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13 April 2010

Inside the Tory manifesto: crossed wires on Crossrail

Breaking: Tories' ambivalence on London line is a gamble

By James Macintyre

There will doubtless be much media support for the Conservatives’ manifesto being launched at the time of writing. But one paper unlikely to offer wholehearted support is the London Evening Standard.

For despite repeated calls from that newspaper to do so, and support for the project by David Cameron’s ambitious rival, the capital’s mayor Boris Johnson, the Tory manifesto notably fails to give a clear commitment to build Crossrail. Instead, it merely say they “support” Crossrail. From the manifesto:

We support Crossrail [and the electrification of the Great Western Line to South Wales].

In contrast, the Labour commitment states:

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We will complete the new east-west Crossrail line in London adding ten per cent to London transport capacity.

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The Tories’ shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers has given a clearly indication of where her party stands on this issue, and previously confirmed that Crossrail will be up for review under a Tory government: on 3 February 2003, she told Rail News:

The main problem, of course, is the general financial position that we will inherit. The government has created substantial debts, and it can’t go on writing cheques forever. So any project will have to come under review after the election. I would say the Crossrail project will be included in that review as well.

 

And the shadow chancellor, George Osborne has been reported to have reserved the right to “go over the plans”.

Only yesterday, the Standard was ciriticising the Tories over its Crossrail position, implying that it could be a deal-breaker on whether the paper backed the party. It reported that Johnson had failed to persuade the Tory leadership to commit. And last year, it said:

It bodes ill for London, then, that the [Conservative] party is refusing to guarantee funding for Crossrail, the long-delayed rail-link between Heathrow and Stratford. They should think again…

UPDATE: The Conservative’s London spokesperson Justine Greening failed to commit to Crossrail in an interview with Standard today:

But on a string of spending issues that are vital to Londoners and businesses, Ms Greening was unable to give hard-and-fast assurances. Chief among these is Crossrail, the £16 billion east to west rail link that the party supports in principle. ‘I’m an accountant and I know I could never write a budget for a company I had not started work in,” she said, defending Mr Osborne’s caution’.