George Osborne has called on the Government to launch a massive programme of rail investment in the North of England, a so-called High Speed Rail 3.
Writing in the Financial Times, the former chancellor proposes the train line would connect the west and east coasts from Liverpool to Hull, intersecting with the northern branch of the HS2 line which is due to begin construction in 2019.
The now editor of the London Evening Standard has retained his role as chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which this week is launching its first campaign calling for the new network.
Image: George Osborne is pressing for the government investment in the North
When in government, Mr Osborne launched the Northern Powerhouse initiative, a series of policies designed to boost investment in the North of England and encouraging greater cooperation between its local authorities.
The idea was that the cities of the North alone were too small to compete in an era of global “mega cities” like London, New York and Tokyo, but together could form a “powerhouse” given there is so little distance between them.
:: New homes will be bulldozed for HS2 rail line
Theresa May’s government has been accused of dropping the idea, for many months refusing to talk about it by name.
Mr Osborne acknowledges this: “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. The Northern Powerhouse Partnership has the support of the northern civic leaders and many major businesses.
“This autumn we will find out whether the UK Government is truly committed to the idea of building a Northern Powerhouse. Repeating the slogan is not the same as taking the decisions to make it a reality.”
This is politically difficult as the Government has recently cancelled a series of rail electrification programmes across the country and in the North in particular.
Image: The cancellation of electrification schemes has angered campaigners
The Government says changes in train technology means the investment is not needed, but commuter groups and passengers have expressed their anger, especially as it happened at the same time as the Government indicated its support for “Crossrail 2”, a new north-south underground line for London.
The North of England has historically been the poor relation to London and the South East in terms of infrastructure spending.
Mr Osborne argues if the Government wishes to show it is truly committed to northern voters it must endorse HS3.
In his new guise, Mr Osborne has become known as an excoriating critic of Mrs May’s Government, launching a series of stinging editorials in the Standard.
Some have accused him of sour grapes and having a vendetta against the Prime Minister, who sacked him.
But in the year that she failed to win a majority, partly off the back of her failure to win around northern voters, Mr Osborne’s intervention will add to pressure on her to recommit to them – just at a time when his successor Philip Hammond is trying to find money for other projects as preparations are made for his first autumn budget.