TOO SOON TO DECIDE LONG TERM PANDEMIC EFFECTS
Northern regeneration leaders continue to support full implementation of transport plans for the North despite major changes in people’s behaviour during the pandemic.
Continued support for HS2, Northern Powerhouse rail and a host of road schemes emerged during a Downtown virtual meeting this week.
Things might return to normal when Covid-19 is brought under control, but many commentators believe permanent changes have been accelerated by the crisis, particularly in retail and home working. If most shopping is done online in future, bosses scale back on city centre offices and climate change targets dictate less travel; will we need the road and rail developments planned for the North?
The Downtown panel were clear that for our regions to compete on a global scale, improved communications remained essential. Lucy Winskell, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), said it was too soon to predict how things would settle down, while Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes remains a big fan of HS2. He forecast that form of rail travel would increasingly replace our Victorian rail system.
On the subject of Nick Forbes, he is a man who speaks with great authority and has obvious leadership qualities at a time when the Labour Party is struggling for such people. I don’t know if he harbours parliamentary ambitions, but meanwhile we are fortunate to have him as Leader of the Convention for the North as well as being leader of Newcastle.
Inevitably the discussion with LEP leaders from Cheshire, Leeds and the North East focussed on the impact of three lockdowns. Business had had to cope with unjustified uncertainty and false dawns and there was a feeling that it is going to take the whole of this year for us to approach normality.
There was also concern about government policy on devolution. The panellists felt Whitehall’s centralising tendencies were coming back along with “beauty contests” for government cash. What was needed was devolved decision making based on long term criteria without the need to capture tomorrow’s headlines.
One never expected to speculate on the possibility of civil war in America. It remains highly unlikely, but the “cradle of democracy” is in big trouble. The main threat is not from the mob of boneheads who invaded the Capitol, but from the sizable minority of American opinion that broadly supports Trumpism. This despite the alarming demonstration of where Donald Trump’s toxic mix of ego, charisma and contempt for institutions can lead.
The outgoing President may eventually be convicted of incitement of insurrection and banned from running for election in 2024, but conventional Republicans are still faced with a major decision.
Since the emergence of the Tea Party, Republicans have been moving to the right. Until last week’s appalling events it seemed to have been captured by Trump’s politics with its neo-fascist tendencies.
A big decision now faces moderate Republicans. Do they try and return the party to the centre right? That seems a big task. Alternatively, they could form a new party. The danger with such an approach is that, with the right split, the Democrats could enjoy prolonged periods in office.