High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogma

Professor David Begg, director of the Campaign for High Speed Rail, rebuts the latest right-wing small state madness from the Institute for Economic Affairs.

Professor David Begg is the Director of the Campaign for High Speed Rail

This morning the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) released their assessment of the proposed high-speed rail project, co-authored by Dr Richard Wellings and Kyn Aizlewood. The IEA’s report (pdf) reflects an old-fashioned, free-market-obsessed ideology that wants to spend Britain’s transport infrastructure investment predominantly on roads in the South East.

These sorts of ideologues have no appreciation of the important external benefits that a modern high-speed national rail network would bring for jobs and regeneration.

It is not surprising that the IEA has come out against HS2, when you read about some of the authors’ other thoughts and background. From their past work, the authors are clearly obsessed by roads – particularly in the South East – and would happily privatise the railways on which Britain’s families and local business people depend.

The co-author, Kyn Aizlewood, does not disclose that his views are clearly effected by the close proximity of his house to the proposed rail route and that he is a member of an anti-HS2 action group.

In January 2009, Wellings wrote:

“High-speed rail also offers poor value compared with roads. £30 billion would perhaps buy 1,000 miles of motorway, which, if sensibly located, could be expected to carry more passengers and freight than the entire rail network. And the funding could be entirely private, paid for by tolls, particularly if competing routes were also priced.”

In May 2011, Wellings wrote:

“As long as Network Rail and other individual railway firms remain in receipt of taxpayer-funded subsidies, there will be little incentive to drive down costs and to provide a more efficient service.

“It is right that passengers should pay a greater proportion of the cost of the services they use; but it is also right that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for services that are grossly inefficient and are used by only a small proportion of the population. Allowing rail operators to own the infrastructure could transform Britain’s rail network.

“The government must stop tweaking with a fundamentally flawed model and instead unshackle the railways, and the railway operators, from the dead hand of state control.”

We also note with interest that Wellings’ co-author, Kyn Aizlewood, also appears to live on the proposed route.

In a number of comment threads and letters on the subject of high-speed rail, Aizlewood reveals that he is a resident of Kenilworth. In fact, Aizlewood appears to not only live along the route, but is also the organiser of one of the local Stop HS2 opposition groups.

In an interview with the Coventry Telegraph, he reveals his position as the official organiser of the ‘Keep Burton Green’ action group, as he promotes the wine-tasting evening the group hosted to raise funds to oppose the high-speed rail project.

The Coventry Telegraph reports:

Organiser Kyn Aizlewood said: “Our wine group has helped to bring the community together, meeting regularly to improve our appreciation of wine. The high speed rail line will cut our village in two, literally destroying the heart of the village and we will need funds over the coming years to fight this project. This will be an entertaining evening and we welcome your support.”

The IEA have completely failed to grasp the wider benefits of the high-speed rail project, which will create jobs, boost investment and spread the economic wealth of this country to places outside of the TPA heartlands of London and the South East.

I would expect better from an otherwise reputable think-tank than to parrot misinformation and repackage the discredited views of opponents to the project who are clearly motivated by a mixture of small-state ideology and ‘not-in-my-back-yard’ attitudes.

They should be ashamed of themselves for abusing their research credentials to produce such a thinly veiled propaganda piece.

Like this article? Left Foot Forward relies on support from readers to sustain our progressive journalism. Can you become a supporter for £5 a month?

44 Responses to “High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogma”

  1. Karan Mude

    High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogma: http://bit.ly/nTqjlR by Professor David Begg of @Biz4HS2

  2. Alex Burrows

    HS2 – good piece on why the IEA research is frankly risible… http://ow.ly/5HVhW

  3. Extradition Game

    RT @leftfootfwd: High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogma: http://bit.ly/nTqjlR by Professor David Begg of @Biz4HS2 #NewsClub

  4. Norvik_1602

    RT @leftfootfwd: High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogma: http://bit.ly/nTqjlR by Professor David Begg of @Biz4HS2

  5. Business for HS2

    Campaign Director David Begg writes for @leftfootfwd | The IEA 'should be ashamed of themselves' http://bit.ly/pu1Unr #HSRtruth

  6. alexsmith1982

    RT @leftfootfwd: High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogma: http://t.co/eOQfp6w by Professor David Begg of @Biz4HS2

  7. Mark Howard

    The IEA report cites academic research unlike Prof Begg’s unsupported assertions. The IEA view on the dim prospects of HS2 bridging the North/South divide is shared by independent Newcastle University academic Prof John Tomaney who gave written and oral evidence to the Transport Select Committee see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmtran/writev/rail/m14.htm

  8. Gabba X

    Campaign Director David Begg writes for @leftfootfwd | The IEA 'should be ashamed of themselves' http://bit.ly/pu1Unr #HSRtruth

  9. Ed's Talking Balls

    You should engage with the substance of the arguments against HS2 rather than seeking to paint all opponents as NIMBYs.

