On Tuesday we saw how his extraordinary dithering over the Highthorn planning application illustrates how he can’t be working for Boris. And yesterday we were hoping that – despite his indecision gifting jobs to Russian miners – he isn’t on Vladimir’s payroll. But what about Keir Starmer’s?
If Labour is to regain power, Keir needs to repaint the Northern Wall. To do that he must demonstrate that the Conservatives don’t care about the Northern economy.
And what better illustration of a lack of concern than a planning process which doesn’t allow the North to compete with imports? Year by year the MHCLG has been squeezing our coal mining industry to death by not allowing replacement surface mines.
When the last remaining coal mine in England ends production next month it will mean that we will have exported a whole industry. Our steel and cement sectors will still need 5 million tonnes of coal a year. But it will all have to be imported.
It is the latest chapter in the hollowing out of industry which has made the North East the poorest region in the UK. Oxford’s Professor Dieter Helm told the BBC: “The story of the past twenty years is that…we have been deindustrialising, and we’ve been swapping home production for imports”.
The Professor said that this has not just been exporting jobs but also “increasing global warming” because the countries we buy from are not as carbon efficient as us at producing things.
Highthorn highlights the green accounting scandal at the heart of deindustrialisation. For the North’s economy is being ruined by the Government pretending that the things we import do not have carbon costs. In the eyes of Whitehall only making things here produces CO2.
This constant bias means that the North’s industries cannot get onto the playing field to compete.
So no wonder the miners in the North East are livid about Robert Jenrick’s vacillation over allowing a £100m private investment into a mine in Highthorn. For not only is it robbing them of jobs. It is a pointless sacrifice in terms of carbon emissions – dragging millions of tonnes of coal to the UK is hideously inefficient.
Without the Highthorn mine the jobs of 250 men and women will be thrown away – along with jobs at one thousand suppliers.
Robert Jenrick’s planning decision on Highthorn will tell Northern voters about the Government’s direction of travel as it intensifies its efforts to reach its 2050 Net Zero target.
So far all the Northern Powerhouse has delivered for the North is getting rid of power – power generated by coal. The North will swallow that sacrifice even if Germany and China are going in the opposite direction.
What they won’t accept is being banned by Robert Jenrick from providing the coal which our steel and cement industries need. If the minister wants to give Northern jobs to Russia miners then sooner rather than later he needs to leave his.
If the Government gets this wrong a lot of Conservative seats are set to change colour.
It was Keir Starmer namesake, Keir Hardie, who in the 1906 General Election first built Labour’s red wall in places like Newcastle and Sunderland. And it is Robert Jenrick who seems hellbent on helping him rebuild it.