Tom Richmiond: Light at end of tunnel but it won’t be HS3 and easy

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AT least the Tories will go into the next election with a clear commitment to build a high-speed rail line from Leeds to Manchester. It’s progress of sorts – the Conservatives normally wait until after polling day before worrying about their lack of support in the North.

However, the lack of detail within George Osborne’s speech on the regional economy has all the makings of a tit-for-tat row in which the Tories will try to force Labour to match the party’s commitment to a scheme that will complement HS2.

In many respects, it is good politics by the Chancellor – he has, once again, boxed Labour into a corner and helped to move the transport needs of the North further up the political agenda following decades of under-investment.

Anyone who has used the trans-Pennine route in rush hour knows it is not fit for purpose, although the primary issue – to me – is predominantly a shortage of rolling stock rather than the actual journey time.

Yet, before HS3 becomes ingrained in the Tory manifesto, Osborne and Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, have two tasks. First, they need to come up with a clearly costed plan and timescale. As Conservatives, I’d like them to examine the scope for private investment in this scheme rather than simply talking about the economic potential for Leeds and Manchester if there are quicker train times. If the plan has substance, the private investment will be forthcoming and the Tories should not be afraid to make this argument if they’re committed to reducing the deficit and overhauling the North’s infrastructure. They also need to take on board the public’s concerns about the cost of building a high-speed rail line from London to Birmingham and then separate spurs to Yorkshire and the North West. On this basis, there’s a case for HS3 preceding HS2.

Second, Osborne must be careful not to denigrate those locations – Hull and York spring to mind – that will not enjoy super-fast trains across the Pennines. They rightly do not want to be left in the slow lane and the Chancellor needs to acknowledge this.

That’s the problem when there are unexpected speeches in the year prior to an election. Inevitably, the policy detail does not match the intended direction of travel, a failing that Osborne needs to address before this well-intended plan hits the buffers.

INSTEAD of carping from the World Cup sidelines – sorry, a TV studio overlooking Copacabana beach – about England manager Roy Hodgson and skipper Steven Gerrard, why can’t BBC presenter Gary Lineker put a decent shift in?

Lame Lineker, I noticed wearily, presented Match of the Day Live from 7.30 to 10.10pm last Saturday with three studio pundits. Given that the game in question lasted a shade over 90 minutes, that left just over an hour for procrastination before kick-off, at half-time and after the final whistle.

There was then a half-hour break for the evening news and lottery draw before the BBC showed another match. Imagine my surprise to see a different host – Mark Chapman in this instance – and two more ex-footballers, one of whom I recognised as Phil Neville, offering their analysis.

Just how much public money is the BBC burning in Brazil with its entourage of 272 staff whose number, I presume, include a gag-writer for Lineker? And, given that the presenters and so-called experts are not even in the venues in question, why couldn’t the programmes have been presented from the Corporation’s lavish studios in Salford?

As such, it is time that Lineker (whose trophy cabinet is fairly modest compared with many of the great names of his sport) and his cronies were given the red card.

AN impressive return of serve by Andy Murray when asked about the England football team. Why should he answer such questions when Wayne Rooney is not probed about tennis?

DAVID Blunkett will be a loss to the House of Commons. Leaving aside whether he was too authoritarian as Home Secretary, the outgoing Sheffield Brightside MP’s greatest legacy will be the manner in which he overcame his disability, namely blindness, to take charge of one of the great offices of state.

He says he does not want to be a hindrance if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister – Blunkett remains one of life’s optimists – but he should not diminish the contribution that older Parliamentarians can make. Their experience, I am sure, can lead to better legislation and past mistakes not being repeated.

It is why I’d like to see Hull MP Alan Johnson, another former Home Secretary, given a high-profile role. He became a more able minister because he understood hardship from bitter experience, and had not been born into the political classes.

It might prevent Labour from having to wheel out former leader Neil Kinnock, Labour business spokesman Chuka Umunna and Leeds MP Rachel Reeves to defend Miliband. If he’s doing so well, why are other senior Labour politicians less than forthcoming?

I’M not surprised that the CBI business organisation has named Mandarin and Arabic as the languages of the future.

It suggests that young people need to embrace these subjects in school rather than the more traditional choices of French, German or Spanish.

The CBI is probably right. The challenge is trying to achieve this when successive governments have paid lip service to the need to speak foreign languages, and when so many youngsters struggle to grasp English.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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