Tom Richmond: Questionable arrogance from David Cameron at PMQs as Northern Powerhouse flounders

David Cameron, speaking at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.
David Cameron, speaking at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.
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I DO not doubt David Cameron’s sincerity when he began Prime Minister’s Questions with a tribute to Harry Harpham, the former miner who died from cancer just nine months after being elected as David Blunkett’s successor as Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough MP.

I do, however, struggle to forgive the Tory leader for his arrogant contempt when Mr Harpham, clearly gravely ill, challenged Mr Cameron at PMQs on January 20 to do more to safeguard “world-class companies such as Sheffield Forgemasters” from the slump in global steel prices.

A local MP asking a profound question about a local issue less than three weeks before he was to leave this world, Mr Cameron chose to respond by lamenting the record of the previous Labour government before advising his inquisitor “to have a little word with his leader (Jeremy Corbyn) about something called a Trident submarine”. I hope the PM reflects on his lack of statesmanship.

This brief exchange encapsulates these unsatisfactory exchanges at present – all that happens is Tory MPs line up to praise Mr Cameron with the occasional barbed question for good measure on Europe, the PM responds by accusing Labour of being a threat to the economy and the country’s security before the Scottish Nationalists appeal for more concessions.

It should not be like this. Perhaps the answer is for questions on national and international policy to be followed by a separate session of 30 minutes where the PM can be quizzed by backbenchers from a specific region on a rolling basis – it could be Yorkshire one week, the North West the next and so on.

Not only would this overcome the current democratic deficit where MPs get the chance to quiz the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Secretaries on matters specific to each nation, but it might force Mr Cameron to develop more coherent policies for the English regions or manufacturing industry.

Such a forum might encourage MPs from rival parties to follow the example of those Tory and Labour backbenchers opposing the proposed closure of Huddersfield’s A&E units, put an end to the Government’s criminal complacency over the Yorkshire floods and stop the banal questions like Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew’s request for Mr Cameron to pay tribute to Sir Terry Wogan 10 days after the much-missed broadcaster passed away.

Like the PM’s discourteous response to the late Harry Harpham, PMQs, the country, the county – and Pudsey – deserves better than this.

HERE we go again. Not content with Tube extensions, the £14.8bn Crossrail scheme and plans for a north-south railway, Boris Johnson – the Mayor of London – is pushing for two major road tunnels to be built under the capital.

What chance of these being built before Yorkshire’s creaking road and rail infrastructure is upgraded?

A QUESTION for Gordon Brown. When the then Chancellor signed off the PFI deal in 1998 for Calderdale Royal Hospital in Halifax, did he know that the £64.6m construction cost would escalate to £773.2m when the deal expires in 2058 and does this constitute good value for money? If not, why not? No wonder patients in Huddersfield are so furious that they look set to lose their A&E unit because the Government is duty-bound to prioritise services at the Calderdale Royal. Perhaps Mr Brown would like to provide an explanation?

IT does not bode well for the conduct of the forthcoming EU referendum that campaigners should be arguing over whether Margaret Thatcher would support Brexit – or not. Talk about being disrespectful and dragging politics into the gutter.

The Europe of today is much changed from a decade ago when this political giant found herself in the grip of dementia, a cruel illness, before her death in April 2013. As her former policy adviser John Redwood noted: “She never expressed a view as PM without thorough briefing and study of the issue.”

I WAS surprised George Osborne found the time to jet off to California for the Super Bowl final. After all, sponsors of American Football’s jamboree include Google whose tax affairs on this side of the Atlantic have been so embarrassing to the Chancellor.

Did Mr Osborne not think of this before accepting his invitation – or is he too thick-skinned to see the potential conflict of interest? And what about his advisors and aides? Didn’t they spot this own goal – or do they only tell their boss what they want to hear? If it is the latter, they shouldn’t be in the job...

GOOD news. Flooding Minister Rory Stewart has finally responded in the affirmative to a request from Leeds North West’s Greg Mulholland, and others, to meet those MPs whose constituencies were left underwater when the river Wharfe flooded.

Bad news. His reply, on behalf of Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss, failed to mention a possible date.

Don’t hold your breath. After all, Commons leader Chris Grayling, the Epsom MP, claimed that Ministers “have done the right thing” over the floods. What planet does he live on?

TALK about patronising. VisitEngland’s £1m campaign to boost tourism in flood-hit parts of the country is called #lovethenorth. I dread to think how much public money was wasted on marketing consultants and so forth.

All I can conclude is that those hired were from London, have never ventured north of the Watford Gap motorway services. This region does not need ‘love’; it needs visitors to support a tourism industry paying a very heavy price for the floods. Simple, really.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk