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Locomotion Commotion! The Saga of High Speed Rail

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The news last week about a proposed high speed rail link in the UK resulted in numerous bulletins containing reports from middle England that were all seemingly variants on a theme:

A reporter in a outdoorsy jacket grunts noises to camera in a village hall somewhere whilst in the background local inhabitants are seen frantically consulting maps and crosschecking co-ordinates with crossed fingers and baited breath in the hope that they don't wake up one morning in twenty years time to find a bloody massive train hurtling through their conservatory. Then a spokesperson would get their mush on camera where they would say something like:

"Why would you want to get to that London/Leeds/Liverpool/Manchester/Birmingham quicker anyway, there's nowt the'er"

It was quite clear that in these areas the HS2 proposals were about as popular as a Halloween party at Mathew Hopkins' gaff.

Actually, a lot of the people interviewed were reasonable and thoughtful and well within their rights to be a little bit miffed. Most of us would be willing to sit slightly longer on a train to get to our destination especially if the only offered alternative meant having to look at a fleet of diggers and a series of workmen's grizzled arses for the next decade whenever you leave the house. Just to give things a bit of frisson though, the news channels love nothing more than a quick 'vox pop' of someone who fits the bill of slightly deranged or ignorant backwater bumpkin to keep things lively and not a bit patronising.

There were numerous reports that contained people with such strong views on the matter, if you were to gather them up they wouldn't be too dissimilar from the inhabitants of Royston Vasey when they find out that "New Road" is coming. This is merely the news creating a stereotypical narrative in which to frame the 'story'.

Some of them were quite entertaining though, so much so that those government ministers who were looking to dissuade immigrants from entering the country should re-think any expensive ad campaign in the pipeline and just shepherd these militantly opinioned few to Britain's ports. Get them to stand on the white cliffs of Dover with their tupperware of beef paste sandwiches a flask and a loud-haler. Endlessly bellowing over the channel:

"What are yer comin' ere for mitherin us folk, leave us be will yer"

or

"Its pants ere! Yeh we had the Olympics, didn't bother me though, they were basically a poncey sports day, besides, it's not natural, all that lycra... "

This scheme would be cost effective and would be cathartic for those involved. Think of all that unused cash that could be put to good use... billions could be spent on really pressing issues such as... transforming the barge network to reinvigorate the economy, why not re-align the tow paths too!? Quicker barging and path towing between north and south will turn this country around! 11 billion? Bargain!

The makers of news know they can get more running time out of a story by contrasting the people who will be most affected and who are staunchly against the planned development with those who are contracted to it and whose livelihood is invested in seeing it through. Or the nervous MPs who are desperate to be seen to be breathing new life into an economy that at the moment has the respiratory rate of King Richard III. The end result of this approach being we often only see the two extreme ends of the story.

The Ministers and contractors for HS2 have to belch out pre-rehearsed statements so that they are all singing from the same harried hymn sheet. Most of the time it is quite plain to see that they never really believe the words that are coming out of the front of their face (just ask Chris Huhne) they may as well be reading the shipping forecast.

"33 Billion is a perfectly reasonable sum of money to kick-start the economy and provide jobs for thousands of people whilst also re-uniting the North Utsire and South Utsire of the... Malin, Rockall, moderate or good."

These MPs generally cut a pretty tragic figure; they must sometimes think they cannot do anything right by the general public, what is the point? They are going to get it in the neck from some quarter at some point . The HS2 rail proposal is just the latest in a long line of unpopular policies*.

I'm sure there are plenty of people who would rather spill the blood of a thousand high vis clad workmen rather than have diesel fumes anywhere near their begonias much as there are probably a few who are so pro the plans they are polishing their binoculars and ironing their spotters notepads with joyful abandon. I am willing to bet, however, that the general consensus would be one of indifference either way when it comes to high speed rail.

Look at the 'wonders' of Air travel. We can fly from this country to almost anywhere on the planet yet for many the novelty of stepping inside the belly of what is essentially a massive metal bird and going literally anywhere has worn off. The things they remember are the time bags went missing, there were queues or a dormant volcano got a bit arsey and decided to guff a bit of ash into the ether. Many will probably just shuffle along unthinking until HS2 arrives, IF it ever does, and IF it is no good just snarkily take the piss out of it every so often. Besides, we will probably all be on hover boards, Marty Mcfly style, by then anyway.

*Maybe they will start being deliberately provocative soon, proposing a tax on teapots or trying to outdo Iran and proposing to pack all of London Zoo into a spaceship and blast it into space on a fact finding mission. The Minister for Transport holding a press conference on the steps outside PETA headquarters flanked by a thrill seeking Gorilla doing a thumbs up, and, just for balance, a meerkat that is quite clearly bricking it.