George Osborne urges Theresa May to 'relaunch' leadership with northern high-speed line
George Osborne has challenged the Government to prove it is “truly committed” to regional regeneration by backing high-speed rail between northern cities.
The former Chancellor called for a fast connection to be built from Liverpool to Hull, with services between Manchester and Leeds the initial priority for the so-called HS3 project.
Mr Osborne, who drove the “Northern Powerhouse” project when he was at the Treasury, said the multi-billion pound proposals could help to restore faith in Theresa May’s leadership after a bruising few months around the general election.
He also made a jibe at the expense of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Mrs May’s former co-chiefs of staff, who had supposedly ordered No 10 to downplay the Northern Powerhouse.
In an article for the Financial Times, Mr Osborne said: “There was a risk that the Northern Powerhouse would end with my own political career. It very nearly did.
“We know, thanks to the revelations by Katie Perrior, formerly head of media in Downing Street, that there was a systematic attempt by Theresa May’s advisers (apparently without her knowledge) to eradicate all mention of the initiative.
“Thankfully, the idea has proved more enduring than those advisers.”
Mrs May sacked Mr Osborne from her Cabinet when she became Prime Minister last summer. He subsequently left parliament when the snap general election was called after taking up his job as editor of the London Evening Standard.
He has used that post to be a frequent critic of the Prime Minister, branding her a “dead woman walking” after the Tories lost seats in the election.
One of many other jobs he holds is leading the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and it is in that capacity that he urged Mrs May to make northern cities a “counterweight” to the economic power of London.
“This new railway would transform the northern economy. It would bring seven million extra people — and three times the number of businesses — within a 90-minute journey time of one of the northern cities,” Mr Osborne wrote.
“It will not be cheap — I have seen estimates of about £7bn for the Pennine construction — but such investment would be spread over many years and the transport budget was set to accommodate both this and other key projects, such as Crossrail 2.
“The Northern Powerhouse Rail fits with Mrs May’s stated objective of building an economy that works for everyone.
“Far be it from me to offer advice to the prime minister on how to relaunch her premiership this autumn, but making this big commitment to the north at the Conservative conference in Manchester would not be a bad place to start.”
The intervention comes alongside two letters – from IPPR North and Business North – pressing ministers to commit to greater investment in transport in northern regions.
The Department for Transport said: “We are committed to improving trans-Pennine services and are working with Transport for the North to cut journey times and increase capacity between the major cities of the north.”