Thursday, 4 June 2009

Railway electrification and the Tories

Like (it seems) practically everyone else in the country, I wish Gordon Brown would go. It now looks as if that might happen next week, if some commentators are to be believed.

But there is a problem. If somebody (say, Alan Johnson) replaces Brown as PM, there will soon have to be a general election. Or so runs the conventional wisdom at the moment. There is no constitutional necessity for this; but in practice, we are told, the public would not tolerate another PM without a "popular mandate". On this view, the new regime would have to commit itself immediately to holding an election no later than the autumn (in fact, as soon as the parliamentary reforms to be proposed by Sir C. Kelly can be completed).

(UPDATE: That conventional wisdom has now been challenged by Steve Richards and Matthew Parris, both of whom think that if the new leader quickly set a definite date for an election, that date could be some time off.)

And if there is a general election, Labour will lose and the Tories will come into power. One of those who would then be out of power is the Railway Minister, Andrew Adonis.

Lord Adonis is probably the only minister left in the present regime who is doing any good at all. He wants to get on with electrifying the main lines out of St Pancras and Paddington. This is long overdue. It is an urgent and essential project if we are to have any claim to a sustainable transport system.

But the plans aren't going to be ready until the autumn. The incoming Tory government might abandon the plan on the usual short-sighted "public expenditure cuts" grounds. Whereas if the election were held off till next spring, the project could be under way, some of the major contracts already let, and it would be more difficult for the new regime to cancel it.

The best solution would be if Adonis could carry on under the Conservatives. He can stay in the House of Lords and does not have to worry about being re-elected. Peers can cross the floor more easily than MPs. He is, arguably, more of a technocrat than a politician. His allegiance to the Labour Party per se does not appear to be particularly visceral: he was previously a member of the LibDems, and having changed party once, he could do so again. But sadly he has categorically ruled this out. It is all very unfortunate.

Our only hope, it seems, is that the Tories turn out to be as green as David Cameron claims. This seems highly unlikely.

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