Over French cuisine in a very fancy Birmingham restaurant, I got chatting with a former Tory minister at a Brexit dinner. I had been invited to the event at Tory conference as a supporter of the campaign to Leave the EU, but after some initial pleasantries about how unexpectedly well that was now going, the conversation turned to transport policy.

“Do you think there is any chance Theresa May will drop HS2?” I asked.

“No. They will start building it next year. And I’m very happy about that,” said the MP. “I was one of the first ministers to back high-speed rail.”

I had forgotten. “Oh, yes, of course.” An awkward silence prevailed. Finally, I admitted my interest: “The line goes past my parents’ house. They are having to move. It has been a terrible ordeal.”

The MP’s smile turned instantly to a grimace, whether put on or not I do not know. “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s awful.”

I felt compelled to press the issue, like the worst kind of party pooper: “Yes, it has aged them 10 years. Ruined their retirement. Well, they haven’t been able to retire. Without the money from selling their house, which wouldn’t sell because it’s blighted. So they are both working in their late 70s and the strain is terrible.”

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