Tom Richmond: The opposites attracted to fighting the North’s corner

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RIVALS for so long, how ironic that George Osborne and Andy Burnham are leading the charge when it comes to Crossrail for the North.

Read more: Andy Burnham: North’s voice will be louder with a devolved Yorkshire

If the political fates had been aligned differently, Mr Osborne – the former Chancellor – could have become PM facing Mr Burnham on the opposite side of the Commons despatch box.

Yet, while both are no longer members of Parliament, it appears that these political polar opposites do, in fact, have more in common than they had envisaged and a historic opportunity to build a tangible legacy.

Both represented seats in the North West.

Both are still active in regional politics – the multi-tasking Mr Osborne as head of his Northern Powerhouse Partnership (when not editing London’s Evening Standard) and Mr Burnham
 as the metro mayor of Greater Manchester.

And both challenged Theresa May this week to throw the Government’s weight behind a high-speed rail line from Hull to Liverpool that links the region’s great cities.

Their task now, following Wednesday’s transport summit in Leeds, is to work out how they can work together, and encourage others to do so, at a time when some suspect other agendas are at play – Mr Osborne still appears to have scores to settle with the Government and Mr Burnham has a reputation for never missing an opportunity to blame everyone else for Labour’s past failings.

Mr Osborne says this issue should be used by Mrs May to relaunch her Government while Mr Burnham was more forthright about decades of
under-investment in the region’s transport infrastructure: “The Westminster system has failed the North of England.”

Though both men will always be Marmite politicians because they’re that divisive, their influence truly matters because their voices are heard – they remain national figures who require little introduction – and their interventions have led to 70,000 people signing a petition in support of Crossrail for the North while dozens of top business leaders from across North put their names to an agenda-setting letter earlier this week.

They now need to use their expertise, and insight of how Whitehall operates, make sure the North’s leaders put together a transport plan that is so compelling that a southern-centric minister like Transport Secretary Chris Grayling can’t say no.

The North will always be in their debt – the opportunity for these political opposites is that historic if they can bury the hatchet and not be defined by their considerable philsophical differences.

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TALKING of devolution, I’m afraid the website West Yorkshire Combined Authority – the body responsible for spending £1bn of money on local transport – fails to inspire or inform.

Though its diary of meetings is up-to-date after my recent criticisms, a glance at its home page on Wednesday morning left me shaking my head at disbelief at its ineptitude.

No mention of the transport summit in Leeds which was leading and dominating the national news agenda following Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s opinion piece on these pages in which he effectively told the North to stop moaning, get on with it and sort out its own problems.

What is its view on Crossrail for the North? There was mention that its chairman Susan Hinchcliffe, the leader of Bradford Council, supports need to address “depressingly small” number of senior female leaders in the sector – fair enough – while the flag of the European Union mysteriously appeared on the side of the page.

What is this body’s purpose? To oppose Brexit? Who is scrutinising its work and officials like £150,000-a-year MD Ben Still? And what will its remit be if and when Yorkshire strikes a devolution deal?

These bodies need to remember that they’re not only being entrusted with public money but they’re expected to spend it responsibly.

More politicians and pen-pushers is not the answer, just more effective leadership please.

THE chief executives of Leeds, Bradford and Manchester Councils (Tom Riordan, Kersten England and Joanne Roney) were among those who enjoyed Sir Gary Verity and Welcome To Yorkshire’s hospitality at York races on Ladies Day.

As they studied the form, let’s hope they also brokered a way forward on devolution and transport. Here’s hoping they drew inspiration from the name of Frankie Dettori’s Yorkshire Oaks winner that same afternoon – Enable.

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A FASCINATING Q&A with former Cabinet minister and Hull MP Alan Johnson to mark the publication of his memoir The Long and Winding Road in paperback. Politics, he says is “about bringing people together – not dividing them into sects”.

And then his heartache that a memorial plaque bearing his late mother Lilian’s name was removed from Kensal Rise cemetery because the family weren’t told that the £5 subscription had to be renewed.

Just think, for one moment, about how political events and history might have been so very different if Alan Johnson – and not Gordon Brown – had succeeded Tony Blair 10 years ago. If only...

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FOR many from these parts, the three sporting highlights of the year are (in no particular order) cricket’s Test match at Headingley; rugby league’s Challenge Cup final and the Ebor festival at York Racecourse?

Why are they all clashing? Don’t administrators from these sports ever talk to each other and plan accordingly?