IN MANY respects, William Hague’s political career has gone full circle since his barnstorming speech to the Tory conference in 1977 when the then 16-year-old implored the Conservative faithful to reject Labour’s “socialist state” and elect Margaret Thatcher to power.
Three and a half decades later, the choice facing Britain on May 7 is just as stark – the election of a Conservative-led administration committed to a smaller and more efficient government or the threat of Labour unravelling the progress that the coalition has begun to make in reducing the deficit.
It is why Rotherham-born Mr Hague was right to identify West Yorkshire as the key battleground during a campaign visit yesterday, one of the last that he is likely to make in an official capacity before taking his leave of front line politics.
This is the region that helped to secure four successive victories for the Tories between 1979 and 1992, and which needs to swing in favour of the Tories next month if David Cameron is to remain in Downing Street.
As the opinion poll analysis by the University of York’s Professor Colin Mellors indicates on the opposite page, the outcome is on a knife-edge and the Tories are not guaranteed of making sufficient gains in a clutch of Labour-held marginals along the M62 corridor.
Why is this so? The Conservatives are certainly short of talented individuals who identify with voters in the North – Mr Hague will be a loss in this regard. It is also clear that the Tories need to convince a sceptical electorate that they’re a party for the whole country and not just a rich elite.
If the outgoing Richmond MP can persuade sufficient people in this region that the Conservatives will put Yorkshire first, it will probably come to represent the greatest success of his career.
Early intervention: reading between the lines
IT is a source of regret that this election is not focusing on those practical issues which matter most, like reducing rates of illiteracy amongst the young. Yet, unless such fundamentals are tackled, the depressing prospect of Yorkshire schools remaining at the bottom of national league tables will remain.
The Tory solution is to compel 11-year-old youngsters to resit English and maths tests if they’re do not reach the requisite standard by the time they leave primary school to begin their secondary education. It does have merit – pupils need a clear grasp of the basics if they are to achieve the bare minimum at GCSE level.
However this top-down approach also has flaws – the challenge facing policy-makers is identifying those pupils who are struggling to read a sentence or write their name, and take remedial action, before it is too late. Early intervention remains critical.
In this regard, the intervention of the Read On. Get On. coalition of charities, teachers, parents and businesses is timely – it wants university graduates to spare some time to visit nurseries and help improve reading standards. Such enthusiasm should not be discouraged – early years education is critical to determining the future prospects of toddlers.
Although this issue does not make the snazziest of soundbites, it is every bit as important as Key Stage tests or GCSE exams and is time that politicians started reading between the lines.
VE Day reflections: a landmark day in British history
TO READERS of a certain vintage, VE Day will evoke bittersweet memories – relief that the guns across Europe had been silenced; remembrance for loved ones killed in battle and absolute respect for the indefatigability of Sir Winston Churchill who declined to meet the exultant crowds without his trademark cigar. As time passes by, and the Second World War generation ebbs away, next month’s 70th anniversary commemorations will be particularly symbolic and significant – it will be one of the last great occasions when survivors come together to reminisce about how the country pulled together through its darkest days and emerged victorious.
It is also vital that these reflections are passed through the generations to the grandchildren, and great grandchildren, of those war veterans – and, of course, their families – who stood up for “King and country”. Without such sacrifices, Britain would not be the great country that it is today – a beacon for liberty where people live without the threat of a global conflict. Such freedoms must never be taken for granted, hence the importance of readers being prepared to share their own memories of a landmark day in history.