Tom Richmond: Big Brother meets the Fat Controller '“ at your expense

IN this supposed era of high-speed rail, I thought the days of Thomas The Tank Engine came to a halt when its creator, the delightfully named Reverend Wilbert Awdry, passed away in 1997.
Are children being brainwashed over HS2?Are children being brainwashed over HS2?
Are children being brainwashed over HS2?

I was mistaken. The children’s series looks like it is getting back on track after HS2 Ltd placed a contract for an education programme to encourage pupils along the route to build a “zoom train” from cardboard.

The cost to the public purse for this Orwellian venture? £280,000 of taxpayers’ money, £280,000 of taxpayers’ money which will be spent effectively ‘brainwashing’ children about a £55.7bn scheme that is rapidly running out of credibility. No wonder opponents have been letting off so much steam.

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In attempting to defend this state-sponsored propaganda, a HS2 spokeswoman said: “It’s right that we plan ahead and help young people to develop the skills and knowledge they need to take advantage of the opportunities available.

“Research shows that early awareness of the value of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects can remove gender barriers and help to reduce skills shortages.”

I disagree. If the scheme commanded confidence, schools and colleges would – as a matter of course – be including such projects without having to be told, in new teaching material published at unnecessary expense, to use HS2’s logo and ‘engine for growth’ slogan.

When I spoke to HS2 chairman David Higgins recently, he accepted the need to improve communication after it emerged that hundreds of newly-built homes in South Yorkshire will have to be demolished due to route changes.

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He also said that a communications director was being appointed to explain why HS2 is essential if capacity on Britain’s railways is to be increased; that a new line will mean super-efficient services; and that it must take precedence over HS3 from Hull to Liverpool to turbo-charge the Northern Powerhouse.

Yet what happens? A piece of brainwashing which must not mask the fact that the HS2 budget would be better spent on transforming trans-Pennine links, upgrading the East and West Coast main lines and replacing the strike-hit Southern franchise with executives fit to be entrusted with a train set.

I’M not surprised the elected councillors of Leeds do not want to put the city’s bus-led transport strategy to a public vote – they know that residents have little or no confidence in the officials who drew up a blueprint which promises more of the same – i.e. very little.

Yet, before more good money is thrown after bad, please call in some engineers from China and Japan – two countries which know how to build roads and railways – and ask for their advice. I’d have far more confidence in them than those ill-qualified Civic Hall executives who presided over the trolleybus shambles.

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Indeed, the proposed rail link off the East Coast main line to Doncaster Sheffield Airport is likely to be far more beneficial to this region than a new parkway station at Bramhope from where passengers will be expected to catch a shuttle bus to Leeds Bradford Airport (fog and snow permitting).

LIKE the Hillsborough inquiries, it is public pressure which has persuaded the Home Secretary to release her department’s files on the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, and I commend Amber Rudd for doing so after ruling out a public inquiry.

However, if a line is to be drawn under this affair, the documentation must also include correspondence between 10 Downing Street, South Yorkshire Police and other constabularies. As I have previously disclosed, Margaret Thatcher had a very hands-on approach when it came to policing matters in this troubled period and any obfuscation on the Government’s part will only fuel suspicions, still further, of a cover-up.

WHEN Nicky Morgan was Education Secretary, and a pretty hopeless one at that, I seem to remember she frequently toured the TV studios and pleaded for loyalty when David Cameron’s critics were in full cry.

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What qualifies her, I ask, to criticise Theresa May on anything and everything from Brexit to the Prime Minister’s trouser indulgence? I can only assume it is sour grapes because she was sacked.

The frequency of Mrs Morgan’s gripes mean she’s unlikely to be taken seriously if and when she has anything important to contribute. At least Michael Gove is trying to show some humility, though I suspect appearances on Sky News and columns in The Times are keeping him from causing mischief at Westminster.

I’M amazed Labour’s Diane Abbott, the doyenne of political correctness, did not swing for the BBC’s Nick Robinson the other morning when he asked the Shadow Home Secretary a question about where you ‘guys’ stand on Brexit. I know most politicians are regarded as ‘fall guys’, but since when did this colloquialism become so omnipresent?

TALKING of the BBC, I’m losing count of the number of occasions that sports presenter George Riley, from Leeds, prefixes a superlative with the word ‘absolutely’. Can he explain the difference between ‘brilliant’ and ‘absolutely brilliant’ when he next waxes lyrical on sporting mediocrity?

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AT least Russia has been stripped of the right to host next year’s bobsleigh and skeleton World Championships in the wake of the second McLaren report into state-sponsored doping. Now let’s hope sport has the moral strength to deprive Vladimir Putin of football’s World Cup in 2018. It’s the ultimate sanction – and should be deployed in the name of fair play.

I’LL be voting for triathlete Alistair Brownlee in the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year and commend others to do likewise. A born winner, he represents the best of Yorkshire and sportsmanship thanks, in no small part, to his sibling rivalry with his omnipresent younger challenger Jonny. Yet what about those competitors from this county, like Hannah Cockroft, Jack Laugher, Chris Mears, Andy Triggs Hodge and Jessica Ennis-Hill, who did not make the shortlist? In years gone by, they would have won – proof that this region is now a sporting powerhouse like no other.