Tory Associations withhold money from CCHQ in protest at HiSpeed Rail plans
News has just reached me that one of Britain's most prosperous Conservative Associations - Chesham & Amersham (represented by Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan) - has told CCHQ that they will be leaving the 'Premier League of Associations' and ending, therefore, their commitment to contribute £10,000pa to central funds as part of that League. My source predicted that all Buckinghamshire Tory Associations might do the same, in protest at Coalition plans to build a £17bn High-Speed Rail Link (HS2) through the county. The feeling is that private meetings with Transport Secretary Philip Hammond and Party Chairman Sayeeda Warsi have been fruitless. Conversations with Philip Hammond were described as a "dialogue of the deaf".
Local Tory MPs are under enormous pressure to oppose HS2. Websites and online petitions have sprung up opposing the project, arguing that there is no business case, no environmental case and no money for the rail link between London, Birmingham and the North.
Yesterday's Sunday Telegraph quoted the opposition of two ministers and a whip:
“I would defy the party whip – be very, very sure of that. My constituency comes first in all instances. The impact on the whole area would be absolutely phenomenal.” - Cheryl Gillan
“If it came down to it, I would vote against the route as proposed. I am personally against it.” - David Lidington
Whip Jeremy Wright said the proposed link was “not the right one”.
At a meeting of Cabinet last week David Cameron over-ruled objections from Ms Gillan and insisted HS2 would go ahead. Mr Cameron regards the link as an important manifesto commitment and a symbol of his 'greenification' of the Conservative Party. He also believes that the link is vital to creating a more balanced UK economy, spreading wealth across the UK because journey times between the South East engine of the UK economy and Heathrow will be dramatically reduced for businesses in the Midlands and North.
Philip Hammond, who has visited all but a handful of the constituencies set to be affected, is hopeful that opposition will be reduced once the extent of tunneling and use of sound barriers is known.