Campaign for High Speed Rail

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This campaign is an example of ‘astroturfing’, a campaign which is set up to give the impression that it is a grassroots campaign, although it is in fact run by lobbyists. This fake grassroots lobbying technique first gained notoriety in the 1990s when American lobbyists for the tobacco industry set up front groups to defend smokers' rights.

The Campaign for High Speed Rail's focus was to 'change the parameters of the debate' about the need for a high speed railway line between London and Glasgow.

Although run by lobbying firm Westbourne Communications and supported by High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd, the company set up by the UK government, the campaign purported to be backed by concerned employers, local businesses and local residents.

Scaring the living daylights out of opponents

According to journalist and author Anna Minton, the lobbying company Westbourne Communications outlined at a 2012 conference how it

didn’t want the HS2 ‘narrative’ to be about shaving minutes off journey times to Birmingham and in the process cutting through swathes of countryside. The debate they sought to create was about pitting wealthy people in the Chilterns worried about their hunting rights, against working class people in the north. The strategy was 'posh people standing in the way of working class people getting jobs' the lobbyist said.
The lobbyist went on to explain how they enlisted support for HS2 with a bus tour of the big northern cities, working with celebrities, local radio and high status politicians with the aim of enthusing local people to tell 1,000 stories about just how good high speed rail would be. Their tactic for diffusing the very vocal, local opposition along the line was, quite simply, to 'shit them up'.
Also in the audience was an academic who was shocked by the 'cold, militaristic approach' outlined and the use of intimidation and threats promoted by the lobbyist. 'This is a debate which is tricky and nuanced. But this wasn’t open at all, it was very coldly targeted and very strategic in the way that images were put forward. That’s the way PR works but it was so calculating. I came away thinking this has implications for the way democratic debate develops in this country, particularly the element about the scaring the living daylights out of people,' the academic said. [1]

Lobbying firms


  • Anna Minton, Scaring the living daylights, a Spinwatch investigation and report, March 2013


  1. Anna Minton, Scaring the living daylights, published by Spinwatch, March 2013