PM’s balancing act over the EU

AT LEAST David Cameron – and not Ed Miliband – is leading Britain’s response to the European Union’s uncompromising demand for an extra £1.7bn because this country’s economic growth has exceeded expectations.

The Prime Minister was clear yesterday. He will not accede to the demands of Brussels bureaucrats by the December 1 deadline while the electorate is none the wiser about the Leader of the Opposition’s position.

Unlike the last Labour government which surrendered too many powers to Europe, Mr Cameron does, at the very least, recognise that this is taxpayers’ money and intends to study this demand in exhaustive detail.

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Yet this is also not the Prime Minister’s finest hour – a fact highlighted by the number of occasions that he sought to mock Mr Miliband following the resignation at the weekend of Labour’s leader in Scotland.

Choosing his words carefully, the Tory leader said the payment was on hold for the time being – there is still the chance that the UK will have to pay up £1.7bn. It also became clear that the Treasury became aware many months ago that Britain might have to make some form of payment – Nicky Morgan, the then Economic Secretary and newly-promoted Education Secretary, made this clear in emails at the time.

The consequences for Mr Cameron remain to be seen – it is even more likely that Ukip will win this month’s pivotal Rochester and Strood by-election following the defection of former Tory MP Mark Reckless, and the response of the Conservative Party to this poll will be critical to its electoral fortunes in 2015.

For, while defeat will intensify demands by some for Britain’s exit from the EU, the Conservatives must not alienate those who maintain that the UK should remain in a reformed European Union on trade and business grounds alone.On this and the £1.7bn bill, Mr Cameron will have to strike a very careful balance.

Railway realities

Investment argument now won

HOW times change. Ten years ago, Britain’s major political parties were non-plussed about decades of under-investment in the North’s rail network. Michael Howard, the then Tory leader, said – erroneously – that his party could win the 2005 election without significant levels of support in Yorkshire.

Compare this short-sightedness with David Cameron and George Osborne’s enthusiasm for a HS3 high-speed railway across the Pennines that would complement existing plans for the HS2 line along the length of the country and be the catalyst for a new era of economic growth. The contrast could not be greater.

As such, the significance and symbolism of the Prime Minister and Chancellor’s joint visit to Leeds yesterday should not be under-estimated. The political, economic and social arguments have all been won – faster and more frequent train services are key if the North’s untapped business potential is to be fulfilled in the years to come – and the acumen of HS2 Ltd chairman Sir David Higgins will be vital if these plans are to become a reality.

Moving forward, two other points are critical. First, the Government should not rule out constructing HS3 before HS2 if it is feasible to do so. This would also re-enforce the message that the economy of the North is now a political priority. Second, the chronic shortage of rolling stock on commuter services across Yorkshire needs addressing as part of the renegotiation of the Northern Rail and TransPennine franchises. More carriages need to be brought into service, and Ministers must facilitate this as a matter of urgency.

Fame and fortune

Beckham brand’s priceless value

SOME WILL scoff at Victoria Beckham being named an entrepreneur of the year – and how the accolade demeans those industrialists who do not enjoy the fashion designer’s celebrity profile. Such cynicism is misplaced. Like her husband David who became an iconic footballer and a global brand, Mrs Beckham has made the most of her talents.

Yet the Beckhams have only achieved their fame and fortune because of their work ethic. Both come from modest family backgrounds and it is significant that their eldest son, Brooklyn, has been encouraged to take up a part-time job. The Apprentice’s Karren Brady would approve – she said in a weekend interview that Saturday jobs do more to prepare young people for a life of work than any business studies lesson in school.

Far from being envious of Mr and Mrs Beckham, perhaps there needs to be a greater appreciation that this country would be a much poorer place without the couple and their charitable work.