The Conservatives are doing pork wrong

It’s not unusual for a government to put winning votes over sensible infrastructure decisions. It is rarer to put a premium on losing them.


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One of the many advantages of being the government, rather than the opposition, is that you can more effectively bribe your voters. Oppositions can only promise things in the future – but governments can do them in the here and now. There is even a political term for this: “pork”.

Which is one of the mystifying things about the government’s reported plans to axe the upgrade to the TransPennine route upgrade. The route covers a slew of Conservative-Labour marginals, including several which the Tories must hold if they are to continue in office and several they must win if they want to govern with a parliamentary majority again.

In contrast, you have the still-continuing plans for a second Crossrail in London and more upgrades to the city’s transport infrastructure. London contains a growing number of safe Labour seats and an increasing number of Tory-held seats that are in jeopardy in any case, thanks to the Conservative position on Brexit and the third runway at Heathrow.

Added to that, you can make a strong case that increased infrastructure spending in London, other than on new housing, actually loses votes in two places. First, by further overheating London’s property market, it prices out voters, which hurts the Conservatives in the capital. Second, every pound spent in London is, by definition, a pound not spent somewhere it would a) rebalance the United Kingdom’s lopsided regional economy and b) win the Tories some actual, y’know, votes. It's perfectly normal for a political party to prioritise winning votes over the right economic strategy. It's a new gambit to focus on losing them ahead of the right economic strategy.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.