  10. Yes To HS2

    RT @Biz4HS2 Campaign Director David Begg writes for @leftfootfwd | The IEA 'should be ashamed of themselves' http://bit.ly/pu1Unr #HSRtruth

  11. NoStringsAttached

    I actually think that a bit of background as to who is writing the report is quite useful, as the research seems to be incredibly ideologically driven. Mr Begg should definitely engage in the ideas in the report too, but looking at his website he appears to have done this. http://www.campaignforhsr.com/rebuttal-campaign-for-high-speed-rail-responds-to-weak-iea-research

  12. Robin Powell

    For months now the Government and the pro-HS2 lobby have treated with contempt the evidence presented to them that HS2 is not in the national interest. Now that a respected think tank has come up with a report that confirms precisely that, the Government owes it to the country to sit up and take note. As the public consultation will no doubt confirm, the public are extremely sceptical about shelling out at least £34 billion on a project like this – at a time like this. We have a huge debts to pay off, and if the Eurozone crisis ends as catastrophically as many analysts now believe it will, we may well need to set aside billions more to bale out Ireland and other European partners. We need to take stock, improve existing public transport services, and invest instead in building a digital economy, based on ultra-high-speed broadband for all. Within a few years there’ll be far more virtual meetings than real ones, and we’ll look back and marvel that we used to waste so much time and money travelling to and from meetings, contributing to global warming in the process. By all means revisit the idea when we’re back in the black. And if we still think high-speed rail is worth ripping up more of our precious countryside for, let’s go for truly cutting-edge technology. Maglev and vactrains are faster, quieter, cleaner and cheaper to maintain than the old-fashioned technology the Government is proposing for HS2.

  13. Ed's Talking Balls

    I found this article the best I’ve come across on the subject:


  14. Yes To HS2

    High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogma http://bit.ly/pu1Unr #HS2 #HSR #NationalINterest #UKEconomy

  15. Leon Wolfson

    Never mind the perfectly ideologically sound cases showing that HS2 has only very marginal business justification, right.

    Ed, I disagree. The best argument is that the same amount spent on other railway lines, improving them, would lead to a FAR bigger drop in average journey time.

  16. Ed's Talking Balls

    Well, there are plenty of very strong arguments against HS2, Leon. I guess it’s a case of “take your pick”.

    I can’t believe that the government thinks this is a good use of money, particularly at a time such as this. For once, I would appreciate a u-turn.

  17. Leon Wolfson

    Well, I’d rather see the investment in the other lines, because Labour didn’t invest properly and allowed fees to run away from them (which the coalition are not reining in either, for that matter).

    None of the parties have been good on transport policy…

  18. Caroline Russell

    @RLemkin seen this from @davidmentiply? High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogma http://t.co/KW1G5zR

  19. Andrew Yeomans

    “If you can’t argue the facts, attack the messenger.”

    And I notice you have a picture of a Siemens train. Now where are those jobs going to be created?

  20. Richard Lloyd

    Interesting how the tectonic plates are shifting. Labour politicians are now backing local people against this scheme for a tiny minority that’ll funnel work and money to the south-east. There’s NO compensation for tenants who are affected, only home-owners. When the Yes people talk about “Their Lawns”, that includes very scarce amenity areas and gamesfields enjoyed by thousands. What’s called Regeneration is actually new-build in the Greenbelt, not brownfield, and it’s space for jobs, not actual jobs. It’s far easier to add carriages, and if there’s a need, add tracks rated at 250-300 km/h alongside existing roads and railways, integrated with the current network.

  21. Nigel Shepherd

    As someone who once presented unpalatable truths to David Begg when he chaired the Comission for Integrated Transport, I see he has lost none of his bluster and bullying style. The IEA report builds a case against this project based on on FACTS, not hopes and wishes and half truths in order to justify the unjustifiable. If he believes HS2 makes sense, he should argue the case based on evidenced and logic. The truth is that this project doesnt make neither financial nor environmental sense (it might have some redeeming merit it it had just one of these) but it doesn’t, and his bluster only adds to contempt this project deserves.

