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Ed Balls: ‘There is no blank cheque for HS2’

23 August 2013

Labour could use HS2 as an opportunity to show voters that it is fiscally responsible by announcing that as the project’s costs have spiralled out of control, it cannot back it. So runs the argument in favour of Ed Miliband dropping his party’s support for the project. The party’s transport shadow Maria Eagle has insisted today that high-speed rail remains a manifesto commitment for Labour, but Ed Balls has appeared on BBC News to drop what many are reading as some fairly heavy hints that his own support isn’t quite so rock-solid.

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Here is the transcript of what he said:

‘We have consistently supported plans for a new north-south rail link, but it’s got to work, it has got to be value for money. As Alistair said today, the government’s approach to this has been completely chaotic. He’s drawn one conclusion… I think the best way for me to say that to you Carol is there’s no blank cheque from a Labour treasury for HS2, it’s got to be value for money. If the case is not strong enough, if you don’t see the gains, if as we’ve seen in recent weeks and months, the cost going up and up and up, that’s something which we have to keep under review. Value for money is the test, it’s got to work, there’s no blank cheque. Alistair has drawn one conclusion which is he’s withdrawn his support. We say, let’s keep examining this case. The government has been totally chaotic, they’ve lost control of the costs, and that is a real concern.

There will be no blank cheque from a Labour Treasury for this project or any other project. Public spending has to be disciplined in its control, we have to make sure that every pound is spent wisely, that’s what good governments do, that’s what I will do as the shadow chancellor and as chancellor and that applies to HS2 as much as to any other project. The costs have been spiralling up, they’ve got to get a grip, this has been totally chaotic, there’s no blank cheque, it has got to be value for money, the case has got to be made.’

The first thing worth noting is that Ed Balls clearly arrived at the BBC studios in Leeds, where he conducted the interview, intending to get across the phrase ‘no blank cheque’ because he said it four times. That doesn’t mean he wants to push for Labour to drop its support. It could just mean that he wants to cultivate a hawkish image for Labour on public spending and waste. Either way, Balls clearly scents that this is a political opportunity for his party because the project is getting out of hand, rather than a good sell to Labour’s core vote in the North of England.

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Show comments
  • Mark McIntyre

    NO2 HS2 – time to ‘cheque’ it out !

  • Sweary Expat

    Please would the media stop reporting the vacuous comments of Ed Balls. He is a busted flush with zero credibility

  • essayden

    But at least Ed Balls stands up for the poor exploited public. See:

  • Eyesee

    That HS2 is a stunningly bad idea is primary school stuff. My amazement here is that Ed ‘blank cheque’ Balls thinks there is a project, any project that doesn’t deserve endless amounts of other people’s money.

  • rtj1211

    ‘Labour could use HS2 as an opportunity to show voters that it is fiscally responsible by announcing that as the project’s costs have spiralled out of control’

    Please present evidence which will not see you sent to prison for perjury that costs are indeed ‘spiralling out of control’.

  • Holly

    A couple of questions for Ed..

    Because this is genuine investment in the country, so does not make anyone state dependent, and thus more likely to vote Labour, it isn’t of any ‘value for taxpayers money’ to Labour so can be scrapped at any time. How far into the project would Balls pull the plug, if it ran over budget?

    How much is too much to Labour?….

    • Wessex Man

      well the answer to how much is too much to Labour is too much Labour running through Labour stropping at Lib/Dem and Tonky Tory on the railroad to nowhere I think but then is is early Sunday and I’m hung-over!

  • rtj1211

    i don’t mean to be rude, but just because the IEA did a hatchet job doesn’t mean the HS2 costs have gone out of control.

    I know that journalism nowadays is only for pathological liars and con artists, but you must present a credible case if you want to say that the costs have ‘spiralled out of control’.

    What has actually spiralled out of control is the Press’ irresponsibility in reporting standards.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Spiralled out of control is journalese for gone up a any fule no. I think the project s dead. Pity. I think it was always a good idea killed by pettifogging Britishness

      • rtj1211

        Well it doesn’t in a court of law.

        Journalists expect Ministers to resign over a slight slip of the tongue.

        When they tell pathological lies to order they don’t suffer any consequences.

        It’s about time they did.

        • Wessex Man

          Er Councils, Banks, Insurance Companies and the RSPCA should also suffer even more! They however didn’t expose the gonigs on of the luviees of hacked off, get a life!

  • Alex

    Is there anyone in the country who still believes that the final decision on HS2, whoever makes it, will be taken on the merits of the scheme, as opposed to party political advantage?
    If you do, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell to you.

    • rtj1211

      One thing is for sure: the anti-campaign have printed so many lies that they would be sent to prison for perjury if they repeated their nonsense in court.

  • 2trueblue

    Wonderful that we still have Balls giving out free advice on money, where it comes from and what it can be spent on! This is the man from a party who left the country broke and mortgaged everything, (all those PFI deals littered throughout our infrastructure) and now think that we have to even give them airtime.

  • dalai guevara

    So Darling only opposes the plans because of costs? What’s Balls’s excuse, I thought he loved stimuli?

  • the viceroy’s gin

    That photograph of Balls fussing with his collar is the single greatest piece of political caricature ever. Whoever took that photo should get a medal.

    • anyfool

      I thought it was Wayne Rooney leaving a brothel.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Value for money is a meaningless concept coming from mad jock McBroon’s favourite pupil, so that waffle boils down to zero, zilch, nada.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    You have to hand it to the Millipedes, their political calculus is positively feral. They’re going to use all this to posture themselves as fiscally conservative, if you can believe it. The Camerloons have left themselves wide open to that strategy, with their lefty posturing and massive spending ways, and now they’re going to get socked with a roundhouse punch.

  • Two Bob

    HS2 is just a giant dildo with carriages.

    • CharlietheChump

      Though nowhere near as useful

    • Fergus Pickering

      Whose bottom is it up?

      • Fergus Pickering

        Aha, bottom is OK but not the a word

    • rtj1211

      Your diplomatic presence would have made Winston Churchill blush….

  • HookesLaw

    He supports a north south high speed rail link. ‘but its got to work’ Does he have a magic wand? Can he produce different construction costs? Can he produce a different country with different topography?
    As ever and indeed as you say, all he can produce are weasel words over a project that will not start for 4 years and take 9 years to complete.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …so he’s just exactly like your Camerloonian buddies, then?

      • HookesLaw


        • the viceroy’s gin

          …you mean, he’s worse?

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