A landmark achievement for any newspaper – regional or national – I refer to the new Prime Minister’s welcome decision to allow Jake Berry to start attending Cabinet meetings in his role as Northern Powerhouse Minister.
And while this is not yet a senior Cabinet position, it does, nevertheless, mean that Mr Berry now has the opportunity to speak up for the 15 million people who live and work in the North.
Though this enhanced role was a key demand of the Power Up The North campaign which 33 newspapers, including this title, launched last month, the concept was first floated on these pages on June 8 last year when the regional media first teamed up to demand action over rail chaos.
“The ongoing shambles on the North’s rail network – highlighted by an unprecedented collaboration by the region’s newspapers this week – re-enforces my view that the Northern Powerhouse Minister should be a Cabinet-level post,” I wrote.
“For, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their own Secretary of State despite the devolution of powers, the North is still left without a voice at the top table of the Government to provide a policy focus and make sure this region is not forgotten.”
Even though Theresa May, the outgoing premier, extended Mr Berry’s brief just days before the Power Up The North campaign was launched, it was the call for the role to be elevated to the Cabinet which triggered a chain of events, culminating with this week’s promotion.
As such, let me wish Mr Berry well – and hope that he can set the national agenda as a champion for this region. It is also important that Parliament devotes at least 30 minutes of questions to the Northern Powerhouse once a month – similar slots already exist for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A Northern Powerhouse select committee should also be set up so the Minister and officials can be cross-examined – council chief executives here say this level of scrutiny will change the mindset of London-centric civil servants.
And it is also important that Mr Berry asserts himself. For, while Mr Johnson has backed up his campaign commitment to have a Minister for the North in the Cabinet and reiterated his commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail, he was less effusive when asked by Hull North MP if this scheme would take precedence over a second Crossrail line for London. “It is like asking a tigress to choose between her cubs. I refuse to choose,” he said.
Yet, today, Mr Johnson will say he wants to speed up plans for a new railway between Leeds and Manchester. Great. Over to you, Mr Berry. to keep up the pressure on behalf of the whole of the North.
SOME great advice from Yorkshireman William Hague – the man who should have become Prime Minister – to the new occupant of 10 Downing Street.
“If you treat your senior Cabinet colleagues with respect and invite them in constantly to your inner counsels, they will respond with loyalty, commitment and developing a common bond,” said the ex-Foreign Secretary. “Most prime ministers neglect to do this, and end up hunkered down with advisers in a tightening circle of paranoia.” Who did he have in mind?
IS this how Boris Johnson is going to govern? Guto Harri – who was communications chief to the then Mayor of London from 2008-12 – offers this insight on his modus operandi. He says his boss told George Osborne, the then Chancellor, that he would write “an incendiary newspaper article just before the Tory conference” unless there was extra money forthcoming for policing in the capital. “Osborne blinked and Boris ditched the column,” Harri recalled. “Unorthodox, yes, but it worked.”
DO political rent-a-quotes believe some of the piffle they say on TV? Sir Michael Fallon, the ex-Defence Secretary, claims that the Tory party will rally behind Boris Johnson. He used to say the same about Theresa May and it proved to be the kiss of death. Why not be honest, Sir Michael?
BORIS Johnson appears to have appointed ministers based on what he wants to hear rather than what he needs to tell them. When George Eustice quit as Farming Minister because of delays to Brexit, he was replaced at Defra by Robert Goodwill, a farmer and also the MP for Scarborough and Whitby.
Now it is Mr Goodwill who has been put out to grass – he sided with Jeremy Hunt in the leadership contest – while Mr Eustice returns to his old job amid growing fears, from agricultural leaders, about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on farming.