Tom Richmond: Time for clarity over who will fight Yorkshire’s corner

Theresa May unveils the Tory party candidates in York, but who will be Northern Powerhouse Minister after June 8?
Theresa May unveils the Tory party candidates in York, but who will be Northern Powerhouse Minister after June 8?
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IT speaks volumes about the state of the election that speculation is already growing about the identity of the Northern Powerhouse Minister after June 8.

A number of business people from this region have been asking the question – and this is the response that I have given.

The jury is out on the incumbent, Andrew Percy, who is seeking re-election in Brigg and Goole. Some insiders say he’s been quietly effective behind the scenes since taking on the role last July; others say he’s been quietly ineffective, lacks authority because of his non-Cabinet status and is not universally trusted by council leaders.

There’s also no guarantee that the role will be retained by Theresa May – David Cameron dispensed with the concept of a Yorkshire Minister in 2010 because he said he wanted every minister to be a champion for this county and, ominously, there is only one direct reference to the Northern Powerhouse in the manifesto.

Yet, given the near-inevitability of a significant Tory victory and Mrs May’s much-vaunted One Nation mission, there’s no reason why she can’t be clearer about her intentions when it comes to galvanising the North’s economy.

Who will take charge? Will it be the Prime Minister, Chancellor, Business Secretary, Brexit Secretary, Communities Secretary or AN Other? It’s not an unreasonable question when Transport Secretary Chris Grayling – and his team – continue to ignore this newspaper’s request on May 9, and reiterated by this column a week ago, for a firm timetable for the completion of promised rail improvements in this region.

Equally a plausible case can be made, given the untapped potential of this region’s economy, for the Northern Powerhouse Minister being a Cabinet post, especially as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland continue to have their own Secretaries of State sitting at the top table of politics in spite of the devolution of decision-making powers.

At the very least, there must be dedicated set of Commons questions once a month on the Northern Powerhouse – I made the case to Commons leader David Lidington only last month – and that a specific select committee is tasked with scrutinising the Government’s policies in these parts. Despite the good intentions, there’s been too much obfuscation for too long.

Of course, much of this region’s future prosperity depends on the ingenuity of private business, but it is also the Government’s duty to provide a practical and physical infrastructure. If Mrs May can’t provide some clarity before polling day, what hope of enlightenment after the election?

THERE’S now no reason, after my challenge of last week, for Labour shadow minister Sarah Champion not to include a photo – and the words ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ – on her re-election material in Rotherham.

After all, she presided over the party’s manifesto launch in Bradford and tweeted: “Just re-read the FULLY COSTED manifesto. It’s really something 2B proud of.” Still no direct mention of Mr Corbyn. Strange.

IN the interests of fairness, the Tory campaign leaflet in North East Leeds makes interesting reading. Eight name-checks for Jeremy Corbyn; four for Theresa May and the word ‘Conservatives’ relegated to a footnote at the bottom of page two and the legal small-print which, on closer inspection with my magnifying glass, confirms that this billet doux was printed in London. So much for backing local businesses.

NOTE to students – Labour has not confirmed when tuition fees will be abolished if elected. Though Leeds-based shadow cabinet minister Richard Burgon offered no specifics on Newsnight, he did say: “We make no apology for spending lots of money on it.” When and how?

AT least the Conservatives in York have come up with an antidote to Theresa May’s repetitive ‘strong and stable’ mantra which, in fact, contradicts the PM’s decision to call a snap election.

The message here is the more invigorating ‘young and sturdy’ – reference to Ed Young and Julian Sturdy who are contesting York Central and York Outer respectively. They see themselves as global ambassadors for their city and are now lobbying for Channel 4 to relocate to York.

I’M guessing Theresa May’s promise of a free vote on fox hunting laws won’t be featuring in future election paraphernalia, given the public backlash to her intervention last week.

If there’s a case to be made, it should be evidence-based and not party political. Also it does not bode well for the future of Yorkshire and Britain’s rural communities if Mrs May thinks hunting is the be all and end all. It is not.

Given Britain will have a tourism industry worth over £257bn by 2025 – just under 10 per cent of UK GDP and supporting 3.8 million jobs – I’m surprised the word ‘tourism’ wasn’t even mentioned in the Tory manifesto when it was launched in Halifax. For the record, Labour did manage to cobble a few sentences together on the need for a co-ordinated approach.

WHAT heroes – and what selflessness. Leeds triathlete Jonny Brownlee, one of Theresa May’s favourite sportsmen, carried his bashed-up bike over his shoulder after being caught up in a melee in a world series event in Japan, while a badly bashed shoulder – the result of another mishap – did not deter cyclist Geraint Thomas from continuing his assault on the Giro d’Italia for nearly a week before the pain became too much.

How can this spirit, determination and positivity be bottled? Britain will need it in abundance after June 8.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk