GEORGE OSBORNE will never have a better opportunity to deliver a Budget that is true to the Government’s One Nation agenda.
Free from the shackles of coalition, the Chancellor has the honour of delivering the first Conservative statement in 18 years and is empowered by an election result that has left opponents of financial restraint in the political margins.
It is also vital that Mr Osborne gets his much-vaunted Northern Powerhouse strategy back on track in the wake of the consternation caused by the Government’s decision to “pause” the upgrading of the region’s railways because of concerns about Network Rail’s management – misgivings that were not made sufficiently clear to voters prior to the election.
That said, it is encouraging that the Treasury has begun discussions with the local leaders of the Leeds and Sheffield city-regions about the specific policy powers which could, and should, be devolved to Yorkshire. If these areas are to bite the bullet and acquiesce to the Chancellor’s desire for the advent of directly-elected mayors, this clarity will make it easier to make a convincing case to all those voters who rejected the proposition in 2012 because they were not sufficiently convinced about the merits of this system of governance.
And then there are those areas of Yorkshire – urban and rural – that do not easily conform to the city-region template. As Hull and East Riding business leaders make clear in the adjacent letters section, they do not want to become the county’s poor relation and maintain that Yorkshire’s future is best served by one body that champions all. Either way, it is time for Mr Osborne to demonstrate how the Northern Powerhouse will benefit all. Yes, he has much to prove – but the economic rewards will, nevertheless, be considerable if he proves to be as good as his word.
Ten years of hurt for 7/7 victims
IT WAS entirely fitting that the commemorative events marking the 10th anniversary of the July 7 suicide bombings revolved around the victims – whether it be the families of the 52 commuters blown up or the survivors who will carry the physical and mental scars for a lifetime. This was not a day for political procrastination, despite Tony Blair using this landmark to deny the existence of any link with the ill-fated Iraq invasion.
Many victims also found the courage to articulate the extent of their continuing torment – people like Julie Nicholson who had to step down as a Church of England vicar because she could not find the forgiveness in her heart for her daughter Jenny’s killer Mohammad Sidique Khan from Leeds. No television drama-documentary will be as powerful or emotional as the BBC’s A Song For Jenny.
And then the evocative imagery – whether it Gill Hicks making a pilgrimage to Beeston to visit the community that was home to the bombers and then her emotional embrace outside King’s Cross Station with Pc Andrew Maxwell whom she credits with saving her life. Amid the national soul-searching taking place about the most effective way to tackle extremism, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the bravery of the emergency services on that fateful day – and the burden which continues to be carried by those caught up in this atrocity. In this regard, the Bishop of London spoke for the whole country when he told the congregation at the St Paul’s Cathedral memorial service: “We must learn as a society that care for survivors is a responsibility both in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy and for years to come.”
The voice of Today: Jim Naughtie’s disarming style
THE more facetious will fear that broadcaster Jim Naughtie’s decision to step down as presenter of Radio Four’s flagship Today programme creates another job opportunity for the omnipresent Clare Balding.
His softly-spoken voice – one of the main ingredients of breakfast time for the past 21 years – will be much missed because his disarming interview technique was often far more effective than the combativeness of some of his co-presenters.
However there is a second point which has added relevance in the wake of a survey which revealed that voters’ trust in Westminster politicians falls the further away from London they live. Mr Naughtie was able to convey the importance of political events – domestically and globally – because he always relished the opportunity to escape the studio’s claustrophobic confines in order to report on events in the real world, and their relevance to Today’s listeners because they were the most important people of all. Others would be advised to follow this example.