PHILIP hammond will be relieved that he won’t be hamstrung by a fully costed manifesto if he remains as Chancellor of the Exchequer after the election – there are recurring reports of a rift with the Prime Minister.
His first Budget in March unravelled because a proposal to increase the self-employed’s National Insurance contributions breached the manifesto that David Cameron put to the country in 2015.
On the campaign trail in a York, a seat that the Tories hope to capture for the first time since 1992, Mr Hammond will have welcomed the comments of Ken Clarke, one of his more illustrious predecessors, who said manifestos should not be costed because Chancellors have to respond to unforeseen events.
However, while this doesn’t explain how parties counter the public’s mistrust of politicians, Mr Clarke did say that Theresa May should appoint a “competent chancellor who takes the appropriate action to keep the economy in sustainable growth”, and that she already one in place.
Yet, while the Tory and Labour rival approaches can be explained by the fact that the Conservatives are preparing to be returned to office, a few specifics from Mrs May – and Mr Hammond – might help them to seal the deal in these parts.
After Labour launched its prospectus for power in Bradford, the Tories followed suit in nearby Halifax because they know the M62 corridor is a key battleground and that they still have to win over the trust of sufficient voters. And while Brexit Secretary David Davis’s commitment to Yorkshire in today’s newspaper is welcome, it will help voters further if Ministers can provide greater clarity on the following three issues.
First, will Mr Hammond’s proposed fund to narrow the North-South divide include every last penny of regeneration money that this region was due to receive from the EU?
Second, will the Department for Transport provide a firm timetable for the upgrade of the trans-Pennine railway line which became delayed in the chaotic aftermath to the last election?
Third, will the next Northern Powerhouse Minister be elevated to the Cabinet and hold the same status as the respective Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Secretaries?
If the Tories are serious about the North, and the Northern Powerhouse, they will have no problem answering these questions before voters go to the polls.
The tartan vote
EVEN though it is widely assumed that Theresa May will win the June 8 election with an increased majority, the outcome in Scotland’s 59 seats could be crucial to the future of the United Kingdom.
Two years ago, the Scottish Nationalists won 56 seats on a tartan tidal wave that has fuelled First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a second referendum on independence on the grounds that her compatriots did not back Brexit last June.
Yet there’s a real possibility that the Tories will make some notable gains in Scotland. For, while the battle here is between the Conservatives and Labour, the contest north of the border is being fought between Unionists and Nationalists. If the SNP is left with less than 50 MPs, this will be one of the more significant numbers on election night.
The more seats that the SNP lose, the greater the likelihood that the UK will not break up because of Brexit. For this, the country should be grateful to Ruth Davidson, the Tory leader in Scotland, who has succeeded in detoxifying her party’s image. When the ConservativeHome website asks activists to assess the performance of senior party members, Ms Davidson is invariably the most popular with Justice Secretary Liz Truss the least liked. Even though she is not a member of the Cabinet, or standing for election to Parliament, her role is critical as the fight is taken to the SNP.
In the line of duty
IT’S important to put the risks faced by the police into context. Every time officers leave home to begin their shift, they are stepping into the unknown.
If you don’t believe this, ask the mother of PC Ian Broadhurst, the policeman gunned down in Leeds on Boxing Day 2003, or the relatives of every other officer killed in the line of duty. It’s a long list, hence a £4m campaign to build a tribute at the National Memorial Arboretum which honours the 1,400 serving officers and staff who have not returned home since the police’s inception in the late 17th century.
Their sacrifice deserves nothing less.