Even Yes, Minister would have struggled to come up with this one. A major infrastructure project, to Manchester, set to be cancelled, in Manchester, during the government’s party conference.
Yet Rishi Sunak could still grasp victory from the jaws of defeat if, as expected, he ditches HS2.
Let’s be clear: this is a right sorry mess. The green lights given to the project over the years, not least by Boris Johnson when it was clear the thing was well and truly off the rails, are inexcusable.
Cancelling a major infrastructure project which has influenced investment decisions is hardly the sort of thing that advertises a country to the world’s financial community; combine it with our rather flighty approach to the tax code and frankly we start to look like a basket case.
But if the government has decided not to move ahead, there is one potential saving grace: a shift away from these expensive grand projects towards infrastructure that is vitally needed to connect our cities.
The quote-unquote Northern Powerhouse was never going to be built without vast swathes of new infrastructure across the country, not up and down it.
The rail line the country desperately needs is Liverpool to Manchester to Leeds to Newcastle, with second place belonging to better connections between Oxford and Cambridge. Third place probably belongs to Crossrail 2.
The sunk cost fallacy is known as a fallacy for a reason. Just because you’ve spent money, doesn’t mean you should keep doing so, especially in pursuit of a project with as dismal a business case as HS2.
But the real tragedy would be for Britain to tighten its belt totally on infrastructure.
The path to a better economic future may well be to scrap HS2, and spend the same amount on desperately needed smaller projects.