Powerhouse unplugged…

IN THE long run-up to the general election, David Cameron and George Osborne were rarely out of hard hats and hi-vis vests, popping up all over the place like a Bob The Builder tribute act…

‘It’s what the workers wear, Dave, and we need to be out and about among the working people, especially in the north.’

‘The north?’

‘You know, Dave, that troublesome area between the bits we more or less own and the even more troublesome Scots, with all their belligerent demands.’

‘Ah, I see, George. So if we go around industrial sites and stand in front of trains dressed like this people will forget that we are a pair of southern toffs with a deaf ear to the north.’

‘Exactly, Dave ­– but you mustn’t forget that I am a northern MP.’

‘I’ve been to your constituency, George, and it’s just a bit of the south that somehow escaped north, isn’t it? Poshest bit of the north I’ve ever seen. Could even live there myself, so long as I could persuade the missus to uproot from Oxfordshire.’

George Osborne spent a lot of pre-election breath talking up his idea for a Northern Powerhouse. This concept is a little hard to grasp, but it does have its own Minister, in the smooth shape of Stockton South MP James Wharton. This is philosophically interesting, is it not, for how can you be minister for a vague notion of good intent? This is especially so as a mere two months after an election in which the Northern Powerhouse was rarely off the Chancellor’s lips, the most important part of the plan has just been dropped. This involved vital rail upgrades including the electrification of the London to Sheffield line and the upgrade of the trans-Pennine line, ludicrously labelled as HS3.

So the northern rail modernisation has been cancelled, and the government wishes to apologise for the non-appearance of this project. Anyone who feels upset at the cancellation of this grand promise can apply for vouchers for a free coffee on one of those trans-Pennine trains. Warning: hot coffee on rickety-rackety trains can be dangerous: please read the small print or carry a spare pair of trousers.

Cancelling something so much trumpeted before the election seems like an act of cynicism, although Transport Minister and Harrogate MP Andrew Jones told the Yorkshire Post yesterday that putting the projects on hold was “a pause, not a stop”.

But was it really, or is this just another depressing example of politicians saying whatever they like before an election, and then changing their mind afterwards?

The government is blaming Network Rail for this failure. Well, ministers always like to blame someone or other. It seems only the other day that the Tories were promising the biggest investment in the railways since Victorian times. It turns out it was just the biggest manipulation of the truth since the last time a lie broke free and skipped into the sunset.

There are many aspects to this affair, but here are two thoughts. One: did the Tories know this was an empty promise in the run-up to the election? Two: could you run this Northern Powerhouse thing past me again as every time I try to grab hold, it just slips through my fingers.

There are many great things about the north, and you can take that from a York-based, Bristol-born, Manchester-raised former inhabitant of London. Man On Ledge loves living in the north, but is a Northern Powerhouse based round Manchester really the answer for the whole of the north and what does it have to do with Yorkshire? Granted, it is at least better than all the money being spent in the Southern Powerhouse of London which is what usually happens.

But it’s hard not to see the Northern Powerhouse as a slippery promise, made with good intentions perhaps, but ramped up mostly for electoral purposes.

Not only that, but it sounds like the name of shop selling electrical goods.

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