has been promised before and it hasn’t materialised?
In theory, the idea has some merit electorally. But delivery is absolutely key.
The initial list of projects funded didn’t get Network North to a good start. Never mind that a lot of the projects weren’t in the North, some had already been completed and even more weren’t actually in the gift of the Government, with many needing sign off from local authorities and mayors.
Also, in a recent focus group for the Red Box Politics Podcast – undertaken by JL Partners – undecided voters in marginal constituencies linked ‘Network North’ to the closure of ticket offices. Although, the real media spotlight will come when we know what the projects are, maybe even an EU style plaque on each project saying it was funded by Network North?
Ultimately, Network North was a reaction to the HS2 announcement, and it was rushed. But in the coming weeks and months the Government will be analysing what projects to fund. Expect the decisions to be just as much about electoral politics, as they are about what is a worthwhile project.