HS2’s northern leg would not be revived under a Labour government, Sir Keir Starmer has signalled, as Blair-era figures urged him to be less cautious.
The Labour leader said he had wanted the high-speed line “built in full” but he “can’t commit” to that due to the “damage” done by the Government.
He added he was unable to promise to reverse Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement to scrap HS2 from the West Midlands to Manchester but said he was in talks with leaders across the North of England on providing better “connectivity”.
Mr Sunak has promised to use £36 billion of savings from scrapping sections of HS2 to fund a raft of other transport schemes.
But doubts were emerging over these proposals, with the Network North rail plan described as a “shambles” by Labour amid claims some apparent pledges had been watered down or dropped hours after they were announced.
The Government faced questions over several pledges, including “£100m for a mass transit system for Bristol” and a promised upgrade to the A259 from Bognor Regis to Southampton.
Mr Sunak opted to scrap HS2 from the West Midlands to Manchester saying “the facts have changed” and the cost of the high-speed rail scheme had “more than doubled”.
Sir Keir, speaking to the BBC ahead of the party’s conference in Liverpool, said: “Well, what a fiasco.
“They’ve had this project up and running for 13 years. It’s costing billions of pounds, huge promises have been made. And now because of their mismanagement, it’s collapsed in on itself.
“Now, I wanted HS2 built in full. But after the damage they’ve now done to the project, a massive hole that they’ve blown it, I can’t commit to that.
“What I will commit to is that we will have very good transport between our cities and within our cities so we can grow our economy. The single most important thing in this country is we get our economy working across the whole of the country.”
Speaking to ITV News Calendar, Sir Keir also said: “They’ve just taken a wrecking ball to this project.
“They will be cancelling contracts between now and the general election. They will be releasing land that is needed. They downsized. I can’t stand (here) after they’ve made such a big hole in their plans and say (I) will simply reverse it.”
Sir Keir said “yes, we’ll get on with it” when discussing the future of Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former director of communications, told the Guardian: “You want policy, and you want your policies to be known about, and you want to be able to defend them and to argue them.
“I sometimes worry that the Labour party today doesn’t. I don’t often get that sense of that sort of relentless, restless, obsessive attention to detail focusing on everything that you need to focus on.”
He added: “(In 1996 and 1997) we were not happy if we were not making the news and we weren’t making the weather and we weren’t actually being attacked. Because sometimes being attacked is the only way that you can get out there and make your case.”
Labour former minister Lord Mandelson said: “Do I think the Labour party under Keir Starmer is ready for government? Well actually, I don’t. But then the election isn’t going to take place tomorrow or the day after. They have another year.”
He added: “I just implore people (in Labour) to realise, not just that they shouldn’t be complacent … but just how much detailed, hard slog and work is involved in preparing the programme of government. Not just a vision, but a real programme of government policies that flow from it that you have to have in place if you’re going to hit the ground running on day one after that election.”
Sir Keir will also be waiting to see if Labour can make a breakthrough in Scotland in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, with the resulted expected in the early hours of Friday.