A minimum or a living wage?

HOW ironic that David Cameron’s Conservatives are threatening to outflank Labour on possible increases to the minimum wage when the Tory party vehemently opposed this policy prior to its introduction following Tony Blair’s landslide election win of 1997.

The Prime Minister will argue, with some justification, that his party is now more socially responsible – Mr Cameron has already gone on the record to say that the stance taken by John Major and Ken Clarke was mistaken – and that he is responding to current concerns about cost of living.

There is an element of truth to this. The current £6.31 hourly rate has fallen 10 per cent in real terms since the credit crunch of 2008, a fact highlighted by the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Sheffield and all those well-meaning community leaders who have been pressing for a living wage to be embraced.

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It would also help the Conservatives with their political positioning ahead of the 2015 election as they look to counter Ed Miliband’s attacks on rising living costs and the fact that it is Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats who have pushed through changes that are leading to the tax threshold being increased to £10,000, an approach opposed by Mr Cameron in the 2010 TV election debates. The Tories need to reach out to a new generation of voters and such an approach might appeal to aspirational young people – a demographic that was courted assiduously by Margaret Thatcher.

But there are risks. Britain’s economic recovery is still in its infancy, despite a steady fall in unemployment and welcome return to growth, and Mr Cameron will not be thanked if he imposes a policy that actually increases the likelihood of joblessness – especially as Chancellor George Osborne began the week by reminding the country that public spending still needs to be kept under the tightest of controls.

As First Lord of the Treasury, the plaque which adorns the famous door leading into 10 Downing Street, Mr Cameron needs to put economic considerations before any political temptation to push ahead with a policy for electoral purposes.

On the right road

DAVID Cameron will not have been the first Prime Minister to be challenged over the upgrading of the A64, the only main road linking York, Malton and Scarborough. Progress on this issue has been painfully slow over a number of decades.

However the Conservative leader did make a telling remark in response to North Yorkshire MP Anne McIntosh when he acknowledged that the “quality and the capacity of the road system in Yorkshire” remains “a major issue”.

This is precisely the type of transport infrastructure project that prompted this newspaper’s Fair Deal campaign in response to official figures showing the extent to which transport and infrastructure funding is still skewed in favour of London.

Unless there are adequate road and rail links, many of the county’s coastal resorts will feel marginalised – even though the timeless appeal of Scarborough, and other seaside towns, continues to be central to the marketing activity of Welcome to Yorkshire and others.

The devolution of transport funding from Whitehall to the English regions could focus political attention on this route and improvements to the A64 are likely to have economic benefits for the whole of the region if the road’s dualling does lead to an increase in visitor numbers.

However other cities and towns do have priority schemes of their own, making the allocation of funds even more painstaking, and the A64 may need national funding if the good intentions of Mr Cameron are not to become stuck in a political cul-de-sac. Given that his intervention came two days after plans were announced to reduce the M1’s speed limit, the PM does, at least, recognise Yorkshire transport’s frailties. The question is whether he can speed up its overhaul.

An onside referee

AT least Howard Webb has appeared in a World Cup final, a claim that cannot be made by any of the English players who he referees each week in the Premier League.

It was not the fault of the Rotherham police officer that the 2010 final between Spain and Holland was overshadowed by the poor sportsmanship which has become so commonplace in modern football.

But it is typical of his humility that he is now devoting so much time, with the backing of South Yorkshire Police, to the provision of free coaching sessions for youngsters – people who have benefited from football’s popularity should give something back to their sport wherever possible.

And it can be taken for granted that Mr Webb will urge youngsters to respect the decision of referees and play their football in the right spirit. It is an exercise that would be helped if today’s well-paid professional players – role models to many – led by example. If they did, officials like Mr Webb would be remembered for the positive onside contribution that he and his much maligned officials make rather than the countless offside controversies that are undermining football’s values at a grass roots level.