Boris Johnson and no foresight over ‘levelling up’ – Tom Richmond

BORIS Johnson takes great pleasure in mocking Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer as ‘Captain Hindsight’ – and this does appear to have hit home with voters.

Where the Prime Minister is less forthcoming, however, is the on the abject lack of foresight shown by his more incapable Ministers (and there’s no shortage of candidates).

This came to mind when I spent 30 excruciating minutes watching Paul Scully and Luke Hall give evidence to a Parliamentary inquiry into levelling up.

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You may not have heard of them, but they do, in fact, hold important briefs in the Government – Scully is the Small Business Minister while Hall is responsible for local government.

Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions this week.

It should not have been beyond them to realise that the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee would want a definition of ‘levelling up’ and details on how this policy would be measured.

After all, the answer is pretty clear – ‘levelling up’ should be endeavouring to give the most to those who have the least as well as redistributing life prospects fairly and equitably across Britain.

Yet neither appeared capable of answering the most basic of questions with any modicum of competence. The more they talked, the worse it became – despite being advised to answer ‘don’t know’ if out of their depth. To put it bluntly, they were embarrassing – they were making it up as they went along.

In any other government in my lifetime, Scully and Hall would never have made it aboe ‘tea boy’ status in the Downing Street scullery.

New Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves during a visit to Kirkstall Forge earlier this month.

But it got worse 24 hours later when Scully confirmed to MPs that there will be a full independent inquiry into the Post Office IT scandal and the wrongful prosecution of innocent subpostmasters in Britain’s biggest ever legal miscarriage of justice.

He said: “The Horizon saga has wrecked lives and livelihoods, we can’t undo the damage that has been done, but we can establish what went wrong.”

I agree. Yet this is the same Paul Scully who, weeks earlier on April 22, ruled out a full inquiry because it would take too long to complete. “We want to get answers now,” he said before pointing out that statutory hearings take, on average, three and a half years to conclude.

Now he expects a full report to be published by next autumn. It’s some U-turn, even by this Government’s standards. Like you, I want to know what has prompted the Minister to change his mind.

Bradford MP Naz Shah spoke out in the Commons this week on the plight of the Palestinians - in a debate on housing.

But I’d also like to understand why Scully did not have the foresight, after the Court of Appeal quashed 39 criminal convictions last month, to realise, straight away, that the inquiry being undertaken by retired judge Sir Wyn Williams 
would have to be escalated.

This matters because it is this lack of foresight on so many issues that is hindering the Government’s work. And this isn’t written with the benefit of hindsight – it’s now plain to see every hour of the day.

LABOUR was clearly looking beyond the metaphorical red wall when Rachel Reeves visited the Kirkstall Forge regeneration site in one of her first official engagements as Shadow Chancellor.

This is the site behind a physical brick wall that actually runs along part of the main Kirkstall Road in the Labour MP’s Leeds West constituency.

Ms Reeves had a very strong grasp of a range of policy areas from skills training to energy as she met construction staff and trainees.

As she walked briskly, she asked an aide to press the Department for Transport to establish why half-hourly train services had not been reinstated at the adjacent station.

And her commitment to build a fairer society while, at the same time, making no uncosted spending commitments, 
had echoes of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s promises before the 1997 election.

She will certainly be a formidable opponent to Chancellor Rishi Sunak in Parliament – and that can only enhance economic policy-making and scrutiny.

Her biggest challenge, I suspect, will be with her own party and the reaction of the left-wing – the Jeremy Corbyn brigade – when she tries to resist their fantasy economics. And politics.

TALKING of Rachel Reeves, it was rather disingenuous of the BBC’s Andrew Marr to use his interview with Yvette Cooper last weekend to ask if she’d been promised the job of Shadow Chancellor before the next election.

For his benefit, Ms Reeves had – at that point – only been appointed by Sir Keir Starmer less than a week earlier. And, while Ms Cooper is a respected chair of Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee, her once impregnable majority in Pontefract and Castleford was cut to just 1,276 votes at the last election.

She was only saved by the Brexit Party polling 8,032 votes to dent a Tory surge.

TRACY Brabin hasn’t just got to make her mark with voters as she begins a four-year term as West Yorkshire’s mayor. She needs to do so with Leeds City Council.

Its senior leadership team sent out a missive hailing her election as a “historic and long awaited moment” that will bring many new opportunities to the area. Unfortunately they were referring to one ‘Tracey Brabin’.

BRADFORD MP Naz Shah is perfectly within her rights to speak out on the Middle East crisis.

What people will question is why she used the Queen’s Speech debate on housing to do so – 550-words of a 630-word speech were devoted to the plight of Palestinians rather than Bradford’s priorities. And that the Speaker deemed this to be in order.

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