IT speaks volumes about the state of domestic politics that the most effective opposition at Westminster is being provided by the Scottish Nationalists – the party which wants to break-up the United Kingdom.
Again, this was self-evident at PMQs immediately prior to Wednesday’s terror attack when the SNP’s deputy leader Angus Robertson continued – credit where credit is due – to ask statesmanlike questions of substance which actually challenged Theresa May after she had swatted Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn aside with her customary zeal.
These exchanges now follow a similar pattern. Mr Corbyn is mocked by backbenchers from all sides of the House of Commons as his six questions follow a path of their own before the SNP make their two allotted questions count.
It was the same this week, Mr Corbyn’s criticism of selective education being treated with disdain because he, himself, went to a grammar school while Mr Robertson chose to remind the Prime Minister of her commitment last year to securing an UK-wide Brexit plan before she triggers Article 50 next Wednesday.
As well as national security, Mrs May has the fate of the country in her hands. The Scottish Parliament wants a second referendum on independence while the death of IRA terrorist/peacemaker Martin McGuinness comes amid mounting tensions in Northern Ireland over devolution and post-Brexit border arrangements with the Republic.
And while Mrs May was right to accuse the SNP of ignoring the September 2014 vote on independence when the Nationalists were defeated, and last June’s UK-wide referendum when a majority of people backed leaving the European Union, party political pointscoring – and her “we are one people” mantra – will only get the PM so far. Such soundbites might appease her loyalists, but they do in fact grate with those who resent the amount of power that still rests with Westminster.
These complex issues need to be thought through very carefully, with new ways found to articulate the economic and historic importance of a United Kingdom. While many here will have no sympathy for the SNP’s rank opportunism, or time for an economic policy that would see a blank cheque bounce, Mr Robertson should be thanked for fulfilling the Leader of the Opposition’s role in the interim.
PRINCE CHARLES was in his element when visiting rural enterprises in North Yorkshire this week.
Unlike the fair-weathered politicians who only acknowledge the rural economy’s existence at election time, the Prince of Wales remains a lifelong champion of the countryside. He toured The Courtyard, a renovated farmstead near Settle, which champions local food produce. “God, it’s all so irresistible,” he said after tasting some succulent cheeses.
He meant every word. And while some of his opinions on agricultural policy go against the grain – he and Princess Anne find themselves at odds this week over GM crops – his heartwarming exchange with a young farmer revealed the esteem in which he is held by rural communities.
Craig Booth took time out from lambing to thank the royal visitor for the help he received from the Prince’s Trust to set up his quad bike-based snow ploughing and gritting business – another example of how the prince quietly uses his influence to assist younger generations.
This matters. If past visits are a guide, Prince Charles will make sure the feedback reaches those politicians and policy-makers who should be making more of a difference. In this regard, rural Britain can count itself fortunate that it has such a staunch supporter. If only the same could be said about Defra.
I’M even more convinced the latest NHS reorganisation is an exercise in buck-passing after East Riding’s clinical commissioning group voted this week to close minor injury units in Hornsea, Withernsea and Driffield. Are they seriously suggesting urgent care centres in Beverley, Bridlington and Goole are an adequate substitute?
Local MPs Graham Stuart and Sir Greg Knight are referring the matter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt – and with very good reason. Given patients will be expected to make a 40-mile round-trip to Hull, the consequence, I fear, is more people overloading the ambulance service with non life-threatening calls.
As a constituency MP in Surrey, Mr Hunt would not be able to defend this. Like those patients and residents concerned in East Yorkshire, I look forward to him seeing sense before it is too late.
ONE reason for the parlous financial state of the NHS is the indebtedness of the last Labour government. According to Health Minister Philip Dunne, the cost of building 103 hospital schemes under the flawed Private Finance Initiative left the public sector with liabilities of £77bn – sufficient to build HS2 with interest.
Given most of these projects were promised in the PR war which preceded the 1997 election, it makes the Tory misdemeanours over election expenses in 2015 look like small change.
IT’S not just health where there’s chronic mismanagement. It emerges 16 upgrades to motorways and A-grades could be cancelled after the Department for Transport blueprint went £841m over budget, according to the National Audit Office.
Meanwhile the financial management of the railways fares little better. Last year, train operating companies received £105m in compensation from Network Rail because of unexpected disruption to services. Yet only £45m was paid to passengers who suffered inconvenience. The remaining £60m, I assume, either went to the executives running the train operators or in shareholder dividends.
This cannot be right, can it?