February 6: The politics of good intentions

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THE GOOD intentions set out by David Cameron and George Osborne yesterday are indicative of Yorkshire’s political and economic importance to the Tory party’s future fortunes.

Ten years ago, Michael Howard chose foolishly to dismiss this region’s electoral significance. Now the Prime Minister and Chancellor know that their own job prospects depend on their ability to win a new generation of Conservative voters in the North before judgement day on May 7.

It is still an uphill task – the Tories cannot take victory for granted in a swathe of “swing seats” along the M62 corridor despite the electorate’s misgivings about Ed Miliband’s weak leadership and Labour’s growing disarray over its economic policies. The reason is this: Mr Cameron and his team have allowed an impression to be created that Yorkshire’s needs are secondary to those of London and the South East.

This is slightly erroneous – a record number of people are now in employment and much of the recent focus, whether it be on high-speed rail or enterprise zones, stems from the promise that Mr Cameron made in Shipley in May 2010 to narrow the North-South divide. There has been a significant shift in the policy focus in the past year – the problem, from a Tory standpoint, is there is still no devolution deal for 
Leeds City Region, in spite of the Chancellor’s reassurances, and many of the proposed transport schemes pre-date this Government’s existence.

As such, it is critical that Messrs Cameron and Osborne use next month’s Budget, the final setpiece occasion of this Parliament, to set out how they can translate their sound intentions into fully-funded policy promises, at a time when the Institute of Fiscal Studies is warning of the likelihood of a post-election tax increase. If they can provide the necessary clarity, there is every chance that the Tories will have earned the right to consolidate the recovery.

Electorate’s duty

Did apathy fuel abuse scandal?

IT is ironic that Government adviser Louise Casey’s devastating critique into Rotherham Council’s systemic failings should coincide with National Voter Registration Day, an initiative intended to prompt adults to check that their details are up-to-date ahead of polling day. For, while the reasons behind the authority’s failure to respond to industrial-scale allegations of the sexual grooming of young girls by predominantly Pakistani gangs are complex, it

has not been helped by Rotherham’s longstanding electoral apathy.

Turnout in last year’s municipal elections was 34 per cent, marginally higher than the number who voted in a Parliamentary by-election in 2012 following disgraced MP Denis MacShane’s conviction for expenses fraud. Despite the public outcry that followed last summer’s Jay report into the abuse cover-up, just 14.8 per cent of the South Yorkshire electorate was sufficiently motivated to vote for a new crime commissioner after Shaun Wright quit.

Although some people say this was pointless because Rotherham became a one-party town under Labour, such a laissez faire approach misses the point. In a democracy, people get the government they deserve – a timeless adage which is also applicable to local politics. As such, it can only be hoped that Ms Casey’s report does, in time, mark a watershed and lead to greater awareness about the council’s role and the electorate’s duty to vote for those candidates who are motivated by the very best of reasons. If this happens, it can only lead to better governance following a scandal in which Rotherham Council put self-interest before abuse victims for

too long.

Super superstores

Asda must remember its roots

AS a long-awaited inquiry begins into Tesco’s financial practices, and newly-appointed chairman Andy Higginson tries to revive the fortunes of Morrisons, it is significant that Leeds-based Asda has chosen this moment to unveil its superstore of the future.

By bringing together the best of the traditional supermarket, George fashion range and online service under one roof, the firm – which can trace its roots back to the formation of Hindell’s dairies in the 1920s – appears to be well placed to steal a march on its rivals.

It can only be good news for consumers. If supermarkets are compelled to innovate in response to the growing influence of the discount retailers who are changing the financial dynamics of Britain’s retail industry, it can only lead to lower prices in the longer-term.

Yet many will hope that this does not come at the expense of farmers – after all, they have been integral to the success story that continues to be Asda.