  22. Yes To HS2

    RT @Biz4HS2 Campaign Director David Begg writes for @leftfootfwd | The IEA 'should be ashamed of themselves' http://bit.ly/pu1Unr #HSRtruth

  23. Yes To HS2

    RT @Biz4HS2 Campaign Director David Begg writes for @leftfootfwd | The IEA 'should be ashamed of themselves' http://bit.ly/pu1Unr #HS2

  24. Dances With Fascists

    High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogma: This morning the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) relea… http://bit.ly/rrGgmk

  25. VoxOpp

    David Begg launches personal attack on IEA report's authors. http://t.co/YHOxN3g. Another PR disaster like "Toff" campaign looms…#hs2

  26. Alex Cox

    You may be right that the author is a NIMBY.
    But that doesn’t mean that a very expensive HSR linking Birmingham
    and London is a good idea, or should be a priority. If the rail network
    and train operators were all publicly owned and operated then there might
    indeed be a case for the taxpayers to fund this project.
    Given New Labour’s failure to renationalise the network, I can’t see
    your rationale for public funds subsidizing private profit.
    Maybe you’ve made that argument elsewhere, but you certainly don’t
    make it here.

  27. Iain

    David Begg launches personal attack on IEA report's authors. http://t.co/YHOxN3g. Another PR disaster like "Toff" campaign looms…#hs2

  28. Karen Lumley MP: The anti-HS2 lobby need to learn the difference between lobbying and mud-slinging | YES to High Speed Rail

    […] The authors are far from dispassionate: one has a record as a long-time advocate for roads, the other is an active member of a local activist group with a house on the HS2 route. Both fail to declare their interests. […]

  29. High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogma – Left Foot Forward | Wine Alto

    […] High Speed Rail: Deconstructing the right wing dogma – Left Foot Forward […]

  30. Wilf66

    Oh dear, Professor Begg, this is a sad rant and an unworthy attempt to discredit the research of fellow acadenics just because of where they live. In case you haven’t noticed, the only people who really care about HS2 are those with a vested financial interest such as yourself or John Morris, who stand to gain, or those living close to the route, who stand to lose. Those of us who live close and who have taken an interest have seen through the thin assumptions and flawed projections on which the case for HS2 is built.

    Your “sort of idealogue” belives that state contolled and subsidised railways are a good thing. I think British Rail disproved that once and for all. The notion that we should continue to move more and more people around the country is flawed, we should find alternatives to transport, mass or otherwise, and discourage commuting just so we can all sit in an office to “do work”. That way we can save energy, save CO2 and, with luck, save the planet for our grandchildren.


    HS2 will do nothing for Cardiff, Swansea, Oxford, Newcastle, Portsmouth, Coventry etc as it doesn’t go through any of these cities. In fact it will do nothing for London Birmingham Manchester or Leeds either as it will lead to less money being spent on exsisting rail routes that we all use and puts it instead into one big vanity project that none of us will use. Shame on Unison for swalling the nonesense of the HS2 lobby.


    Sorry I should have read the title first sorry to Unison Proffesor Begg you should be ashamed for this article yourself, you have no arguements against what the IEA say so you just indulge in abuse. HS2 really are losing the argument then…….

  33. Mr. Sensible

    Robbin, I have always thought that HS2 should happen alongside, not instead of, investment in the existing network, but I remain fully in favour of it.

    I fully agree with you Professor Begg, but would draw your attention to a Guardian article I read last week which suggested that the IEA also suggested abbolition of the NHS, cutting foreign aid and saying that in general the cuts didn’t go far enough.

    I will be interested to see how the Transport Secretary manages to convince the Secretary of State for Wales given that her constituency is in the Chilterns…

  34. nick

    i dont know how they can be described as a respectable group – all they are doing is repeating the stop hs2 mantra which is hardly surprising when one of the authors of the report is associated with the anti hs2 campaign. if this is true it is a clear conflict of interest as it means that their report is not unbiased.

    as for those of you who say the money would be better spent on existing railways this is in fact not the case. and it completely ignores the massive disruption to train services that would be caused, transfer to buses for the work to go ahead as happened on the west coast line which cost £9 billion and likely more houses demolished. hs2 through west london is basically running along an existing line but people are protesting about that ! and of course you would literally drive people back to their cars as their rail journeys would be so delayed !!!

    and given that the iea prefers roads to rail, those using their report to support their anti hs2 stance should be very wary of getting into bed politically with a group who would presumably like to build and widen motorways all over the country including the chilterns ! the same goes for the rac foundation and the head of next who see roads as the only transport alternative ! and whether or not you agree with the politicians who mostly support hs2 at least they have been elected unlike all these lobby groups who are involved due to their political ideology.

