Tom Richmond: Sport is likely to be the loser as the PM misses a golden chance

Mo Farah winning the Men's 5000m Final during the London 2012 Olympics
Mo Farah winning the Men's 5000m Final during the London 2012 Olympics
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IF British sport does return to the wilderness after the euphoria of the Olympics, Mo Farah’s “double double”, Ashes and Lions series triumphs and then Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win, the decline will have been triggered by David Cameron’s lack of tactical acumen when he undertook his ministerial reshuffle this week.

If the Olympic “legacy” was more than a political soundbite, and actually had substance, he would have appointed a full-time Sports Secretary to the Cabinet to make the most of this golden opportunity to transform the nation’s health, cut crime and use leisure to bring communities together.

What did he do? He allowed the unimpressive Maria Miller to keep the convoluted culture, media and sport brief – and kicked Hugh Robertson, a Sports Minister since May 2010, off to the Foreign Office.

There are those in these parts who were positively gleeful at Robertson’s sideways move – he was in a permanent state of loggerheads with Welcome to Yorkshire over next year’s Tour de France Grand Départ in Leeds after originally backing Edinburgh’s bid to stage the launch of the race.

The concern from a national perspective, however, is the extent to which sport is now being marginalised as a political force for good.

The aforementioned Miller is pre-occupied with the issues of press regulation and governance of the BBC – these remain her primary jobs – while Robertson’s successor, Helen Grant, has responsibility for tourism, equalities policy and sport after cutting her political teeth as a justice minister.

A judo champion in her youth, and a law graduate from the University of Hull, she actually joined the Labour Party in 2004 before defecting to the Tories in 2006 and winning Ann Widdecombe’s old seat of Maidstone in 2010.

I’m sure she will be very able and lead from the front, but I struggle to understand how one person can take on the equalities brief, champion tourism – which is the UK’s fifth biggest industry – and tackle sport’s policy challenges ranging from reforming domestic football to boosting school sport (an issue repeatedly overlooked by Education Secretary Michael Gove) and ensuring that the Olympic legacy is not squandered.

Don’t get me wrong. Helen Grant could be an inspired appointment and bring the level of energy that Sheffield’s Richard Caborn brought to the table after an uncertain start when his sporting knowledge failed him during a radio interview at the end of his first week in the job.

But she could make an even greater difference if she was speaking up for sport at the Cabinet table rather than trying to juggle so many balls that means it is likely that Britain will be the loser in the long run.

TWO other reshuffle quandaries for you. First, did Jeremy Browne, a Lib Dem minister at the Home office and effective communicator, get the P45 treatment because he dared to call for “a national debate” on Muslim women wearing veils in public? Second, did anyone know that Diane Abbott was Labour’s public health spokeswoman before she got the heave-ho? I didn’t. Mistakenly, I just thought she was a full-time self-publicist.

THIS week’s party reshuffles over ministerial jobs masked the wider significance of a speech by Nick Clegg in which the Lib Dem leader – and Sheffield Hallam MP – rebuked pro-Europeans for not making a more positive case for membership of the EU.

“Yes, Europe needs reform. But we need to lead from the front and work at that from within Europe. If we want Europe to deliver for Britain we need to stay in the room and win the argument,” said the Deputy Prime Minister.

Clegg accepts that he needs to break down myths about the EU, and the only way that he can begin this exercise is by calculating how many jobs – now and in the future – depend on Britain remaining in the Brussels big tent.

The key word is jobs, a specific downplayed in his speech.

Clegg is not alone. It’s the same at Leeds and Partners which is being overwhelmed by staff turmoil just days after the marketing arm of Leeds City Council received a £2m contract from the city’s LEP – and council – to bring 1,500 jobs to the area without going through a tendering exercise.

Its strategic vision is this: “With a renewed remit for inward investment and tourism, Leeds and Partners will work closely with city partners to drive economic value and support trade across key sectors in the City Growth Strategy.”

Keep it simple. Taxpayers, the people paying the bills, want to know about jobs – that key word again. And that is why their leaders must do far more to speaking in language that Joe Public can relate to. As Bill Clinton famously said: “It is the economy, stupid.”

AFTER George Mudie, an influential member of the Treasury select committee, announced his intention to step down as the MP for Leeds East at the next election, there will be particular interest in the identity of the Labour candidate.

The reason? It is a near political certainty that the winner will have a job for life because this is such a strong Labour stronghold. They will only be the third MP to represent Leeds East since 1952 – Denis Healey, a former Chancellor, had a 40-year reign before Mudie, the then leader of Leeds City Council, was elected in 1992.

Both Mudie and Healey were respected on all sides of Parliament, but is it healthy for democracy that general election campaigns – including the 2015 battle – focus on just a few dozen marginals?

If turnout is to be improved, the parties need to find ways to energise voters in Labour’s inner city strongholds and safe Tory seats in the shires. Any ideas?

WHY isn’t Leeds making more of the fact that it will be the host city for the Tour de France’s Grand Départ next summer?

There is very little visual evidence in the city that the world’s best cyclists will be arriving en masse in Leeds for the beginning of the 2014 Tour.

Contrast this with York, where the second stage will begin at the Roman city’s historic racecourse. For months, key routes have been lined with yellow banners promoting the Grand Départ.

Come on Leeds, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to champion cycling and healthy exercise. To paraphrase Ed Miliband’s party conference speech, we can do better than this. We’re Leeds!

I ACCEPT that roadworks are difficult to plan if the motorway in question is to be kept open at all times – and that this work is not glamorous – but why the inaction on the M1 in West and South Yorkshire last Sunday?

With the centre lanes coned off, surely this would have been the best time to be carrying out the repairs so the long-term inconvenience is minimised? I fear it will be a long winter for regular users of this road if this is symptomatic of the speed at which the Highways Agency operates.