THESE are desperate times for Redcar with the terminal closure of the town’s steelworks – and the seismic economic and social repercussions for an area that already suffers from above-average levels of deprivation.
It is the first major test of the One Nation speech that David Cameron delivered in neighbouring Stockton just after the election; Ministers need to work “morning, noon and night”, to paraphrase one of Michael Heseltine’s more memorable speeches, to secure new jobs and investment for this area.
The location for Mr Cameron’s speech could not have been more symbolic – Stockton was the constituency held by Harold Macmillan, regarded as the architect of One Nation conservatism and the current PM wanted to send out a strong signal that aspiration applies to all sections of society.
The one salvation is the town’s outstanding primary schools which have been ranked fourth best in the country as a result of a quiet revolution that has seen headteachers work together to enforce a “no excuses” culture if children misbehave or play truant. “I don’t even think ‘deprivation’. Poverty is not an excuse,” says Kinga Pusztai, the inspirational head of Newcomen Primary School. Heads also start children in the next academic year in July so they can become accustomed to their new class, and expectations, before the summer holidays. It means they hit the ground running in September.
There is no reason why these two lessons cannot be adopted elsewhere. When it comes to giving children the best possible start in life, there should be no exclusivity on those innovative ideas.
Yet, despite Redcar’s success at primary level, the GCSE results accrued by its secondary schools are no better than the national average – a pass-rate of 53 per cent means nearly half of all teenagers are completing their education with inadequate qualifications.
This disparity is not unique to Redcar but it does demonstrate that the potential of too many young people is being squandered when they make the transition from primary to secondary.
However it will not happen if Mr Cameron focuses on gesture politics and gimmicks like his unworkable plan to dock money from the child benefit paid to the parents of truants. His government needs to start working with teachers, rather than against them, if he is to transforms the prospects of children from all walks of life.
That is why Redcar is a defining test for this Government. If the PM can engineer a new era of prosperity, he will be regarded as the heir to Macmillan with good reasons. If not, he will be dismissed in these parts as just another ‘Tory toff’.
Over to you, Mr Cameron.
GEORGE Osborne 1, Labour 0. That is the only sensible conclusion that can be drawn from the Opposition’s decision to renege upon previous commitments to back the Chancellor’s fiscal charter which enshrines in law the need for future governments to achieve a budget surplus “in normal times”.
Labour’s U-turn means Jeremy Corbyn’s party has fallen straight into the trap set for them by the Chancellor – namely that the Opposition are economically bankrupt deficit-deniers.
As I wrote last week, before Labour were boxed into this now impossible position, Mr Osborne is the foremost political strategist of the decade.
ANDY Burnham, Labour’s scaremongerer-in-chief before the Corbyn revolution, looks like he will not get an easy ride as Shadow Home Secretary. His first question was to accuse Theresa May of not doing enough to help the Syrian refugees.
The Home Secretary’s response? To point out that the Scottish Nationalists had already raised the same point; that a Minister had been appointed to oversee the transition arrangements for the 20,000 Syrians that will be welcomed to Britain over the course of this Parliament and that the Government has spent £1.1bn on aid for refugee camps in the Middle East.
THE contrast between pipsqueak politicians like Andy Burnham and statesmen like Denis Healey and Sir Geoffrey Howe, who have both passed away in recent days, could not be greater. These political giants were rivals. Sir Geoffrey shadowed Mr Healey when the Leeds MP was Chancellor in Jim Callaghan’s government.
The tables were turned when Sir Geoffrey became Foreign Secretary – his opposite number was his old foe Mr Healey. Yet they respected each other so much that it was Mr Healey’s wife Edna who telephoned Lady Howe, in the aftermath of the 1979 general election, to warn the couple that the boiler in 11 Downing Street was faulty. How kind, courteous and statesmanlike.
ON the day the pro-EU group launched its referendum campaign under former M&S boss Stuart Rose, emails to its HQ bounced back and calls went unanswered because its messaging system was not working. It doesn’t bode well.
TWO signs on the daily drive into Leeds are beginning to infuriate. The first, from Leeds Council, advises that improvements to the Horsforth roundabout where the A65 meets the Outer Ring Road will be complete by the “summer”. If only.
The second advises motorists: “Narrow Lane Ahead Do Not Overtake Cyclists”.
Unfortunately cyclists seem to think it is okay for them to undertake motor vehicles. Don’t they ever learn?
EVEN though the national media were preoccupied with rugby union’s World Cup, the extraordinary way in which Leeds Rhinos landed rugby league’s treble last Saturday must not go unrecorded. This was edge-of-the-seat stuff. Not only should Brian McDermott’s side be given the freedom of Leeds but it will be a travesty if the Rhinos are not crowned team of the year at the BBC’s upcoming Sports Personality shindig. Their last three wins, in which an injury-battered squad came from behind to beat their opponents, is more than comparable to Manchester United winning football’s treble in 1999.
ANOTHER day and another email from the RFU advertising a 40 per cent discount on merchandise for England’s doomed campaign in rugby union’s World Cup. Stuart Lancaster’s side were so poor that they won’t be able to give replica tops away for free. Perhaps they should have heeded my warning to concentrate on the rugby before the marketing spin-offs.