AHEAD of the general election campaigners against HS2 made much of the opportunity for opponents to vote for parties that wanted the project scrapped. But the final election results suggest HS2 had little impact.
Only UKIP and the Greens put scrapping HS2 as a core issue in their manifestos. And a lone single-issue candidate also campaigned against HS2 in the Westminster North constituency but came bottom of the poll with 63 votes, or just 0.2 per cent of the total cast.
Across the nation as a whole, UKIP secured 12.6 per cent of all votes and the Greens another 3.8 per cent. So, the two parties that stood against HS2 secured together 16.4 per cent of the national vote (although gained only two seats between them in the House of Commons as a result of the first-past-the-post system).
If we look at the results in 25 constituencies that will be affected to a greater or lesser extent by the first phase of HS2 between London and Staffordshire including some in Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire where the strongest opposition has arisen the voting pattern was almost exactly the same as nationally. In fact, the Greens did slightly better than nationwide, taking 4.4 per cent of all votes, while UKIP took 12.6 per cent (identical to their overall national figure).
So UKIP and the Greens together secured 17 per cent (compared with the national figure of 16.4 per cent) of the total votes cast in constituencies along the HS2 phase 1 corridor.
What is perhaps more surprising is that it was in constituencies where the Conservative and/or Labour and/or Liberal Democrat candidates were already against HS2 where UKIP or the Greens did notably better than their national average!
The most outstanding example was at Buckingham, where UKIP took 21.7 per cent and the Greens 13.9 per cent of the votes against the only other candidate, John Burcow, the House of Commons Speaker. But as the local MP he had always been strongly opposed to HS2.
One of the most energetic opponents of HS2 in the Chilterns has been the Conservatives Cheryl Gillan, but UKIP and the Greens still took 19.2 per cent of votes cast in her Chesham & Amersham constituency, which also includes the HQ of one of the leading anti campaign groups, the HS2 Action Alliance.
David Liddington, Aylesbury’s Conservative MP, also opposed the scheme but the two anti-HS2 parties achieved 23.6 per cent of the total vote. This may be because Mr Liddington had not voted against HS2 in parliament since, as a Minister in the old government, he was bound by collective responsibility.
So the same might have been expected in Kenilworth & Southam, where the MP Jeremy Wright although supporting the idea of high-speed rail in principle had always opposed the planned route, which slices right through the middle of his constituency. But he, too, had been a Minister (latterly promoted to the Cabinet) and also subject to collective responsibility, so had absented himself from HS2 votes.
However, UKIP and the Greens together only secured a below-national average 15.2 per cent of the votes perhaps all the more surprising as Kenilworth & Southam is the constituency that is also home to Joe Rukins StopHS2 campaign group.
The position was not a lot different at Beaconsfield, where UKIP and the Greens polled 18 per cent, just above the overall average. Local MP Dominic Grieve had been criticised for not voting against HS2 when he was Attorney-General. As a Cabinet member, though, he too was subject to collective responsibility but after he was sacked last year (ironically to be replaced by Jeremy Wright) Mr Grieve campaigned against HS2.
Further north in Lichfield and in Tamworth, where both sitting Tory MPs had consistently opposed HS2, UKIP and the Greens together did a little better, gaining 20.9 per cent of all votes, but the Conservatives retained both seats with an increased share of the vote.
Neighbouring Warwickshire North was Labour’s top target seat. Mike OBrien the Labour candidate and a keen ally of Ed Balls, who was also defeated strongly opposed HS2. But he was beaten by Craig Tracey, who increased the Conservative majority even with UKIP and the Greens taking 19.3 per cent of the votes!
This result came just a week after Prime Minister David Cameron had visited the constituency and spoken up strongly for HS2: To reassure people who think it is going to take up too much budget, I would say that in the next Parliament we are going to invest three times more in other road and rail schemes, including those here in the West Midlands, as we are in HS2.
Overall, therefore, there are few signs that most voters even those living close to the route and those who may be affected by its construction were much swayed by HS2 and, if voting for UKIP or the Greens, did so for a multiplicity of reasons.
Certainly, more than 80 per cent of votes cast, both along the route of HS2 phase 1 and across the whole nation, went to parties committed to going ahead with the HS2 project.
The six-member Select Committee that is examining petitions against the hybrid Bill to construct the first phase of HS2 is due to resume its work later this month with a visit to the Chilterns. But it must first find a new member to replace Liberal Democrat Mike Thornton, who was defeated on 7 May in the Eastleigh constituency. The remaining five members were re-elected the chairman, Robert Syms (Con, Poole); Henry Bellingham (Con, Norfolk North West); Sir Peter Bottomley (Con, Worthing West); Ian Mearns (Labour, Gateshead); and Yasmin Qureshi (Labour, Bolton South East).