After Dominic Cummings lost the battle to scrap HS2, there was speculation that the Prime Minister’s aide was losing influence. Well he came roaring back today. The Chancellor refused to sack his aides and put the Treasury more under the influence of No 10 and resigned. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown battled it out for ten years without resignation, Sajid Javid has lasted months.
Cummings will relish the destabilisation of the government. That’s how Trump behaves in America. Business and the markets might be less impressed, although Rishi Sunak may be a better choice than Javid in the long run.
Two other sackings also raise eyebrows. Julian Smith has been the first Northern Ireland Secretary since Mo Mowlem to achieve anything and I thought Andrea Leadsom was an articulate Business Secretary.
Count the spoons on rail investment
The government have made a massive and welcome commitment to rail and bus investment, particularly in the North. It is a victory for Downtown and other organisations that finally seem to have got Whitehall’s attention on the North South divide.
However, it is essential that we remain vigilant and read the small print from the Prime Minister’s announcement this week. Concern centres around the introduction of the description “Phase B2” to the HS2 project. The government want to wrap Northern Powerhouse rail and the HS2 lines from Crewe to Leeds/Manchester. This may be fine as supporters have always said the north/south line must be integrated with east/west. But along with that integration comes a strong signal that the government want to bear down on the cost of the northern arms of HS2.
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester has warned that we want the same gold standard for the whole project from London and not a silver standard substitute. There has been speculation that the trains might run slower north of Crewe to save money.
Burnham has also pointed out that there remains considerable disagreement with the government over Northern Powerhouse Rail. He backs a completely new line to Leeds via badly connected Bradford, whereas the government seem to be focused on an upgrade of the line through Huddersfield.
It will be up to the “Red Wall” Tory MPs to hold their government’s feet to the fire over this.
Come off the fence for Nandy, Andy
Andy Burnham was on with Andrew Neil this week and after discussion on rail, the interview turned to the Labour leadership. The Great Inquisitor reasonably asked Burnham to confirm he was supporting Lisa Nandy. After all she ticks all Andy’s boxes being from the north, isn’t a Corbynista and supports devolution.
The mayor said he hadn’t made his mind up yet, implying it was because he wanted to exercise maximum leverage on the candidates. Nandy needs your support now Andy, so come off the fence.