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Getting away with it

By Frank McKenna

By Frank McKenna

HS2 cancelled. Announced investment in infrastructure not real. COVID enquiry revelations. What, given the myriad of news outlets available to us, are we unable to give due attention to the big issues affecting us?

An awful lot has happened since the Conservative Party conference a fortnight ago.

The Labour conference for a start. The terrorist attack on Israel. Israels response. A change of government in Poland. Earthquakes in Afghanistan. And Collen Rooney has released a documentary all about her spat with Jamie Vardy’s missus!

One of the shortcomings of modern society is that most of us appear to have the attention span of a gnat. So, politicians make really important decisions, but they are seldom scrutinised for more than a news cycle.

Unfortunately, the consequences of the major announcement Rishi Sunak made in his conference speech in Manchester – namely the cancellation of HS2 – falls into that category.

May I remind you that he promised that the £30-odd billion that would be saved would be utilised to enhance infrastructure in the North. He then gave a shout out to the myriad of ‘replacement’ schemes that would be delivered as a result of the scrapping of HS2.

Within a day, a significant number of those ‘new’ initiatives were proved to be recycled announcements; unviable projects; or works that had already been delivered, one as long as nine years ago. Talk about making policy up on the hoof. 

Subsequently, events have moved on, and the government, indeed the opposition, has been allowed to brush under the carpet the hugely inadequate rail services people north of the Watford gap have to suffer. I am writing this blog scrunched up uncomfortably on a shitty train, with a shitty signal, expecting to be told by the driver at some point on my journey to Birmingham to peddle faster!   

(On the plus side, I was only standing for two stops before I could claim a seat. Take note HS2 was always about capacity, never speed.)  

Away from train tragedy, the multi-million-pound COVID enquiry continues. Among recent revelations are that the prime minister has ‘lost’ many of his WhatsApp messages from his time as chancellor; senior civil servants couldn’t decide if it was Boris Johnson or Dominic Cummings who was running the government – and then decided it was Carrie Johnson; and that – on evidence presented thus far- little of no account was taken of the longer term impact decisions like taking kids out of schools, and multiple lockdowns, would have.

Have you seen this leading any news programme? No, me neither.  

Holding decision-makers to account and maintaining debate and discussion on more than one issue – however major that issue is, must be something we are capable of, surely?  

The future of rail connectivity for the North and the UK and infrastructure investment generally, is too important a subject to be shoved off the political agenda, even temporarily. An enquiry that is costing us millions of pounds about a pandemic that cost us, and continues to cost us, billions, cannot be allowed to go by without proper attention.

We have more news outlets, media platforms, and social media sites than ever before. Why is it, then, that we are more poorly served by news channels than we have ever been?

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