THERE is, of course, a slight irony to Sir John Major’s warnings about the likelihood of an alliance between Labour and the Scottish Nationalists after the election when his premiership culminated with the Tories being wiped out north of the border.
Yet, as a senior statesman who has become more respected with the passage of time and who remains a staunch defender of the United Kingdom, he is right to speak out as the latest opinion polls suggest that the election will end in a dead-heat with both the Tories and Labour winning 272 seats apiece.
If such an occurrence was to happen, and it appears increasingly unlikely that David Cameron or Ed Miliband will come close to securing the 21-seat majority afforded to Sir John when the Tories defied electoral gravity in 1992, it is unlikely that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would be able to muster the minimum 326 MPs who are required to ensure that a new government can pass its legislation.
In contrast, it would be quite feasible for the electoral arithmetic to enable Mr Miliband to team up with the SNP and nationalist parties in Northern Ireland and Wales – the very scenario now so exercising Sir John.
Not only are Labour and the Scottish Nationalists the most bitter of enemies, even more so in a political climate made even more toxic by last September’s independence referendum, but such an alliance would almost certainly undermine the fabric of the UK and marginalise English regions like Yorkshire that are still fighting for the devolution powers already afforded to Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff.
That is why Sir John is right to challenge Mr Miliband to put his country before his party and rule out the possibility of an electoral deal with the SNP which would be contrary to the wishes and interests of the biggest constituency of all in the UK – England.
Paying the penalty: Let town halls set parking rules
EVEN THOUGH many of the more selfish motorists will concur with the Government’s view that they should be entitled to 10 minutes’ grace after a parking ticket runs out before being issued with a fine, the timing of the Government’s announcement smacks of blatant electioneering.
This should not be a matter exercising Eric Pickles, the Keighley-born Communities Secretary, or Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin – they are two senior members of a Government which is supposedly committed to localism and should, therefore, be prepared to leave the issue of enforcement to the discretion of town hall officials who have more knowledge about roads on their patch than Ministers in Whitehall bunkers.
Their haste to appease drivers ahead of polling day fails to take account of the fact that many councils do, in fact, encourage traffic wardens to show some leniency if a parking ticket’s validity has expired by a couple of minutes.
It also reveals considerable naivety on the part of the Ministers concerned. For, while they are right to highlight their concern for the future of those town centres fighting for their financial future, they do need to remember that the enforcement of parking rules is critical to preventing a free-for-all on the roads which causes so much congestion that shoppers are actually deterred from visiting the area in question.
After all, the most important issue at stake here is one of a safety – a concept which appears to have been ignored by Ministers in the latest pre-election drive for the popular vote.
Dial D for delivery: Rural areas are cut off – again
THREE and a half years after the Government set up a trail-blazing £150m project to subsidise the construction of mobile phone masts in rural areas bereft of coverage, the rate of progress does not inspire confidence. Just two schemes, one in North Yorkshire and the other in Devon, have been completed. Yet, while others do remain in the pipeline, this is no consolation to people living in remote areas where the faintest of signals is unobtainable.
They continue to be let down by the failure of successive governments to recognise that they, and the multi-national mobile phone providers concerned, have obligations to the whole country – and not just those well-populated areas which yield the greatest financial returns. As such, this is another reminder of the scale of the digital divide which now exists between urban and rural areas, not least because of the failure of Ministers to turn their good intentions into affirmative action by dialling D for delivery.