Natalie Bennett with Highgate councillor Sian Berry at Aston University
Published: 11 September, 2014
By RICHARD OSLEY in BIRMINGHAM
GREEN Party leader Natalie Bennett has renewed her prediction that the HS2 rail link will never get built.
In an interview with the New Journal here in Birmingham, she said there was not enough public support for the high-speed link from Euston, which she refers to as the “rich man’s railway”.
And what's more, she added, the project’s £50billion price tag would scare off future governments, meaning that even though all three of the main parties publicly support HS2, the scheme would at some stage be abandoned.
“It’s a simple point, and that’s after the next election, whenever whoever the next chancellor is takes a look at the books, they will go: ‘Oh, how do I make this add up?’,” she said. “The investment should be going into the local infrastructure, into their local train and bus services instead.”
Until the Clacton by-election at least, the Greens remain the only parliamentary party opposing HS2.
“Labour has put itself in a position where it has no alternative but to support it,” she said. “They’ve said that’s their line and that’s where they are going to be on it.”
While HS2 was not dominating the news agenda as it had done before the season of political conferences last year, Ms Bennett, who lives in Somers Town, said the issue would come up again for discussion on either side of next May’s general election.
HS2 looks set to cause years of disruption in Camden, even though a link-up route through Camden Town was axed from the plans earlier this year. Residential areas around Euston and Regent’s Park will face the brunt of the redevelopment with a forest of skyscrapers predicted – towers which will be marketed to help dent the cost of the project.
Ms Bennett said: “There is not really strong public support for HS2. There are special interest groups that are supporting it but there’s an awful lot of opposition, and it’s very varied opposition from communities in Camden who are very resistant, through to the Cheshire shires. It goes to lots of northern towns and cities who are recognising that they are going to have this bullet slicing through them but they are not going to see any benefit from it.”
Ms Bennett is standing as the Green Party candidate in Holborn and St Pancras at next year’s general election, a seat she name-checked as a reasonable target in her main stage conference speech which opened the conference at Aston University on Friday.
In the same speech, she outlined a series of spending pledges – such as an increased minimum wage – and explained it would be paid for by a “wealth tax”.
Asked later in her interview with the New Journal what richer residents in affluent areas of Camden such as Hampstead and Primrose Hill would make of that, she said: “We are saying, if you have wealth of more than three million, you pay between one and two per cent – we will finalise that figure closer to the date. That’s between 30,000 and 60,000. To you and me thats sounds like a whacking load of money. But to the kind of people who we are talking about, the super-rich, the richest one per cent of households, they can afford it and they will also benefit from it, because everybody, even the rich, still need public services, they still need police, still need all the things that build our communities that require public investment.”
Questioned on how the Greens could realistically make an impact in her home constituency after decades of Labour strength through Frank Dobson, Ms Bennett said her ranks would capitalise on a collapse in Liberal Democrat votes.
“It is worth focusing on the fact that the Lib Dems had 29 per cent here last time. That was after spending a lot of money, but they got 29 per cent,” she said. “Now I would be very surprised if the Lib Dems get into double figures. They are signalling that – they haven’t even selected their candidate. So there’s at least 20 percentage points of votes up for grabs before you start. And if you look at the election before last, the Green Party vote was more than 8 per cent. You start to put those two figures together with the level of dissatisfaction with the Labour Party, and you start to add up to a pretty significant vote.”
The Greens missed their target of expanding their presence at the Town Hall from one council seat in May, but that seat was the only one won in the Holborn and St Pancras constituency not claimed by Labour. After getting the second highest number of votes in the south of the borough, the party remain aggrieved that under a different electoral system, their share of the vote would have resulted in more council seats.
Ms Bennett added: “Camden is a place of radical history. If it happened in Brighton Pavilion, it can happen here. Demographically, socially, politically, Camden has a lot of similarities.”