Tories must not backtrack on North railway promises - Tom Richmond

IT is not what Boris Johnson promises to do for the North’s railways before the next General Election that counts – it is what he does after polling day which truly matters.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has committed to a new line between Leeds and Manchester. Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

It is a key difference which explains why the new Prime Minister’s commitment to a new line between Leeds and Manchester was greeted with equal amounts of enthusiasm from supporters and cynicism from critics.

And while I welcome his commitment to Power Up The North – I wrote the campaign editorial used by 33 newspapers – he has to now earn the trust of the North’s 15 million residents. After all, the Tory track record when it comes to pre-election transport announcements here goes to the heart of this region’s mistrust of London-centric politicians.

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In 2015, David Cameron and George Osborne – remember them? – promised £6.4bn of improvements in their Yorkshire manifesto, including the electrification of the trans-Pennine route.

Does Boris Johnson need to restore trust in promises over the North's railway infrastructure?

The then Premier and Chancellor promised “the electrification of existing rail lines, new and faster trains” as they toured marginal constituencies along the M62 corridor. What did they do? Within weeks, they began a review – citing failings at Network Rail – which would put on hold upgrade plans for the trans-Pennine line and Midland Main Line from Sheffield to London.

Yet, after they were brought down by Brexit, the misinformation continued in the 2017 election campaign when Chris Grayling, the then Transport Secretary, repeated the same commitments given two years earlier.

Jared O'Mara has said he will step down as Sheffield Hallam MP.

He stood on a windswept station platform at Wakefield and appeared to reject suggestions that electrification schemes were under threat. “We’ve made promises and we endeavour to keep our promises,” he told The Yorkshire Post in May 2017.

However, I revealed in May last year the details of a National Audit Office inquiry which confirmed decisions had already been taken in March 2017 to cancel upgrades, including schemes in this region. Either Mr Grayling did not know, or he chose to mislead voters.

What it is clear is that Mr Grayling never recovered from this scandal – this newspaper was the first in the country to demand his resignation and many other titles had caught up by the time he stepped aside when the new PM succeeded Theresa May.

And it is this issue of trust which Mr Johnson needs to address. I welcome – in principle – his endorsement of the Northern Powerhouse.

By travelling to Manchester to make a series of on-the-record commitments so early in his premiership, he did more for this agenda in three days than his predecessor achieved in three years. With Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse Minister, now attending Cabinet following the Power Up The North intervention, there is no excuse for the Government not delivering for this region.

The issue is whether the Tories will sustain this momentum if they’re in a position of power after the next election – or whether they will backtrack as they did in 2015 and 2017. That’s the key question.

MANY people appear to be taking much credit for Boris Johnson’s pledge to back Northern Powerhouse Rail, including Richmond MP Rishi Sunak who was in Manchester for the big announcement.

Now Treasury chief secretary, he posted on Facebook shortly after the PM’s speech: “Very pleased to hear him commit to an idea I urged him to back.” Just make sure, Mr Sunak, you sign the cheques.

HERE’S one for Grant Shapps, the new Transport Secretary. Ahead of the August Bank Holiday closure of East Coast Main Line, passengers have still been advised not to travel by train to events such as York Racecourse’s Ebor festival and the Ashes Test at Headingley despite Network Rail’s insistence that most trains will still be running.

In response, Network Rail said they were not responsible for the false information being offered by National Rail Enquiries. As Mr Shapps ordered officials to keep briefing papers to a maximum of two pages, I’ll keep it to two words so not to trouble his attention span – sort it.

DO not be fooled by the troubled Jared O’Mara saying that he will step down as Sheffield Hallam MP next month to force a by-election after more allegations about his personal behaviour.

By waiting until the Parliamentary recess, this so-called MP – he appears to have no staff and little inclination to do the job – can continue claiming his £79,468 salary for doing nothing.

And what happens in September if he changes his mind because he does not want to give up the money? Sheffield Hallam voters are left with no representation. It’s not on, hence why rules on Parliamentary misconduct, and the recall of errant MPs, need tightening.

AN interesting recollection from Tony Blair’s former advisor Philip Collins on one of the last questions that the outgoing Labour leader faced at PMQs in 2007.

When Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Winterton demanded a referendum on UK membership of the EU, Mr Blair advised a young David Cameron – the then Opposition leader – that he should be “worried about that”. Prophetic words indeed.

NEW Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has denied reports that she will offer peerages to any Tory MPs who defect to her party – and then lose their seat at the next election. “It’s not the way I operate,” she says. I’m happy, as always, to put such assurances on the record so they can be revisited if necessary.