TO the surprise of many, the European Union barely featured at a feisty PMQs. Less surprising, however, was the omission of flooding as families and businesses count the cost of the storm two months ago tonight which submerged Yorkshire as river defences failed.
Even though the inquiry set up Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee was taking evidence from expert witnesses like a executive from London’s Gatwick Airport, it is imperative that heart-rending stories of human hardship – or firms being forced out of business – continue to be chronicled as the political focus ebbs away. If they’re not heard, it will be even more difficult to persuade David Cameron to honour the repeated promises that he has made to Yorkshire flooding victims on countless occasions since 2012 – broken promises which prompted The Yorkshire Post to write an open letter to the Prime Minister a month ago highlighting five specific challenges.
Since then, progress has been tentative. Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss has begun a dialogue with this newspaper, although her two speeches to the NFU this week only made one passing reference to the issue, while a Downing Street aide to Mr Cameron has now replied and said that the “correspondence is currently under review”. So it should. The UK is not going to stop while the Tory leader and Boris Johnson slug it out over the EU.
For many, the clean-up operation is still the priority despite the dwindling political attention and those concerned are not in a mood to either forgive, or forget, the Government’s indifference in their hour of need. And neither is this newspaper. For, until this Government provides a robust response which acknowledges this region’s specific concerns, we will continue to speak up on behalf of this county and hold the Prime Minister to account. He has been warned.
North’s powerplay: Is Manchester in the driving seat?
THAT the great and good have to schlep to Manchester for the UK Northern Powerhouse Conference is ironic – this predictable choice of location gives credence to those who believe this policy’s direction of travel favours the North West over Yorkshire and the North East. For, if this gathering was held in, say, Leeds, Sheffield or Newcastle, policy-makers might realise that they have a massive fight on their hands to convince residents, and businesses, that there’s more to this strategy than political window dressing.
Far from being the success story that David Cameron envisaged when he travelled to Stockton straight after last year’s election “to promise to bring our country together” as he rebranded Harold Macmillan’s One Nation aspiration agenda, scepticism is rife because of the short-sighted decisions of Ministers on a range of issues and, let it be said, the inability of Yorkshire’s council leaders to reach a consensus on devolution.
Individually, both are significant failures. Collectively, they represent a damaging loss of faith in an agenda which should be integral to the future prosperity of not only this county, but this country. As the University of Sheffield’s vice chancellor Sir Keith Burnett observed: “Politicians can argue about whether or not these are Labour or Tory values. I like to think they are as near to British values as we can get.” As such, the priority of the Northern Powerhouse conference is deciding how best to win back the public’s trust. Time is not on the side of Ministers if they wish to assuage those who believe that Government’s approach begins and ends in Manchester.
Question time: Credit where credit is due to newly-elected MPs
HOW apt that Labour’s Louise Haigh should have been haranguing Ministers in Parliament over the proposed closure of the Department of Business regional office in Sheffield on the day she was named as the most active MP amongst the 2015 intake. The Sheffield Heeley MP’s 90 speeches and 471 questions, prior to yesterday’s exchanges, reveal a determination to speak up for her constituents. This should be welcomed. And, credit where credit is due, it would also be remiss not to acknowledge the impact being made by other first-time Yorkshire MPs – Tory and Labour alike.
Even though both front benches are currently bereft of big hitters from Yorkshire seats, it is heartening that the county is home to a new generation of assiduous MPs not only committed to winning back the public’s lost trust, but willing to challenge their own party if this is in the best interests of their constituents. Long may this continue – it can only bode well for the future.