Watch out for an increase in hostilities from anti-HS2 campaigners in the next few weeks. One of the more concerted backbench campaigners against the new route is planning to strengthen the cause by bringing together all the groups that are against HS2 under one umbrella. Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative MP who has a track record of causing serious problems for the government on issues such as Syria, tells me that he and Cheryl Gillan are setting up the group in May ‘so we can speak as one voice’. Bridgen hopes the campaign will include organisations who have set their faces against high speed rail such as the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and the Woodland Trust, describing the current campaign as a ‘bit like the People’s Front of Judea’.
Bridgen is particularly concerned about the impact on homes in other parts of his constituency that are not supposed to be affected by HS2 after conversation he had with the chair of HS2 Sir David Higgins. He says:
‘He told me that there was leeway on the route: it’s a consultation and the route may move miles and miles on either side of the planned route. That has a blight effect on properties for miles around.’
The reason this is particularly interesting is that Bridgen is a potent campaigner. He was behind the revolt on Syria, is celebrating a victory on possibly decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee, and described David Cameron’s leadership as ‘like being in an aeroplane’ that the ‘pilot doesn’t know how to land’. Ministers seem to have worked out how to approach Bridgen a little better: his most recent quest on the licence fee led to the government agreeing to his demand for a review of the sanctions for non-payment of the fee. He knows how to corral MPs to support a cause – and which causes will cause the government embarrassment. So any moves that he makes to step up his anti-HS2 campaign should worry ministers rather.