MORE than a quarter of a century after her tearful exit from 10 Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher continues to polarise opinion like no other politician.
Many in Yorkshire will never forgive her for presiding over the decline of manufacturing while others still hail her as this country’s saviour and wish that a leader of her stature was negotiating Britain’s future with the EU rather than David Cameron.
It is a debate reinvigorated by the release of key Cabinet papers from 1986 on totemic issues like Westland and the poll tax. Yet these nuggets also reveal a hitherto unseen side to Mrs Thatcher – a Prime Minister who appeared to passionately care about the North. Her press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham, The Yorkshire’s Post’s Wednesday columnist, will have made certain of this – he once said his boss shared the instincts of the canniest Yorkshireman. Even though it was Mrs Thatcher who paved the way to relocate civil servants from London to Sheffield in a move now being reversed by Mr Cameron’s government, this redoubtable leader could still be hamstrung by officialdom’s obstinacy.
If she had been allowed to become involved in the battle to save Meltham-based Case Tractors, 700 workers may not have lost their jobs and correspondence on this issue is tinged with regret – especially the fact that letters from a persistent Kirklees councillor were not forwarded to the PM.
What does this say about the politics of today? Although these episodes vindicate the Northern Powerhouse, Prime Ministers are only as good as their most trusted aides as they become more isolated from voters. Assuming Mr Cameron survives the battle of wills being waged over the EU, it is advice that the Tory leader should heed if he doesn’t want his reign to end with a whimper.
Time to own up. Why can’t council leaders unite?
WITH less than four weeks to George Osborne’s Budget, it’s ominous that political leaders in West, North and East Yorkshire have still to reach a consensus on devolution when rival regions are forging ahead with their self-governance agendas.
This lack of unanimity, almost a year after the Chancellor announced sweeping new financial powers for Greater Manchester, does little to help the county’s case in the corridors of power and ensure that Yorkshire becomes the most innovative and forward-thinking region in Britain.
However part of the problem also rests with Whitehall – Mr Osborne appears willing to do a deal with those councils that come under the auspices of the Leeds City Region while the Department of Local Government and Communities believes Yorkshire’s authorities should work together under a single mayor.
It is this deadlock which provides the context to the tentative talks taking place between political leaders from the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding authorities. It would be irresponsible of them not to be considering a plan B at this late stage.
Nevertheless, there is still a lingering sense that leaders on West Yorkshire’s Labour-controlled authorities do not intend to do business with their Tory counterparts elsewhere. If this is the case, they should say so. If not, those concerned need to explain why they can’t work together in the best interests of the whole county. Local taxpayers have a right to know.
Wheels of success. Time to use political pedal power in Leeds
ONLY time will determine whether the so-called “cycle superhighway” being built from east Leeds to Bradford is a success story – or a “white elephant” because it has been poorly planned from the outset and wasted public money which could have been better spent on maximising the legacy of the Tour de France. Ominously, regular cyclists are still to be convinced about the scheme’s merits.
However Leeds Council is unlikely to receive much sympathy if it continues to blame “austerity cuts” for puncturing its laudable ambitions when it comes to cycling. Instead of blaming others, most notably the Government, its councillors and officials should be thinking outside the box and looking at what more they can do to create a safer environment for bicycle riders of all ages and abilities.
One way forward is for cycling to be made a key component of all future planning applications – and developers asked to make provision for bike lanes and facilities on all schemes over a designated size. Leeds Council has the power to impose such conditions; it should not hesitate to do so if it harbours genuine hopes of becoming the UK’s number one cycling city. It’s called political pedal power.