Tom Richmond: Britain needs a coalition ready to back education

Justine Greening during a return to visit to Rotherham's Oakwood school where she was taught.
Justine Greening during a return to visit to Rotherham's Oakwood school where she was taught.
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DO coalitions work in politics? History will certainly be kinder to the Tory and Liberal Democrat government of 2010-15 that came together at a time of national financial crisis.

Yet the political careers of David Cameron and Nick Clegg ended in failure and Vince Cable, the current Lib Dem leader, appeared to rule out any future pacts during an interview this week as the senior party always dominates.

However one prominent politician has dared to mention the ‘coalition’ word this month – and not been condemned for doing so. Step forward Rotherham-born Justine Greening, the Education Secretary determined to bring about equality of opportunity for all.

In a landmark speech on social mobility inspired by her recent visit to her former school in her home town, she threw down the gauntlet to schools, businesses and communities to ensure that a “post-Brexit Britain that leads the world in skills, productivity and prosperity”.

Largely unreported because the Minister was speaking common sense rather than courting controversy or briefing against Cabinet rivals, Ms Greening added: “I want everyone to get on board.

“But for those who want to stay focused on talking about the problem rather than helping with solutions, I ask just one thing – don’t complain change isn’t happening fast enough. I want the widest coalition possible, one that goes way beyond government. It’s decision time if you want to play your part.”

Demonstrating that she, for one, is open to new ideas and thinking, she added: “No country has got this right yet – but Britain can lead the way. This should be what we stand for in the 21st century. A country like no other that has unlocked the talents of everyone for the benefit of all. It is possible.”

I agree. Britain‘s key public services, such as education, health and welfare, 
have all suffered because of stop-start 
policy-making. The Tories do one thing. Labour changes it. And so it goes on.

Continuity and consistency are key, as demonstrated by improved literacy rates after the widespread use of phonics, first advocated by Ed Balls when Education Secretary, was given a chance to work.

If Ms Greening can build a consensus across the political divide, and win the support of teachers and business leaders alike through positive engagement, she has the potential to lead a truly transformative coalition – one which changes the country for the better.

After all, the education that today’s youngsters receive holds the key to Britain’s future, and irrespective of which party is in power.

TEN years ago, I – and many others – started complaining to Leeds Council about repeated surface water flooding on the notorious Northern Street, a key road in the city centre.

Fast forward a decade and the same road, the main access route to the city’s station, was, once again, underwater after a minor downpour (it doesn’t take much to bring Leeds to a grinding halt).

Yet the difference is that no one at the council, or Yorkshire Water, appeared to address the drainage problem adequately before luxury office blocks were built and the road dug up. Only in Leeds...

You’ll be pleased to know that council chief executive Tom Riordan is hopeful the issue will be rectified next month. I, for one, will believe it when it happens, given that his highways and transport department is not renowned for its urgency – or common sense.

WELCOME to Yorkshire supremo Sir Gary Verity, together with dozens of other leisure leaders, signed an open letter this week claiming that UK tourism could double in size and scope to £268bn a year by 2025 if the Government makes the most of its new Industrial Strategy.

It called for “tourism zones” in areas “where local leadership will improve transport, extend the tourism season, drive productivity and create jobs”.

Two points. First, it’s further proof that Yorkshire can’t afford another year of devolution and dither. Second, this county’s dominant USP, moving forward, shouldn’t just be cycling.

THE retired racehorse trainer Jenny Pitman, a true groundbreaker and the first woman to saddle the winners of the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup and also the Grand National after starting with nothing, was in trenchant form on TV the other morning.

Now 71, she pointed out, in no uncertain terms, that pensioners had worked hard and deserved the benefits that they receive; single mothers (she was one) should not be demonised because most work damned hard and the real problem was with those youngsters drinking themselves to oblivion.

It sounded like an application to be Work and Pensions Secretary.

TALKING of Ministers, Harrogate MP Andrew Jones was on the Commons front bench on Monday night for the debate on the Finance Bill.

Yet, whenever the Commons cameras focused on the Exchequer Secretary, he appeared to be engrossed with what looked like an iPad. At a time when there’s too much anger, and too little respect, in politics, a bit more listening – and learning – might go a long way.

MY thoughts this Christmas will be with all those who give up their family time to comfort the needy, not least our country’s health professionals, emergency services and carers.

After the woes of the past 12 months, I hope they all receive due recognition in the New Year honours list.

As I wrote after the Grenfell Tower tragedy more than six months ago, they’re the real heroes of 2017 – and a list free of celebrity froth, and civil servant careerists, wouldn’t go amiss.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk