Tory politics over pensions

IT is ironic that those commentators criticising David Cameron for pledging to guarantee future rises to the state pension after the next election are the self-same people who would have condemned the Prime Minister if he refused to make such a commitment.

The Conservative leader’s commitment is also recognition that OAPs have seen their retirement incomes squeezed by interest rates remaining at a record low, and that it would be a poor reflection of the Government’s priorities if it could not honour those who have worked hard for the duration of their lives.

Yet there are also risks with the Prime Minister’s forthrightness. First, the additional payments will offer scant consolation to one in 10 pensioners who are being forced to stay in bed longer to keep warm because of rising fuel bills. Their plight cannot wait until 2015 when pensioner perks, like heating discounts, will be subjected to means-testing.

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Second, this commitment is contingent on Britain meeting its economic growth forecasts. Third, Mr Cameron – and other leaders for that matter – will now be expected to provide similar clarity on other aspects of policing, whether it be the ring-fencing of certain budgets or levels of EU migration.

Given the Prime Minister’s admission that “this is the first plank of a general election manifesto”, it will certainly be in his interests if he is more candid with voters about his policies – and how they are to be funded.

One reason why so many people are so sceptical about politics and politicians per se is the inability of leaders to honour their promises, and this was self-evident yesterday when Mr Cameron’s offensive on pensions became overshadowed by his obfuscation over an EU referendum, his opposition to a TV debate with Alex Salmond ahead of the Scottish independence vote and the Government’s unconvincing response to the flooding crisis.

He is, after all, a leader who once gave a “cast-iron guarantee” over the Lisbon Treaty referendum, who challenged Gordon Brown to television debates before the 2010 election and who criticised Labour’s ponderous response to the Yorkshire floods of 2007.

As such, it is going to take far more than one promise on pensions for David Cameron to woo wavering voters in sufficient numbers – even though it is the Conservatives, and not Labour, who have been wining the economic argument.

Leeds pioneers dementia research

IF the complex causes of degenerative brain diseases are to be identified so their treatment can be improved, it will require a commitment and investment which is comparable to the time – and money – spent on cancer research.

Yet, while a cure for cancer remains elusive, the treatment of the disease continues to be transformed by medical advances and the diagnosis of this condition no longer equates to a death sentence.

As such, it is welcome that Leeds is to become home to a world-class centre of excellence, backed by Yorkshire philanthropist Sir Robert Ogden, that will pull together the expertise of clinicians and scientists from around the world in a bid to improve the treatment of brain illnesses.

As Sir Robert says in today’s newspaper, diseases such as Alzheimer’s “are one of the biggest challenges will all face this century” and that it will require a global response as he launched a £2m appeal.

There will be very few, if any, families who have not been touched by one of these illnesses in recent times and the creation of this world-class centre means that Yorkshire patients will benefit from the very best expertise.

Yet this opportunity also needs to be used to improve the care of victims at a local level. As scientists strive for a medical breakthrough, there are countless people enduring a ‘living hell’ because existing care and support services are inadequate, and their plight must not be forgotten.

Boycott stumped by cricket collapse

THE brutally blunt words of Yorkshire’s incredulous president Geoffrey Boycott – ‘If you can’t bat, you can’t win’ – were apt ones at the end of yet another spectacular capitulation by England’s cricketers as they suffered the ignominy of becoming only the third side in Ashes history to be whitewashed.

Yet the malaise extends beyond the now familiar failings of England’s misfiring top order. It is about the arrogance and complacency of a side of prima donnas who took success for granted. It is about an unsporting team with little empathy for the spirit of cricket. And it is about an expensively-assembled entourage of coaches, managers and others who were nowhere to be seen when Australia’s skipper Michael Clarke lifted the famous old urn.

English cricket finds itself at a crossroads – it has become marginalised by the emergence of other sports – and questions need to be asked about whether top players need to spend more time honing their skills with their county sides. Yet there is a lesson for other sports. It is hard to reach the summit of any discipline but even harder to remain there, as Alastair Cook’s men have learned to their cost at the end of a dismal tour already regarded as one of the most embarrassing in history.