As sure as the tide comes in to meet the shore, with the smell of an election in the air, the Tories make their way up north to promise millions in public spending. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. If history is anything to go by, this will then be followed by years of dithering and broken promises – if only our trains were as predictable!
On Saturday, our newly anointed Prime Minister Boris Johnson took to the stage at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester to give his backing to a high-speed train link between Manchester and Leeds.
If you’re feeling a strong sense of déjà vu, then I don’t blame you. Five years ago in 2014 – again with a general election looming – the then-Chancellor George Osborne stood in pretty much exactly the same spot and made pretty much exactly the same pledge. And what’s happened in the intervening five years? Have rail services improved across the North? I think we all know the answer to that.
One thing that was new was the Prime Minister’s pledge that this rail link would “turbo-charge” the economy. You’ll hear a lot about “turbo-charging” over the next few months – it’s the new government’s favourite phrase – useful because it sounds impressive without actually meaning anything at all. Anything that’s not nailed down to the ground runs the risk of the government promising to turbo-charge it, so watch out!
All of this is not to say that an improved link between Manchester and Leeds would not be welcome. Connectivity across the North is vital, and I’d like to see it go further – from Liverpool in the west to Hull in the east and then up to Newcastle. That is what Labour promised in our last manifesto and it is a shame that the current Conservative Government is not prioritising the North enough to make it into a reality.
Just as important as regional connectivity though, is local connectivity. There are currently around 74 trains a day from Manchester to Leeds, whilst just one train a week leaves Denton station. That’s what makes Mayor Andy Burnham’s Our Network vision is so exciting – joining all the towns and neighbourhoods of Greater Manchester into one network.
Perhaps it should be little surprise that Johnson’s cabinet doesn’t understand the North and our priorities – only two of his 23 full cabinet members represent northern constituencies (and neither of them are originally from the North). Unfortunately, this lack of understanding over the past 9 years of Conservative rule has left our region neglected in favour of more affluent areas further south.
So my message to the Prime Minister is quite simple – if you want to know what people in the North want, then ask us. We are full of ideas about the services that we want to see here – and not just on transport. We need a radical transfer of power to the North. It was our communities that led the way in the nineteenth century and made the United Kingdom into an industrial powerhouse. We can do it again, but we need more than warm words and reheated promises from the new Prime Minister to make this happen.