OFF THE RAILS.
After the shameful “pause” in electrifying the Leeds-Manchester rail link, we now have the shamefaced about turn.
In June when the “pause” was announced, I described it as one of the most disgraceful decisions ever made because it undermined the Northern Powerhouse based on connectivity, it undermined companies’ procurement plans and finally politicians must have known before the election about the crisis in Network Rail that caused the decision to be taken.
Be in no doubt that the decision to reinstate the electrification is directly related to the fact that the Conservatives are in Manchester this weekend for their annual conference. The Chancellor George Osborne will want Ministers to make frequent references to the Northern Powerhouse. He didn’t want critics asking how meaningful the concept could be without better rail links between the two principal cities of the Powerhouse.
Two independent enquiries had been set up after the “pause” was announced. The hapless Transport Secretary Patrick McLaughlin told us no decisions would be taken until they reported. But George Osborne, who I understand wasn’t fully in the loop on the “pause” decision, can’t wait for the enquiries and has ordered the go-ahead to be given.
All this faffing around comes at a price. It has delayed the project by three years so passengers can carry on standing until 2022.
I understand the Tory conference may also be used for announcements about devolution deals for Sheffield and the North East where agreement has been reached on elected mayors. The latter will be small consolation to the steel workers of Redcar.
JEREMY’S FINGER ON THE BUTTON.
At least the Tories are in power, Labour look a long way from it. That’s my conclusion after spending some sun drenched days in Brighton. The moon turned red but I fear that was more a sign of the Gods’ displeasure than a happy omen for socialism.
Much of the press coverage of the new Labour leader is over the top. Jeremy Corbyn has revitalised his party, he has caught the mood of public disillusionment with speak your weight politicians and some of his policies (housing and rail) have considerable merit.
But the Trident row has immediately highlighted the inherent instability of his leadership. In all honesty who really thought Prime Minister Corbyn would authorise the use of nuclear weapons? But by definitively saying he wouldn’t he has fatally undermined his chances of victory in 2020.
Most of the Shadow Cabinet criticised him as did the big unions whose members are employed in the nuclear industry. But most seriously Corbyn says repeatedly he wants the party to be more democratic. They voted, against his wishes, not to discuss changing the multilateral disarmament policy at the conference. Instead a defence review is under way when the issue of Britain, under a Labour government, becoming unilateralist would be discussed.
But what is the point of Maria Eagle, the Shadow Defence Secretary and Garston MP beavering away on her review when the would be Prime Minister has already told our potential adversaries that he will blink first?
Perhaps the truth is that Jeremy Corbyn is determined to shake up the Labour Party, give it back its socialist principles and then hand over to someone more electable in a few years time.