CamdenNewJournal

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Alan Bennett laments how HS2 protesters ‘did not stand a chance’

Playwright appears at Friends Meeting House to help Camden Mayor's fund-raiser

19 April, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Playwright Alan Bennett with Camden Mayor Richard Cotton

ALAN Bennett has lamented how campaigners against the High Speed 2 railway line did not stand a chance against Government planners.

The playwright said residents were bound to lose a war of “attrition” once Whitehall had decided the HS2 rail link must start and end at Euston. The project is set to lead to 20 years of demolition and disruption in Camden, and saw demonstrators coming away from the House of Commons and the House of Lords feeling like their views had never been properly considered.

Mr Bennett, the History Boys writer, was speaking at a charity fundraiser organised by Camden Mayor Richard Cotton on Thursday evening. He told the Friends Meeting House in Euston Road, opposite from where the HS2 works have already begun: “When architects wrote to the Times complaining about Prince Charles objecting to the redevelopment of Chelsea Barracks, I thought: hypocrites. To say it is anti-democratic for anyone to stand up against developers and architects [ignores how] the system is stacked against objectors.”

Mr Bennett added: “Objectors have to mass their forces over and over – and the developer always wins by a process of attrition. “They wear them down, coming back with minor changes, until they win. That is very relevant for what happened with HS2. The objectors simply did not stand a chance.”

Mr Cotton had organised the diary reading and question and answer session in aid of the CW4S homeless charity. The sell-out crowd raised £10,000. Mr Bennett lived for many years in Camden Town and now lives in Primrose Hill. “I do not like Camden Lock. All the decent shops went and it is full of tat,” he said. “But why do I love Camden? Because it is handy to get out of – that sounds terrible, but it is true. I cycle still, and it was useful to get to the BBC. It is home – I would find it inconceivable to live in Chelsea, and if I go south of the river, I feel totally lost.”

He told the audience that watching the Labour Party’s general election loss in 2015 had felt like a “bereavement”, filling him with gloom. “I wanted a Labour government,” he said. “They may sometimes be foolish, but are always well intentioned, as opposed to a party determined to sell off what’s left of our liberal institutions and run the rest of the country solely for their own interests. “This is a government for half a nation.”

Mr Bennett said: “I support, without always totally agreeing with, Jeremy Corbyn. He represents some kind of hope – but you get this feeling when you reach my age that it isn’t going to happen in my lifetime.” He warned the audience his diaries were full of political views, adding: “I will sound like an old git if I read too much, as my diary is full of politics.”

He said: “I watch five minutes of Have I Got News For You, and I always wonder why Ian Hislop and Paul Merton are happy to be on the same show as people like Nigel Farage, Jeremy Clarkson and Boris Johnson. Does it give them the chance to have fun at their expense? But I feel it makes it appear that their opinions are not pernicious. Johnson does not have a moral bone in his body, Farage likewise. It makes people think politics is only a joke, but it very much isn’t.”

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