Tom Richmond: Westminster needs the vision of self-made entrepreneurs

Baroness Warsi
Baroness Warsi
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INADVERTENTLY or otherwise, Sayeeda Warsi highlighted two of David Cameron’s greatest challenges – women and the North – in one swipe this week.

The Dewsbury peer, who appears to have a roving role in government, was quickly disowned by some Downing Street advisers when she endorsed Education Secretary Michael Gove’s assertion that there are too many Old Etonians in Cameron’s inner circle.

She’s right. For, while I have y nothing against those who went to school at Eton, including a good friend of mine, the PM has become over-reliant on the input of his contemporaries.

What is missing from the corridors of power, however, is some good old-fashioned common sense from people who have experienced life and who can see foresee the potential policy pitfalls.

This will not come from those who have become cocooned in the Westminster bubble from the moment that they completed their education.

It will be provided, however, from those self-made entrepreneurs who had the vision to see through their own investment plans.

And, without wishing to sound patronising, it will also come from those mothers of young children whose own ambitions – and family finances – are being compounded by the unaffordable cost of childcare. The type of plain-speaking parents you see in every Yorkshire town, they’re likely to know far more about what works – and what does not – than a casually-attired Cameron and Nick Clegg posing for cheesy pre-Budget photos at a nursery.

Pound to a penny, these parents are likely to be far more expert in family policy than some of Cameron’s chums from Eton.

And this brings me to the North. Prior to the Budget, the Tories’ publicity machine was relentless as it tried to offer an opinion piece from one Sarah Newton about the party’s appeal to women.

There was just one problem – the capable Ms Newton, a party vice-chairman, is actually MP for Truro in Cornwall. Was there anyone more local? And this was the problem – Baroness Warsi is out of favour and the party’s only female MP in Yorkshire and the North East, Anne McIntosh, has just been de-selected in Thirsk and Malton.

No wonder the next election could prove elusive for the Tories to win, despite George Osborne’s Budget. For, unless the party broadens its appeal, Labour’s chances of an undeserved victory grow.

THERE is now a twin-track approach to rail policy in the regions as the Government accelerates its HS2 revolution after its plans were tweaked by Sir David Higgins, the new high-speed rail supremo.

Ministers want individual regions to drive transport improvements at a local level while councils across the North promise, once again, to work together so regional services yield the maximum return from the extra capacity that will be generated by HS2.

I hope it works – the test will be whether longer and more frequent trains operate on the TransPennine route between Leeds and Manchester. I have my doubts.

SCARBOROUGH MP Robert Goodwill, now a junior transport minister with responsibility for cycling, came up with an interesting defence after claiming 80p for a four-mile journey in his constituency. The Tory said he had “just put in a few claims to demonstrate that I use my bicycle for work”.

He’s not alone – Wakefield MP Mary Creagh, the Shadow Transport Secretary, claimed £1.60 for cycling “from Westminster to Peckham for BBC filming and back” while York Central MP Hugh Bayley made 166 claims totalling £205.40. The money was used to pay for the maintenance of his bicycles.

Talk about taking taxpayers for a ride. In what other line of work would people be able to claim expenses from the public purse for using their bicycle?

TELEVISION programme of the week had to be Monday night’s Great Canal Journeys when actor Timothy West and his actress wife Prunella Scales, who grew up in Yorkshire, navigated the Rochdale Canal from Sowerby Bridge to its Pennine summit.

It was poignant because Scales – Sybil in Fawlty Towers – undertook this voyage of discovery while in the early stages of dementia. She did not hide the fact when she forgot to untie the boat’s mooring rope. I hope she chooses to be so open about the rest of her journey in life, it’s likely to be enlightening.

It was also special because it revealed the rugged beauty of the Calder Valley, one of Yorkshire’s overlooked gems. Made famous by the poet Ted Hughes, this canal journey offered the perfect mix of the natural and the industrial – and how the inland waterways are reinventing themselves as leisure destinations.

NO wonder footballers are so out of touch with the fans. Former Republic of Ireland international Kevin Kilbane, now a BBC pundit, said he travelled by train when he was at the likes of Sunderland, Wigan, Everton and Hull. But he added that the players were in private carriages, which kept “the riff-raff” out.

Yet the “riff raff” are the very people who Kilbane wants to purchase his soon-to-be-published autobiography this May. I hope they don’t.

FINALLY, a Morrisons update. According to a neighbour, the firm’s Guiseley branch had no semi-skimmed milk late last Saturday morning because the delvery had not been unloaded. And then chief executive Dalton Philips wonders why his store is losing sales. If this happened on Sir Ken Morrison’s watch, he rectified matters PDQ. Take note, Mr Philips.