Tory beer and bingo own goal

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HOW condescending can you get? After a go-getting Budget for “makers, doers and savers” that opened up even more clear blue water between the coalition and Labour, the Tory chairman Grant Shapps then tweeted a campaign poster that proclaimed “Bingo! Cutting the beer tax and bingo duty”.

HOW condescending can you get? After a go-getting Budget for “makers, doers and savers” that opened up even more clear blue water between the coalition and Labour, the Tory chairman Grant Shapps then tweeted a campaign poster that proclaimed “Bingo! Cutting the beer tax and bingo duty”.

Mr Shapps, the man tasked with increasing support levels for the Conservatives in those Yorkshire marginal seats that will determine the next election’s outcome, clearly thinks that the culture of working people revolves around beer and bingo.

If only. This patronising sentiment also belittles those families who are trying to do their very best in spite of their finances being squeezed by increases to the cost of living.

Such outdated and out-of-touch stereotypes probably explain why the Tories, and David Cameron’s Eton elite, are struggling to win over aspirational voters in the North – Conservative Central Office has not grasped the fact that Yorkshire’s political and economic challenges are very different to the prevailing issues in London and the South East.

Yet this ill-advised poster was also symptomatic of a wider malaise – the extent to which politics is being trivialised. Many of the post-Budget debates between rival parties focused on whether an individual went to state school or not rather than the ability to deliver policy reform. It did not revolve around George Osborne’s measures for manufacturing – or pension changes that have led some to ask if the relaxation of rules will encourage people to burn through their retirement savings and leave them vulnerable to spending their old age in poverty.

And, for the benefit of Mr Shapps, this issue does matter – for the very simple reason that older people are more likely to vote than younger generations. It is a lesson that he needs to learn before he signs off his party’s next campaign ads.

Train of thought

Hull plan is now back on track

THE government’s welcome decision to endorse plans to electrify the main railway between Hull and Selby could not be more timely, with the announcement coinciding with the publication of another report highlighting the benefits of HS2 to Yorkshire.

If Ministers are to have a better chance of winning over the high-speed rail sceptics, they need to honour their promise to overhaul local and regional services that are already operating at capacity and which are desperately overcrowded in peak times.

Yet, while the national focus is inevitably on HS2 and the route from London to Sheffield and Leeds, it needs to be remembered that improvements to the trans-Pennine route from Scarborough, York and Hull through Leeds and Huddersfield to Manchester, Liverpool and Blackpool are equally important to this region’s future economic prospects.

As such, the Department for Transport’s decision to back the upgrading of the line from Selby to York is an acknowledgement that this route is critical to Yorkshire’s transport strategy.

Failure to do so would also have sent out a damaging message that Hull does not matter. It does. Not only is it the 2017 City of Culture but it is also emblematic of the coalition’s economic strategy.

If the Government can reduce levels of unemployment in the port city and persuade businesses to invest in Hull, the area’s over-dependency on welfare will also fall. But this will only happen if the area has first-class road and rail links which are comparable to those other locations which have so much untapped potential.

The Next stop

Era of belt-tightening to remain

THE headline from Next posting annual profits of £695m is that the customer-savvy fashion chain is on course to overtake Marks & Spencer for the first time in its history. How times change.

Further evidence that many shoppers have fallen out of love with M&S, there were two other points that are pertinent to the future of high streets across Yorkshire.

First, Next makes more money from its online deliveries than sales in its chain of shops – a trend which is only likely to grow if the company continues to out-perform its rivals on the quality of its clothing and also customer service.

Second, the store’s chairman John Barton added a caveat to these impressive-looking results by warning that “there are real risks to the sustainability of the current recovery”. Coming the day after George Osborne’s Budget, it is a sobering warning that the era of belt-tightening – whether it be at a government or personal level – is here to stay.