Jonathan Reed: A big question of fairness over Forgemasters

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JUST when you thought the controversy over the Government’s decision to cancel an £80m loan to Sheffield Forgemasters had died down, the flames are fanned again.

Business Secretary Vince Cable was in the West Country this week to hand out a £32m slice of public funding to Yeovil-based Augusta Westland to help it win Britain’s first civilian helicopter manufacturing contract for 40 years.

Suspicious Labour minds quickly point out that Yeovil just so happens to be the constituency of Liberal Democrat David Laws, the short-lived Chief Secretary to the Treasury and party colleague of Mr Cable. Either way, for a Government that says it doesn’t want to revert to a policy of picking winners, questions remain as to why one company is chosen for a £32m injection and another should be denied an £80m loan to turn the UK into a world leader in the vital growth area of civil nuclear manufacturing.

Now Forgemasters is bidding to the Regional Growth Fund for a loan for a different project, all eyes will be on whether the Government will look on it more favourably this time.

A NEW word for the Parliamentary dictionary this week – “urgh”.

After being asked for a ninth time by Labour MPs about whether he had ever discussed the BskyB takeover in conversations with News International executives, an exasperated Prime Minister slumped at the Despatch Box, said “you know” before giving the heavy sigh and simply sitting down again. It was a brilliant way of batting off the question and disarming the opposition – much in the manner with which Tony Blair controlled the House of Commons but which Gordon Brown never mastered. Indeed, it took me back momentarily to Blair’s tour-de-force of a final Prime Minister’s Question Time where – shortly after taking part in a Comic Relief sketch in which he mimicked the disinterested teenage comedy character from The Catherine Tate Show – he responded to a question from a Liberal Democrat backbencher by saying simply: “I am really not bothered about that one”.

DAVID Cameron will have been happy with how an awkward statement on the phone hacking and police corruption scandal went on Wednesday – not least thanks to his old rival David Davis.

The Haltemprice and Howden MP – who Cameron defeated in the leadership contest in 2005 – is not the Prime Minister’s closest ally, and is perceived by Cameroons as trouble at times. But he was the first backbencher to ask a question of Mr Cameron following his statement, helpfully exposing the Labour hypocrisy in attacking the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff for turning down a police briefing on the hacking inquiry when the previous government insisted it was a “matter of ministerial propriety” not to be briefed on the arrest of Tory frontbencher Damian Green during an inquiry into Home Office leaks in 2009. Many questions may remain over the hacking scandal but Number 10 was right to turn down the briefing – imagine the furore now if it was revealed Mr Cameron had a private briefing into an inquiry which involved his own communications chief.

Labour would do well to turn their focus to other lines of inquiry.

MPs may be heading off for their summer break, but many may be pondering their future during recess.

When Parliament returns in September the first proposals for new constituency boundaries are due to be published, cutting the number of seats from 650 to 600.

At least four seats are expected to go in Yorkshire, leaving a double dilemma for some MPs. Not only may they lose politically favourable parts of their current constituency or be handed less politically friendly ones, but some may also face the prospect of having to compete with a neighbouring MP to win their party’s nomination for a new seat.

Plenty of food for thought over the summer – and don’t be surprised if we see a flurry of veterans deciding to stand down later this year.

AT least former Labour leader Neil Kinnock had one figure rallying behind him this week. The man who led Labour to defeat in 1987 and 1992 sparked ridicule in suggesting newspapers should be required to become politically balanced in the same way as broadcasters – something even Ed Miliband, the man he supported for the Labour leadership, distanced himself from.

Warning that Lord Kinnock’s vision would “kill the vibrancy of the press”, David Cameron seized on his tendency for long-winded addresses to point out that: “If we had to have equal coverage of every Neil Kinnock speech — respecting him as I do — the papers would take a lot longer to read every morning.” As MPs chuckled, Rotherham’s Denis MacShane shouted across the Chamber: “That’s not very fair.”

It shows Lord Kinnock still has some friends in South Yorkshire despite his over exuberance at the famous 1992 Sheffield Rally being widely credited with damaging his election chances.

Jonathan Reed is the Yorkshire Post’s political editor.

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