IT is paradoxical that the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon should be acclaimed as the winner of the seven-way leaders’ debate – Scotland’s feisty First Minister is not even contesting a Westminster seat on May 7 and will have to defer to her redoubtable predecessor, Alex Salmond, in any coalition talks.
However some wider context does need to provided to the post-debate hyperbole that is filling the vacuum which has been created by a largely insipid campaign to date.
Unlike David Cameron, or Ed Miliband for that matter, the SNP supremo does not have to worry about balancing Britain’s books. She can make a persuasive ‘anti-austerity’ argument safe in the knowledge that she will not be responsible for the deficit – still the defining domestic issue of this decade.
Ms Sturgeon and her party also have momentum on their side, despite their narrow loss in last September’s referendum vote on Scottish independence. Perversely, the disappointment of defeat has had a galvanising effect, largely at the expense of Labour, and this sense of grievance becomes even more profound when the SNP is in a position to blame Westminster for failing to accede to its demands for even more powers – and blank cheques - at Holyrood.
The conundrum now is whether this groundswell of support for the Nationalists actually helps Mr Cameron to stay in office, or increases the likelihood of a Labour-SNP pact. Time will tell. Either way, it is potentially bad news for Mr Miliband – and the worst possible outcome of Britain which could find itself at the mercy of a party which wants to scrap the Trident nuclear deterrent at a time of global instability and engineer the break-up of the United Kingdom. On this, Ms Sturgeon must not be given free rein – the SNP now has a duty to explain how it will best serve the interests of the whole country, Yorkshire included, now that its political ambitions now extend to Westminster.
The Blunkett Years: Yorkshire’s firebrand statesman
DAVID BLUNKETT is, arguably, the most remarkable politician of his generation. He’s the firebrand former leader of the self-proclaimed Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire who rose through the political ranks to become a statesman who was Home Secretary at the time of the 9/11 terror atrocity. If this was not enough, this proud son of Sheffield became the first blind politician to hold high office.
It will always be to Mr Blunkett’s eternal credit that he never sought to make capital out of his disability. Tony Blair alluded to this in a recent interview, and David Cameron’s own tribute could not have been more fulsome as he praised his opponent’s “strong leadership” and disarming political antennae.
“I remember once in the Home Affairs Committee that, even though he could not see who we all were, he knew exactly who was concentrating and who was not. I do not know how – he has this extraordinary gift – but he is an extraordinary politician,” said the Prime Minister with a generosity of spirit which is all too rare in contemporary politics.
As such, many will be pleased that not only does Mr Blunkett intend to remain close to his Yorkshire roots – his wife is a GP - and that politics will always be close to his heart. For, while education policy has a special resonance because of the obstacles that he had to overcome, his experience of the aftermath of the attack on New York’s Twin Towers should be valued. Significantly, he warns in today’s newspaper that the greater threat in the future is likely to come from a cyber attack rather than a physical act of unspeakable violence. They are words that should not be ignored – by all parties.
A class struggle: politicians must respect teachers
IF the region’s children are to achieve their full potential – and Yorkshire is to move off the foot of the academic league tables – then more leaders in the mould of Sheila Howarth are needed.
The inspirational headteacher is credited with transforming the lives of countless students over the course of her 18 years at Leeds City Academy. Yet, as the teaching unions frequently point out, too many teachers are leaving the profession before they can make a difference to the life chances of their pupils.
Four in every 10 teachers quit within a year of qualifying – a dismal statistic that threatens the consistency and cohesion of every child’s education.
Whilst many think the reforms instituted by former Education Secretary Michael Gove had merit, his successor Nicky Morgan must keep her promise to end the constant change. Students are expected to show respect for teachers – the same must also apply to politicians.