Snubbed: why we’re still waiting for answers from Boris Johnson about Power Up The North – Tom Richmond

IF the Tory party was fit for purpose, its two leadership contenders would be willing to reach out to those areas where its electoral support has evaporated.

Tory leadership frontrunenr Boris Johnson has still to respond to reuqets to publish a piece outlining his vision for the North.

Yet the fact that the chief combatants appear to be stuck in their Brexit bunkers – and unwilling to acknowledge other issues – does not bode well when a new government is formed next month.

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Leadership campaigns – and also general elections – are normally one of the few times when major political figures are more accessible and willing to discuss policy challenges, even if some of their pledges are as unreliable as one of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s train timetables.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt both looked bored during the Tuesday night TV debate.

Two weeks ago The Yorkshire Post tried to facilitate a debate on social care by publishing a series of questions from Yorkshire campaigner Mike Padgham to every candidate in contention at the time after it emerged that 1.4 million people were receiving sub-standard care.

Even though his essay, and accompanying editorial, was promptly emailed to each contender, not one had the courtesy to reply.

Andrea Leadsom, the former Commons leader, hinted at a response before she was eliminated and Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, did concede in Tuesday’s BBC debate that austerity cuts had gone too far. He omitted to mention that he had been Health Secretary for six years or how he would now advance this issue.

And then there is Boris Johnson whose campaign has been defined, thus far, by its evasiveness. Even though he is also a £275,000 a year national newspaper columnist, and has done an interview with London’s Evening Standard which is now endorsing him, he has still not responded to The Yorkshire Post’s invitation to him to write a piece setting out his manifesto for the North.

The background is this. After Power Up The North campaign was launched by 33 newspapers on Monday last week, he referenced the need for Northern Powerhouse Rail 48 hours later in his opening pitch to Tory MPs and activists.

When a request for a bespoke article was made, his team intimated that this would be possible before saying that they couldn’t get it signed off by Mr Johnson.

Pressed again, they said they would reconsider if Mr Johnson made the final two. He has done so, the invitation is still open – and we’re still waiting on the weekend of the Northern Powerhouse’s fifth anniversary. Contrast this snub with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who was set the same challenge when he highlighted Power Up The North at Prime Minister’s Questions. He submitted a personal piece within 48 hours and it was published on this page last Saturday.

No wonder one Tory MP, asked if they would now back Boris Johnson when their preferred candidate was eliminated, said that she could never do so because he was such a divisive figure in the North. I don’t blame her. For, if the former mayor of London can’t be persuaded to consider these issues when campaigning to become Prime Minister, will he ever be sufficiently bothered to do so?

DAVID Davis – the man who lost the 2005 Tory leadership contest to David Cameron – is clearly licking his wounds. He backed Dominic Raab, his successor as Brexit Secretary, in the current contest – and the Haltemprice and Howden MP maintains that his protégé will, one day, occupy 10 Downing Street. “We’re quite lucky we have a lot of very good people,” he said lamely before announcing that he had switched his support to his former Cabinet colleague Boris Johnson.

And then the tone changed. Asked if the next PM should be a man of their word, he said: “Boris will be a very good Prime Minister.” When the same question was put again, he replied: “Of course.” He did not sound convincing.

THE Commons adjourned two-and-a-quarter hours early at 7.47pm on Monday because of a lack of business. What a shame that time could not have been used for a series of mock Prime Minister’s Questions where all MPs could have tested the qualities – and statesmanship – of the Tory leadership contenders.

This is made even more necessary by Sir Bernard Ingham’s new diaries, The Slow Downfall of Margaret Thatcher, which reveal how this twice-weekly ritual could catch the most formidable of PMs off guard and risk any reputation for economic competence. As her chief press secretary noted after one unexpected question: “I do not exactly appreciate the PM flying a kite about higher compensation for homeowners for road and rail projects because we (Downing Street) are unbriefed about it.”

SIR Bernard Ingham’s diaries also reveal how some things never change – the shocking state of litter and the occasion Margaret Thatcher had to catch the train back to London after a visit to Bradford because Leeds Bradford Airport was snow-bound. She was not amused.

I’M not sure what was more baffling – no Tory candidate mentioning the North in the hopeless TV debate, Our Next Prime Minister, on Tuesday night – or not one viewer from the North being selected by the BBC to ask a question.

I ASSUME self-preservation in the Cabinet is why Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the supposed pro-business leadership candidate, switched his support to Boris Johnson whose Brexit view is ‘f*** business’. Correct me if I’m wrong, Mr Hancock.

NIGEL Adams is appearing on TV so frequently as bodyguard/chauffeur/chief chaperone to Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson that I’m surprised he has any time for his day job – as MP for Selby and Ainsty. Seriously, is this really the best use of time for an elected representative? I don’t.