THE CONTENT, delivery and tone of Boris Johnson’s pre-election speech to young police recruits in Wakefield was markedly different from the Prime Minister’s demeanour when he visited The Yorkshire Post shortly afterwards.
Though this has, by far, been the most troubling week of Mr Johnson’s premiership, he said the thing which had “surprised” him most of all about the job was the extent to which he was enjoying it.
Time will tell if this remains the case – the Tory leader has become a hostage to Parliament as MPs combine to thwart his Brexit and election strategies – or if his premiership is a very shortlived one.
Yet, while this will, ultimately, be for the electorate to decide, the background to Mr Johnson’s frank interview is this. For more than three years, this country – and Parliament itself – has been left totally divided by Brexit and how to honour the 2016 referendum result.
This paralysis – compounded by incendiary language by politicians on all sides – has become so contagious that the Government’s domestic policy programme is moribund, including those issues pivotal to Yorkshire’s future prosperity.
And while Mr Johnson, and many others, need to accept their share of responsibility for this unprecedented state of affairs, his experience as Mayor of London does – like it or not – present an opportunity to resolve this county’s devolution differences which, on occasion, have seemed as impenetrable at Brexit.
To be fair, the PM recognised this. He he wants to “demolish” the North-South divide – the issue that remains central to the agenda-setting Power Up The North campaign being led by The Yorkshire Post and over 30 newspapers.
He maintains that he is fully committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail – he says it has “a fantastic business case” – and clearly grasped why HS2 is also integral to this scheme. He also stressed public transport, and buses in particular, is critical to attracting new investment here.
Mr Johnson went on to say that he “really believes” in Yorkshire devolution; that mayors should serve “a pretty diverse and big area”; that their powers must include full political responsibility and that he will ask Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse Minister, to look afresh at the issue.
So far, so good. Yet, given the previous reluctance shown by Mr Berry and others towards the One Yorkshire proposition which still commands wide support amongst most council leaders, it was put to Mr Johnson that the only obstacle appeared to be a government which does not want a Labour politician to become mayor of Yorkshire and enjoy the status enjoyed, for example, by Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester.
However, while the PM did not totally disagree with this analysis, he risks being accused of double standards if he allows his Ministers to block this agenda while, at the same time, accusing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of running scared by failing to sanction an October 15 election.
Given the extent to which the Tories need to broaden their appeal, including to Labour voters in Northern constituencies which voted heavily in favour of Brexit in June 2016, now, more than ever, is the time for Mr Johnson to prove – after this week’s purge of Remain-inclined Tory MPs – that he can still rise above the fray as a true One Nation leader.
And if Mr Johnson agrees to this challenge, not only will he be showing that he truly believes in Yorkshire and the contribution that it can make nationally and internationally with the right transport and broadband infrastructure in place – but he will also be proving that he believes in this county and its desire to drive forward the whole Northern Powerhouse project rather than be a back-seat passenger. Over to you, Prime Minister.