January 13: Why PM should lead the debate

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IN many respects, David Cameron was evoking the spirit of Ronald Reagan with his promise to “secure a better Britain” so voters do not face the unappealing prospect of families passing on a crippling “legacy of debt” to future generations.

A decisive moment in the 1980 US presidential election came in the TV debate with President Jimmy Carter, when the then governor of California posed this pivotal question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

Yet, while it has taken Mr Cameron’s government time to overhaul a debt-laden economy, growth and confidence are returning and the Prime Minister understandably wants to focus on this revival ahead of the election. However it was remiss of the Tory leader to allow his media advisers to create the mistaken impression that the NHS and immigration will not feature amongst his party’s priorities on the campaign trail. Such tactical ineptitude plays into the hands of Labour and Ukip when the Conservatives do, in fact, have a positive message to say on both policies, not least the fact NHS spending has risen by more than four per cent in real terms over this Parliament. This fact, and Mr Cameron’s commitment to increase health spending over the next five years, certainly neutralises the daily smears alleged by the Opposition’s spokesman Andy Burnham.

The sound stewardship of the public finances is contingent upon immigration being brought under control and the NHS meeting the demographic demands of an ageing society. It’s an argument that Mr Cameron should not be afraid to air in TV debates with his opponents – it is a sad indictment of modern politics that the main parties cannot agree on the rules of engagement.

They have had five years to prepare for this moment and the PM’s obfuscation smacks of weakness when he does, in fact, have a largely positive message to sell to the country.

Direction of travel

A landmark for transport policy

IT WOULD have been unthinkable, five years ago, for civic and business leaders from across the North to come together and plan a transport strategy for the whole region.

As such, the inaugural meeting in Leeds of Transport for the North was testament to the level of progress that has been made since the Government was convinced about

the economic merit of investing in the area’s infrastructure.

Yet, while much focus in the coming years will inevitably focus on the development of high-speed rail, it is encouraging that there was recognition yesterday about the importance of Hull’s transport links. Without better rail services to the city, and also Scarborough, the east of this region – so often overlooked by national policy-makers – will continue to be blighted by above-average levels of deprivation.

It is also important that major projects, like HS2 and HS3, do not detract from the need to improve commuter says on a daily basis – whether it be sufficient facilities for travellers to buy tickets at busy stations like Horsforth in Leeds or investing in bus travel so more people utilise public transport.

At present, many commuters contend, with justification, that they do not receive value for money and the prospect of high-speed rail in 20 years time will not appease those who have already endured significant fare increases for the privilege of standing on already overcrowded rush-hour trains. Because of this, Transport for the North’s landmark meeting is just the start of a new journey for policy-making – the final destination, however, remains unknown.

Dairy dilemma

Supermarkets milk farmers dry

IF THE dairy industry was collapsing in a bellwether constituency, politicians would be falling over themselves to set up a task force comparable to the government assistance that was made available to MG Land Rover in the West Midlands prior to the 2015 general election.

Yet, because rural affairs is not a political priority due to Britain’s electoral geography, dairy farmers are going out of business at an alarming rate because of systemic weaknesses within the sector, which are being ruthlessly exploited by the major supermarkets in their own pursuit of profits.

This has culminated with the UK’s largest dairy company withholding payments to its farmers following a crash in global prices which has seen liquid milk become cheaper to produce than water. If Britain’s electioneering politicians value agriculture, and want this country to become less dependent on food imports, they will act now before it is too late to make a meaningful difference.