PETER Mandelson has urged Labour to scrap plans for a new high speed rail line if it wins the next election - and revealed the party only decided to back the project because it was scared of being “trumped” by the Tories.
The former Business Secretary lifted the lid on the process which led Labour to support a new rail line linking London and Birmingham, revealing that the decision was driven by crude political considerations rather than an analysis of the nation’s transport needs.
He said there was no serious consideration of whether a line was needed, how much it would cost and what the alternatives would be.
The peer, who played key roles in Labour governments led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, was speaking in the House of Lords.
Labour announced it intended to build a new high speed line in October 2008 - one month after Conservatives set out their own plans for a line in a dramatic announcement at their party conference, held in Birmingham.
Lord Mandelson said: “Frankly there was too much of the argument that if everyone else has got a high speed train, we should have one too, regardless of need, of cost, of alternatives.”
He told peers: “We didn’t feel like being trumped by the zeal of the then opposition’s support for the high speed rain, we wanted if anything to upstage them.”
But he welcomed the apparent change of heart by the current Labour leadership, after Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said he would only back HS2 if he was convinced it was the best way to spend the estimated £50 billion budget.
Lord Mandelson said: The sheer cost of it will suck the very lifeblood out of the rest of the country’s rail system.
“The labour front bench is now right to have become more sceptical of the project.”
But he came under fire from another former Minister, Jeff Rooker, the former MP for Birmingham Perry Barr.
Lord Rooker, a former Environment Minister, said that without the planned high speed rail line known as HS2, the existing rail network would “end up as national gridlock”.
He said: “The Labour Government started this project and it would be inconceivable to withdraw support.”
Speaking shortly after Lord Mandelson in the same debate, he said he was “getting cheesed off with ex ministers swanning around the salons” speaking out against HS2.
However, Lord Rooker also warned that HS2’s management needed to improve.
He said: “Success though is going to require better leadership of the project. I’m not sure who is in charge.”