Tom Richmond: Politicians will pay price if they don’t tell us true costs

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UNLIKE Prime Minister’s Questions, which is becoming increasingly irrelevant because of the ritual trading of statistics and insults between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, the scrutiny undertaken by select committees continues to exemplify the very best of Parliament.

This is where MPs from all parties are seen at their non-partisan best as they probe Ministers and other civil servants about policies under the stewardship of an experienced politician who ensures that proceedings are conducted with a degree of civility.

This was self-evident when the Transport Select Committee admonished the coalition for being biased towards London when it comes to the convoluted allocation of funds for new road and rail projects.

This is not new – the disparity was first highlighted by this newspaper nearly a decade ago – but what is disturbing is that it remains so entrenched that the Department for Transport is now facing calls to find ways of providing extra money for regions like Yorkshire.

It will not be easy – the DfT simply responded by pointing out, gently, that more than £6bn had been invested in Britain’s transport infrastructure outside London since 2012.

That may be so, but it is unlikely to appease taxpayers in the North who perceive – rightly or wrongly – that policy begins and ends in the capital. The answer is simple – a complete overhaul of the Government’s communications strategy so that every transport announcement includes a breakdown on spending on a region-by-region basis.

I’d go further. With economic competence likely to be a defining theme of next year’s election, and Labour still in a “spend, spend, spend” mode, the coalition should explain – clearly – the cost of every policy outlined in the Queen’s Speech, where the funding is coming from and how the measure in question will boost both the economy and efforts to cut the deficit.

In doing so, it would force Whitehall to remember that it is the guardian of the public’s money and that it needs to demonstrate that it is on the side of hard-working taxpayers.

If it does, the Tories and Liberal Democrats may just benefit from a change of approach that forces them to think outside the box and recognise the untapped potential of regions like Yorkshire, which continue to be short-changed in spite of the myriad of funding initiatives that have been set up since 2010.

AS the Chilcot inquiry is denied full access to the exchanges between Tony Blair and President George W Bush over the Iraq war, New Labour’s favourite author, Robert Harris, offers this devastating critique of the former premier.

“Who knew that he would become a great friend of George Bush and would want to keep bombing people and would be so passionately interested in making money and live this strange life with the billionaire super-rich on yachts and private jets?” he asked.

Harris turned the screw by offering this unedifying comparison between Blair and New Labour spin doctor Peter Mandelson. “Peter is the soul really of plain living – frugality – compared to Tony Blair as far as I can see. He associates with the paupers of the earth compared to the people that Blair associates with.”

How damning. And how helpful of the former Labour leader to confirm this view when he offered this response to questions about his Chilcot obfuscation: “I’ll leave that for another day.”

Try telling that, Mr Blair, to the families of those soldiers who died in his government’s name.

THE European Commission’s call for the Government to rein in Help to Buy – and increase council tax bills – to stop property prices spiralling out of control actually strengthens David Cameron’s argument for the EU to be reformed.

His response should be very straight-forward. He should say that the UK government will take note of this advice once the EU’s accounts have been given the green light by auditors. After all, they haven’t been signed off for 19 years.

I’M not worried about the shortage of legislation in the Queen’s Speech. Britain does not need new legislation, it needs better laws. This is also an opportunity, as I have been advocating, for backbenchers to be empowered so they can speak out on constituency and regional issues and help make Parliament more relevant to the people.

What’s stopping them now?

FORGET the blame game between Theresa May and Michael Gove over whether Birmingham’s schools are being run by governors who are Islamist extremists – I want to know why it has taken at least four years for these concerns to come to a head. It also does not reflect well on their respective credentials to be the next Tory leader.

I’M afraid time needs to be called on the career of the Lib Dem PR adviser who thought it would be a good idea for bitter rivals – no pun intended – Nick Clegg and Vince Cable to bury the proverbial hatchet in a pub. Although this is the modus operandi of Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader appears to be comfortable holding court at a bar while the pictures of Clegg and the back-stabbing Cable could not have been more awkward. If a photo call was necessary, what about a visit to a business whose future success depends on Britain remaining in the European Union? After all, this is the Lib Dem special brew.

IF Roy Hodgson’s footballers want any inspiration when it comes to the importance of singing (rather than mumbling) the words to the National Anthem during the World Cup, they should draw inspiration from the send-off that rugby legend Jonny Wilkinson received last week after guiding his Toulon side to a French championship.

After the final whistle brought Wilkinson’s glittering career to a glorious end, a packed crowd in the Stade de France sang God Save the Queen in honour of the English sporting icon before he lifted the trophy from a very gracious French president Francois Hollande.

Fair play to the French – even if it hurts to say so.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk