Policies trump personalities

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IF POLITICS was a popularity contest, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson would be vying to lead the country. They are the two people who have turned the 2014 party conference season on its head – Ukip’s leader used his speech in Doncaster to unveil a defecting Tory MP while the Mayor of London’s bravado had a galvanising effect on the morale of Conservative activists.

Take Mr Johnson’s colourful observation on the failure of Ed Miliband to mention the deficit: “The baggage handlers in his memory went on strike, as they would under a Labour government.”

Or his new fisheries policy in the wake of the Scottish independence vote and Ukip’s electoral threat: “First chuck (Alex) Salmond overboard, then eat the ’kippers for breakfast.”

This was not a vintage Boris Johnson speech. It went off in tangents and it appeared to lack direction or flow. Yet this did not stop him from receiving a lengthy standing ovation. The reason Mr Johnson, and Mr Farage, strike a chord with so many voters is because of their uncanny ability to resonate with ordinary people who are not prepared to give the time of day to other politicians – their force of personality masks any lapses.

It should not be like this. Britain prides itself on being a meritocracy and elections should be won and lost on the issue of competence rather than the ability of politicians to raise the loudest laughs on the campaign trail. Would you trust either man with life or death decisions on matters pertaining to national security?

It is David Cameron’s misfortune, therefore, that he has to follow Messrs Farage and Johnson today. The Prime Minister is still the best qualified person to lead this country – the Mayor of London made that abundantly clear – but the significance of his welfare reforms, and his pragmatism on EU membership, is still not resonating with the country at large. Until it does, Tory electoral prospects are unlikely to change for the better – a rather ironic state of play for a party leader who honed his political skills in the world of PR before entering Parliament.

The liberty of all

Police need new terror powers

DISTURBING reports about the number of British-born teenagers trying to travel to Syria to join jihadists from the so-called “Islamic State” give added urgency to the Tory party’s proposed measures to tackle Islamist extremists.

David Cameron is right – this country does need to become more intolerant of those preachers of hatred who are abusing Britain’s longstanding tolerance of freedom of speech by indoctrinating impressionable youngsters, like the 15-year-old girl now believed to be travelling from Bristol to Syria in order to join a terrorist network which is not afraid to behead journalists and humanitarian aid workers.

As the Prime Minister – and Home Secretary Theresa May – both stressed, people spewing extremist views that could encourage or incite terrorist acts need to come under the full auspices of the law because of the sheer number of young Muslims being radicalised by hate preachers.

Yet it will disturb many that the police and security services cannot use the full arsenal of surveillance powers because of continuing opposition from the Liberal Democrats – the reason why Mrs May’s hands are tied until the next election at the earliest.

Mrs May hopes to work on a cross-party basis ahead of the next election, and it is imperative that the Lib Dems are integral to this ongoing process.

Irrespective of the 2015 election result, violent and non-violent extremism will continue to threaten the liberty of this country and the only people who should have anything to fear from these reforms are those whose intentions have no place in a civilised society.

A rate of return

HS2 will kickstart skills training

THE high-speed rail link from Yorkshire to London will be the biggest civil engineering project ever undertaken in this country. It also has the potential to offer unrivalled opportunities to young apprentices who want to pursue careers in engineering.

As such, it is another shot in the arm for Doncaster – a town with historical ties to the railways – that it will be one of two bases for the new National College for High Speed Rail that was announced yesterday.

More significantly, it is a vote of confidence in British manufacturing after the controversy of three years ago when a major training-building contract was given to a German company. After all, the best way for the Government to win over HS2 sceptics is to pursue policies that help to maximise the economic return for the North.