DAVID Cameron has warned Labour it would be “betraying Yorkshire” and risks becoming “the party for the past” if it opposes the new high-speed rail line between London and the North.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, the Prime Minister said he expects Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and Labour to ultimately pull together behind the £50bn HS2 project, because to do otherwise would mean “completely turning their backs on the north of England”.
In his first major interview following the Labour Party conference in Brighton, Mr Cameron also dismissed Ed Miliband’s audacious proposal to freeze energy prices until 2017 as “not thought through”, and already “unravelling”.
The Prime Minister said Britain needs “low and competitive energy prices – not for 20 months, but for 20 years”, and suggested fracking for shale gas, rather than an unprecedented attack on energy companies, is the answer.
Mr Cameron made clear he will use the Conservative Party’s own annual conference, which kicks off in Manchester this weekend, to again re-state the case for HS2 after Mr Balls questioned whether it is “the best way to spend £50bn for the future of our nation”.
“We will be making the case very strongly for it,” Mr Cameron said. “The rest of the world is adopting high-speed rail technology. We should be doing the same.
“I don’t believe Labour in the end will go wobbly on it, because they’d be completely turning their backs on the north of England.
“They would be betraying people in Yorkshire; they would be letting down people in Manchester. They would be cementing a position as the party for the past, and not for the future.
“So I don’t believe they’ll do it. But be in no doubt, my enthusiasm is not dented in any way.”
The row over Mr Miliband’s proposed freeze on energy bills rumbled on yesterday as Labour’s former Business Secretary Lord Mandelson warned that people’s perceptions of the party “are in danger of being taken backwards” after its shift to the centre ground under Tony Blair. Senior Labour figures hit back, including Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint, the MP for Don Valley, who said Lord Mandelson was “plainly wrong” and questioned his motives in speaking out.
“I know Lord Mandelson has financial interests in energy companies,” she said. “I don’t know if he’s just speaking to them – but I’m speaking up for consumers and businesses.”
Mr Cameron chose not to echo the warnings of possible black-outs from the ‘Big Six’ energy firms, nor attack Labour for a ‘lurch to the Left’, as many of his fellow Conservatives have done – suggesting simply that the policy has not been “thought through”.
“I think it is unravelling,” he said.
“You don’t have to take that from me – it seems to me that just a few hours after making the announcement, (Mr Miliband) had to admit there were some circumstances in which it might not happen.
“What we need in our country is low and competitive energy prices – not for 20 months, but for 20 years. We need to do the things that create a competitive energy market. We need to access the new technologies like unconventional gas that will help keep prices down, rather than policies thought up that then so swiftly unravel.”
The Prime Minister was also forced to defend his Government’s roll-out of broadband into rural areas following a highly critical report yesterday from the Commons public accounts committee, which concluded the project has been “mismanaged”.
Mr Cameron said he thought BT – which has won every broadband contract so far – is “doing a good job”, and dismissed the criticism from PAC chair Margaret Hodge.
“This (comes) from someone who was a Labour Minister in a Government that did absolutely nothing about rural broadband,” he said. “In three short years we have made huge strides forward.”
The Prime Minister also hinted there will be no big surprises in his expected forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle – with Iain Duncan-Smith’s job as Work and Pensions Secretary apparently safe, despite recent criticism of key projects such as the Universal Credit and the Work Programme.
“I will be referring strongly to the great team that I have got,” Mr Cameron said of his own conference speech next week.
“You have seen the key figures have been in place, know their departments well and are really delivering – whether that is welfare, education, the Home Secretary, the economy, Foreign Secretary.
“I have a really strong team, and I will have the opportunity to emphasise that.”