Tom Richmond: Use pause for reflection to drag election out of gutter

THE senseless murder last June of Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox was supposed to change the dynamics of political debate in this country for the better.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during a vigil in Albert Square outside Manchester Town Hall.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during a vigil in Albert Square outside Manchester Town Hall.

If only. In the hours before Monday night’s terrorist atrocity at Manchester Arena, the conduct of the General Election campaign was spiralling out of control as demeaning insults were hurled by all sides.

Theresa May did herself no favours when she tried to defend the Tories’ botched social care reforms by launching personal attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of leadership.

As party leader, she should be answerable for the coalition of chaos that was caused by her own manifesto – this section was neither strong nor stable.

Equally, former Labour leader Ed Miliband’s tweets reflected the extent to which the campaign was being fought on personalities – and not policies. “This is now a character issue as well as a care issue. When PM (sic) says ‘nothing has changed’ she is lying. If she lies about this what else?” said one post.

As election campaigning resumes after being paused out of respect for the victims of the Manchester atrocity, let’s hope – for once – those standing for election can do so with a degree of dignity. After all, they will expect to be addressed as ’Honorable’ or ‘Right Honorable’ after June 8.

This is not to shy away from robust debate. Quite the opposite. There are divergent views on the great issues at stake, whether it be Brexit, social care or the struggle against Islamic extremism and those jihadists intent on undermining Britain’s values.

However, the cases put forward will be all the more powerful if they concentrate on the proposed policies, and the difference they will make, rather than the personalities of those concerned – voters are more than capable of forming their own views on the respective merits of Mrs May and Mr Corbyn.

The sadness is that, once again, it has taken an unspeakable act of violence to bring the political classes to their senses. It should not have come to this.

IT goes without saying that the National Health Service was seen at its very best in the immediate aftermath of the Manchester bombing.

Further reason never to take the goodwill of medical staff for granted, this is precisely the level of co-operation and co-ordination that needs to be applied when it comes to tackling ‘delayed discharges’ – those senior citizens, I refuse to call them ‘bed-blockers’, who cannot be released from hospital because community care is simply creaking.

It’s also the more tragic, and frustrating, that this need has been overshadowed by the storm over Tory care reforms before the worst terrorist attack in the North’s history.

I’VE never been a fan of Labour’s Andy Burnham and his politics of opportunism – if only if his Ministerial reign was subjected to the same standards that he expected of his Tory opponents.

However, as Greater Manchester’s first directly-elected mayor, his response – thus far – to Monday night’s atrocity has been admirable and it would be churlish not to acknowledge this leadership.

Yet, given the importance that Theresa May attaches to such roles – she even name-checked Mr Burnham in her first Downing Street statement on Tuesday in the wake of the Manchester bombing – suggests that Yorkshire will be the loser if the county’s politicians continue to drag their feet over devolution.

THE cessation of the election campaign meant the BBC could give even more airtime, both on television and on the radio, to a succession of past and present Labour politicians in the aftermath of the Manchester bomb, even though strict rules on impartiality were still in place.

Even though Members of Parliament could no longer be described as MPs after the dissolution of Parliament, it did not stop Radio 5 Live presenter Phil Williams referring to Stephen Kinnock – son of Neil and Glenys – as the Labour MP for Aberavon on three occasions in a short space of time on Tuesday night.

The irony is that the broadcaster was asking Mr Kinnock to comment on the suspension of the election campaign. Either Mr Williams knows the result of the June 8 election or the Corporation is guilty of breaking impartiality rules.

Unfortunately the BBC statement sent to me – “This was a genuine mistake which was corrected on air” – offered little comfort. Three mistakes, one token apology. The damage had been done.

THE swarm of young people of all faiths who surrounded England captain Joe Root at the opening of Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s new training facility at Bradford Park Avenue on Tuesday, the day the world mourned Manchester’s terror victims, offered a timely reminder about the power of sport to bring communities together.

Well done Joe – friendships forged through sport can truly change communities for the better.

LET’S hope the honours system is reformed so due recognition can be given to all those heroes who came to Manchester’s aid in the city’s hour of need, including the homeless. They’re far more deserving than the usual sports stars, second-rate celebrities and Civil Service pen-pushers.

STILL no response from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to this newspaper’s call for a definitive timetable for the upgrade of the trans-Pennine railway line. Given this reasonable request was first made in the paper’s editorial on May 12, one can only conclude that the Tory campaign is in danger of coming off the rails...