Our man in Westminster imagines what Justine Greening, secretary of state for transport, really thinks about High Speed 2.

On reflection, I shouldn’t really be surprised, but the thing that strikes me most about transport is that everybody – and I mean everybody – has an opinion about it. You only have to watch the news bulletins when transport is a story in the headlines and listen to the “vox pop” interviews with members of the public to appreciate that! Of course, everybody uses transport every day in one form or another – and more than once a day. So, as I say, it’s not surprising that everybody has a view.

But it does make the job of secretary of state rather more complicated, as one has to juggle the competing need and expectations of differing (and competing) modes of transport against the myriad views, opinions and expectations of the electorate, sadly sometimes misinformed by self-appointed commentators who have modally biased opinions to articulate. The public reaction to the annual rail fares increase was inevitable, and even understandable, but in his criticism of the fares increase Stephen Joseph, chief executive officer of Campaign for Better Transport, failed to acknowledge that by most standards the UK railways are seen by the passenger as the best in Europe. Anyway, at least I can pride myself on having persuaded the chancellor to reduce the size of the increase that Philip Hammond had agreed to! My first success story as secretary of state!

As Lin said in her final ‘Homer’s Odyssey’ commentary (PT022), the defining experience of transport is just how divided opinions are on almost every aspect of transport policy. I have to tread a difficult path almost daily. I am friend or foe in almost equal measure, regardless of the decisions I take. Still, I mustn’t complain. It makes for an interesting and challenging life and not a bad way to earn one’s spurs in the cabinet. I must say that I was a touch taken aback when Dave called me to offer me the job, and I know the vast majority of people, including the media, reacted by saying “Justine Who”? Hopefully they won’t be saying that when the time comes for me to move on – and hopefully upwards.

I can’t say that I am looking forward to the protracted debate we are bound to have about high speed rail. I’m going to upset a lot of Conservative colleagues – both MPs and councillors – and supporters (although upsetting John Bercow will be fun and may get me a few brownie points with backbenchers) and it will be far from easy getting the legislation through the house. This is going to be a real test for the party. Actually, I’m really rather sympathetic to the constituency MPs affected by the route as I know from my own experience of opposing Heathrow Runway 3 just how emotive the blighting effect of proposed new transport infrastructure can be. I have this sneaking suspicion that I may not have won the Putney seat in 2005 if I had not run such a high profile campaign against the proposed runway.

Now, with High Speed 2, I have to turn the tables on some of my colleagues, and I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. But, as they say, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Dave likes high speed rail, and therefore so do I! But I really worry that I’m in danger of being a first class hypocrite. I oppose new transport infrastructure – Heathrow Runway 3 – when it helps me get elected as an MP, yet I happily promote new transport infrastructure – HS2 – when it helps me advance my ministerial career. Ouch!

But to those who today oppose HS2 I say this: could you, in all honesty, now ever envisage life without the Channel Tunnel or HS1? In time, future generations will shake their heads in disbelief at the opposition to HS2. How on earth could we have lived without it, they will ask? But I need to be careful. The aviation industry could say the same thing about Heathrow’s third runway. I am caught between a rock and a hard place. Oh God, what to do!? Damned if I do, damned if I don’t! Help!

Still, so far I don’t think I have dropped any clangers and No. 10 seems happy enough with my performance to date. It feels like I’m back at school – except that the only difference is that you never get to see the teacher’s end of term report until, suddenly, the phone goes, and you are summoned to the headmaster’s study!

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