COMPARE this year’s Tory conference in Manchester with the party’s gathering at the same venue two years ago – which ended with that now-infamous Theresa May speech. Then, ministers barely uttered the words “Northern Powerhouse”.
Now, after two wasted years, the phrase is sharing top billing with “Get Brexit Done” – Boris Johnson’s central message.
And, thanks in no small part to the Power Up The North campaign driven by The Yorkshire Post and 30 newspapers, there is belated recognition that the North should be driving forward the national economy.
Even Treasury chief secretary Rishi Sunak, the Richmond MP, appeared taken aback when it took him two hours to travel by train from Northallerton to Manchester while Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse Minister, told delegates of his shame that “crap” Pacers, the trains that took him to and from school 35 years ago, are still in service here.
The recounting of these experiences, all too familiar to commuters here, will certainly help to ensure Mr Johnson does honour the many positive commitments to this region he has already made as Prime Minister.
But they also show the devolution of decision-making powers will only be of limited effect unless the North has the type of rail infrastructure and frequency of service that other parts of the country take for granted.
And while HS2 is in abeyance for now as the Government undertakes its promised review, this hiatus – coupled with the national uncertainty over Brexit, the fate of Mr Johnson and the timing of the next election – must not stand in the way of improvements to commuter services on the railways and the overhaul of the fleet of buses serving communities across Yorkshire.
Irrespective of the final outcome of Brexit, public transport will remain one of the North’s most pressing priorities.