  35. Thomas Crane

    The tragedy of this project is that its supporters are starting to cast it as a left vs right matter. There is a strong case from the left for this not to go ahead. Consider the following

    -the figures provided by HS2 itself indicate that the overwhelming majority of users of the new service will be in the upper income quartile and particularly those earning over £70,000. However the cost of the network will be met by those on all income levels

    -the commitment to spend £33 billion on a single project with such a poor return in terms of jobs created underlines the need for a proper industrial policy-which would use the state to encourage high value manufacturing. It is ironic that the Government is simultanously pushing a scheme which will require a wholly new set of trains etc which will all be bought from abroad when its decision on Thameslink essentially spells the end for train manufacturing in the UK. The potential for revolutionising our economy and hearlading a new era of post-Thatcher cooperation between the state and industry would be immense if even half the funds devoted to HS2 could be used for this purpose.

    -the transport budget is being cut with the services used by the poorest in society, namely the bus network, being cut by over 20%. So the Government is prioritising transport services which the richest will use and the poorest will lose out.

    -Philip Hammond’s revelation that he intends to sell the link once it is bought and extensively use PFI to fund the line in the first place indicates that this plan is another in a long line of projects where the key benefits will accrue to the investment bankers. It is perhaps for that reason that the Guardian reported that Goldman Sachs is helping to fund the pro HS2 campaign.

  36. Jerry Marshall

    Professor Begg is as clueless about Kyn’s role in an action group as he is about whether HS2 would have any benefit in terms of jobs and wealth. Kyn started a very friendly wine club in his village years before the HS2 white elephant project was proposed. The fact that the club once held a fund raiser to funds efforts to counter the kind of divisive nonsense David Beggs promotes is irrelevant to a report from a respected independent think tank.

  37. Philip

    Let me first declare an interest – I work with Richard. This is a pretty disreputable post from somebody who is an academic on an self-styled evidence-based blog. This is just a series of attacks on the authors with no discussion of the paper. What exactly does the phrase “would happily privatise the railways” mean and why should it prevent somebody from writing a paper on HS2? The operating comapnies are private and few believe that the current settlement for Network Rail is remotely efficient. Evidence-based blogging would involve demonstrating that HS2 would actually bring external benefits greater than the alternative use of the funds spent on the projects – to not agree that this is the case is not to be “not aware” of the existence of external benefits. A rational critique would involve, for example, dealing with points in the paper such as where it is pointed out that the calculation of the benefits of HS2 assumes that all time by business people that is spent on trains is wasted. Thank goodness I am not one of your students. When they defend their masters’ theses, are judgements based on where they live, what they have previously written or whether they believe in the privatisation of the railways or do you actually examine intellectual arguments according to their content?

  38. Philip

    I should also add that most productive uses of large amounts of capital have external costs or benefits and the question is whether the external costs and benefits are greater from HS2 than from alternative uses of the money. Furthermore, this is work in progress but the first main chapter of the book we published last week showed quite a bit of preliminary evidence that activist policies to promote growth had insignificant affects whilst the increases in marginal tax rates necessary to finance such activist policies had significant affects on growth through their effects on incentives and entrepreneurship. Has Prof. Begg factored these in or is he just ignoring the impacts of marginal tax rates on growth?

  39. Ed's Talking Balls

    Good to see almost unanimous opposition on this thread to HS2, a white elephant if ever I saw one.

    I don’t live on or near the proposed route, so I’m not a NIMBY. It’s a terrible idea irrespective of where one lives. As someone said above, this is certainly not a left-right issue and I hope that opposition to this stupid scheme proceeds on a cross-party basis.

    I also note the silly attempted smear by Mr. Sensible, who posts a link suggesting that the IEA are in support of things which he opposes (and vice versa). What of it? Regardless of the think tank’s views on other matters, put aside your prejudices and assess this individual case on its merits.

  40. rae sloan

    Professor David Begg accuses people of parroting. perhaps he should look in a mirror. All his arguements are re-iterations of Hammmond’s fancy diatribe. They are and insults against opponents and answer any critical questions posed, they lack any detail and exhibit no real knowledge of the detrimental impact of HS2 on the WHOLE country.

  41. Shamik Das

    #HS2 feature on #Newsnight rite now; check out our article frm Professor David Begg of @Biz4HS2 for the facts: http://bit.ly/nTqjlR

  42. Shamik Das

    @AndreaLeadsom Pls read our rebuttal of the IEA's High-Speed Rail report: http://bit.ly/nTqjlR @Biz4HS2 #HS2 #Newsnight

  43. A free-market think tank or a Thatcherite think-tank? | Stand up tall

    […] Left foot forward have looked closely at these criticisms and have revealed Private Eye style that the authors are members of various anti HS2 lobby groups. […]

  44. IEA and and HS2 – dig at Beeb: bias when referencing right-wing think-tanks | Stand up tall

    […] Left foot forward have looked closely at these criticisms and have revealed Private Eye style that the authors are members of various anti HS2 lobby groups. […]

Leave a Reply