After Channel 4 screened an edition of Dispatches fronted by Liam Halligan, who, let us not drive this one around the houses for too long, presented a slanted and highly selective take on the HS2 project which failed to even consider why the new railway is needed more than ever right now - never mind in 10 years or so - some in the rail industry called him out for shoddy journalism and bias. And he didn’t take it too well.
Now, I know that those who chant the mantra of “It’s a waste of money, it’ll only mean rich people getting to London a bit quicker, why not invest in transport in the North, we could invest in bus services or light rail systems instead, it’ll really cost [insert very scary made up figure here], just cancel it cos I don’t want to hear any more as I’ve made my mind up” will continue to hold their views. But Halligan’s reaction was telling.
One of those calling him out was Nigel Harris at Rail magazine, pointing out one example of the Halligan selective approach. “This is selective and misleading tosh Liam. You’re so much better than this. ‘One line’ that creates massive new capacity on its own, plus major new capacity on three existing main lines - WCML, MML and ECML. So, four lines then”.
The Great Man was not happy. “I know you desperately want High Speed Rail, Nigel. Fair enough. But my film in part reflected the view of serious rail insiders - Tomaney, Glaister, Darling, Tony May, Jonathan Tyler - who think economic case doesn’t stack up”. If you select pundits who are agin the project, they will pass adverse comment on it.
But do go on. “Government has spent MILLIONS employing 17 PR companies to ram pro-HS2 message down our throats [objective journalism, not] So, given huge doubts re HS2 within rail industry that you KNOW exist [no citation], I thought it was time public heard expert testimony from other side of the argument. If that’s OK with you”.
Harris had seen enough. “Clearly, I was being too kind. When a journalist reacts like that, conversation is pointless. How sad”. And that induced a total meltdown. “What is ‘sad’ is that your magazine is in the pocket of the huge corporate vested interests driving the case for HS2 to such an extent that you have become impervious to independent thought”. That’s an accusation Halligan cannot stand up. Because it’s not true.
At this point, Christian Wolmar - not a fan of HS2 - had also seen enough of Halligan’s ranting and put him straight. “Liam, that is quite daft. I have been writing a column for the mag for over 20 years and I am firmly anti-HS2. I have written several anti HS2 pieces as Nigel is keen on having a wide set of views, so your accusation is nonsense - you could have interviewed me for your prog!” What say The Great Man to that?
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, sadly: “And you clearly want to keep that column Christian. What’s daft - but not surprising is that I broadcast film featuring views of Stephen Glaister, John Tomaney & Alistair Darling and instant response of Rail Magazine is ‘complete tosh’ followed by stream of personal invective”. Another nasty smear.
Wolmar was unimpressed. “That's a fatuous insinuation. Nigel has never interfered in my column and only ever queries potential factual errors. He certainly has a broader view of what can go in his mag than Telegraph newspapers!”. And Harris had had enough.
“Oh dear. Abuse. The last resort of the lost argument. Your comment will cause hollow laughter amidst those whose pocket you believe we rest in. Have a great day Liam”. Halligan was left chanting over and over again the names of those pundits he had carefully selected to present the views in support of the conclusion he wanted to reach.
Despite that, I’m sure those who have already passed adverse judgment on HS2 will remain unmoved - despite the presenter of the latest hatchet job falling apart under a small fraction of the adverse comment he assembled for his programme.
We clearly need an informed debate about HS2. Liam Halligan does not appear too keen to be a participant. Others should draw their own conclusions.
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