Tom Richmond: Think outside the box and help consumers, Mrs May

Theresa May, speaking in Downing Street where she used the dissolution of Parliament to accuse the EU of interfering with the June 8 election.
Theresa May, speaking in Downing Street where she used the dissolution of Parliament to accuse the EU of interfering with the June 8 election.
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IN this soundbite election that is deliberately devoid of personal engagement between politicians and the public, Theresa May has succeeded in making the campaign a straight choice between her “strong and stable leadership” and Jeremy Corbyn’s “coalition of chaos”.

It’s not even close to being a contest, more so after the Prime Minister’s uncompromising midweek speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street in which she accused the European Union of meddling with the election – a political ploy designed to ensure that the Tories get the splintering Ukip vote on June 8.

Yet, while this is a Brexit election which is intended to strengthen Mrs May’s negotiating hand, and will inevitably do so, it is also a poll which will shape the future direction of British society and public services.

This should not be forgotten, hence the need to gently remind the Tory leader of her address to the nation from 10 Downing Street on the evening that she became Prime Minister last July. Then she told ‘just about managing’ families: “The Government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours.”

At some point, Mrs May needs to translate the well-crafted soundbites and slogans into substantive policy – and the forthcoming Tory manifesto, due to be published next week, is a chance for the Prime Minister to demonstrate her credentials as a champion of consumers.

My justification is this. Over recent weeks, I’ve endured various tortuous dealings with Virgin Media over the replacement of a digital TV set-box because the previous model was becoming obsolete. First the company said this would be provided free of charge – and an on-screen message confirmed this. Yet, when I made contact with the call centre to sort the rigmarole out and ask about the supposedly enhanced benefits of the new set-box, I was told it would cost £5 a month. Really? When I pointed out the discrepancy and was put through to a manager, I was told the charge would be waived.

Fine, but when they were asked to put this undertaking in writing (via carrier pigeon, snail mail or email), I was told this was not possible, “The system does not allow us to,” said the manager.

It’s not his fault. Nor is Virgin Media alone – Santander bank is also reluctant to put any offers in writing. Yet, as companies trading in Britain, they should have a legal obligation to provide total transparency and forward contractual details when requested. In the context of Brexit, it’s a minor quibble – but it’s an important one if Mrs May is to preside over a more ethical economy. She needs to be bold – but also truthful – if the goodwill she now enjoys is not to dissipate after polling day.

IF you wondered why Theresa May did not meet the Queen until 3ish on Wednesday to formalise Parliament’s dissolution, it was because Her Majesty was on the racing gallops at Newmarket with, amongst, others, Skipton-born trainer William Haggas whose father-in-law is the legendary Lester Piggott. By all accounts, HMQ was the one lady not for turning over this particular diary clash. Well done Ma’am.

AN apology to Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott. I didn’t realise my call last week for politicians to cost their policies would cause her so many problems 96 hours later when she announced plans to recruit 10,000 extra police.

It shows the importance of such scrutiny, even more so after Ms Abbott’s colleague John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, sighed audibly during a tetchy radio exchange before dismissing an apparently uncosted £160m spending commitment as “a small amount of money”.

Really?

AFTER leaked reports emerged about European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s rather frosty Downing Street dinner with Theresa May, I lost count of the number of times BBC reporter Eleanor Garnier, another of political editor Laura Kuenssberg’s many minions, used the phrases ‘I think’ and ‘I guess’ on Radio 5 live – it was certainly into double figures. If she wasn’t certain about the implications, why didn’t she just say so – or, better still, stay silent?

I CAN see why there will be occasions when political parties want to ‘parachute’ certain individuals into key seats – Alan Johnson’s selection in Hull West two decades ago being a prime example – but the time has come for at least one local candidate to be shortlisted as a matter of course. Such a commitment can only help to energise politics at the grassroots.

THOUGH Northern Ireland residents are, understandably, fearful for the future following the collapse of devolution, and whether Brexit will mean a return of unwanted border controls with the Republic, I can reassure you that they are immensely proud of the Peace Process and could not be more welcoming. Yet, on a tour of Hillsborough Castle, one sensed that Ministers are not aware of this, not least Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire who, by all accounts, is itching to become Environment Secretary.

YORKSHIRE could certainly learn from Northern Ireland tourism. Like Saltaire here, The Giant’s Causeway is deservedly an Unesco World Heritage site – York’s Tory candidate Ed Young is campaigning for the same status for his home city – while Titanic Belfast is regarded as one of the top museums on the planet. This region needs more attractions of this stature if it is to remain a tourism world-leader. I’m not convinced that the Tour de Yorkshire bike race is the sole answer, even more so judging by the amount of litter and detritus left in its wake.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk